Inside Southbank Sinfonia

An orchestra like no other, based in the heart of London


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Half Marathon Playlist

When it comes to running, an iPod and some headphones are today almost as essential as a good pair of trainers. Lucozade and bananas aside, what better way to keep you going than great music?

With Southbank Sinfonia’s Oxford Half Marathon effort just days away, here’s the start of our playlist of pieces perfect for running to.

What have we missed? Let us know your suggestions to help us survive the race!

1. Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No.9 – First movement
Invigorating, clear, melodic, rhythmic – a good starter to get you warmed up and feeling ready for the run ahead.

2. Richard Wagner: The Ride of the Valkyries
You’re a couple of miles in and it’s time to get serious. Cue Wagnerian brass.

3. John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
The wood block hammers away throughout to inject some energy. The orchestral equivalent of a can of Red Bull.

4. Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.7 – Finale
Continuing to feed the craving for energy, but now adding some serious feel-good factor –  what better than a symphony that makes you want to dance?

5. George Frideric Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks – La Réjouissance
It may be 265 years old, but this piece written for fireworks in London’s Green Park still offers more than enough to keep you clocking up the miles.

6. Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore – Anvil Chorus
Imagine you’re 10 miles in and need a morale boost. Now listen out at 1:05.

7. Georges Bizet: Carmen Suite – Les Toreadors
We’ve all seen it at the end of a Formula 1 race: champagne spraying, victor beaming with joy at having climbed his sporting Everest. The soundtrack for crossing our half marathon finishing line..?

And just for the benefit of all the other runners on the day…
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Because who doesn’t want to run in 7/16? Or 11/16? Or 3/8? As your feet try to compute the changing time signatures, it will give the other runners struggling to finish something to smile about.

A team of 25 Southbank Sinfonia musicians and staff are running the Oxford Half Marathon on Sunday 12 October. Collectively they’ll be running 327 miles for music education, helping to raise funds for our Let’s Inspire appeal.

In 2014, Southbank Sinfonia has brought the magic of classical music to thousands of new ears. Whether in free concerts for schools of passenger seats projects at the Southbank Centre, we believe every child deserves opportunities to embrace the power of music as a life-changing force and have ambitious plans to further what we can provide those most in need of musical inspiration.

To find out more about Southbank Sinfonia’s Half Marathon, the life-changing education projects we’re fundraising for and to sponsor our team, click here.

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The hollow mountain of Notre-Dame

Som HowieSom Howie | Southbank Sinfonia
Clarinet

As our Eurostar sped away from St Pancras station and plunged under the channel, the coach containing all of Southbank Sinfonia and our instruments was abuzz with excitement. Our mission? Two concerts in Notre-Dame cathedral, performing Mozart’s Requiem for the first time in one of the world’s truly iconic buildings. Our partners in crime would be the cathedral’s choir, La Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris.

Basset Horn | Southbank Sinfonia

My Basset Horn, AKA “The Beast”

Now, a confession. When I’ve played the Requiem before, it’s not been exactly as Mozart intended. I’ve used my regular B flat clarinet for previous performances, but in Paris we went fully authentic as me and my fellow clarinettist Dani performed on Basset Horns, or as we now call them: “The Beasts”. They are certainly not the most likable or enjoyable instrument to play, requiring exceptionally hard work to get them in tune and sounding half-decent. Having persevered though, it’s safe to say I do not regret playing this piece on its originally intended instrument one bit!

An absolute highlight of the trip was our first evening rehearsal in Notre-Dame, the night before our first concert. Words cannot do justice to the feeling of being inside the cathedral when it is completely empty of tourists. It was like being inside a hollow mountain. The walls seemed to climb without end and the lights created deep shadows that shaped every contour and finely carved detail of the interior. On top of all this, the sound from the choir and orchestra would dance around the cavernous space creating an acoustic echo that lasted no less than 9 seconds.

Notre-Dame Queue | Southbank Sinfonia

The snaking queue for our concert

The following day I stumbled across a sight that makes any performer smile. Popping outside of Notre-Dame just before the concert to buy a bottle of water, I was greeted by a line of concertgoers that stretched from the cathedral doors all the way across the square and down the street. I couldn’t believe that both performances were sell-outs, with 1,200 people each night coming to watch us!

To be part of these concerts was an incredible experience. I will never forget sitting in my chair performing beautiful music to such a great audience, in such a magnificent venue. It was one of those occasions where I genuinely wish I could have been in the audience too to see what it felt like from the other side.

Notre-Dame | Southbank Sinfonia

Inside the hollow mountain, with walls reaching to the heavens

We managed to squeeze in a little tourist time in the City of Light too, making the most of the incredible food and spending time with great friends from the orchestra. Back on the Eurostar just a few days later, it was sad to be leaving Paris so soon after we arrived – but our Parisian adventure doesn’t quite end there…

On Tuesday the show comes to London as we host La Maîtrise at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Just as we made our debut at Notre-Dame this week, this will be the choir’s first UK performance and I can’t wait to recreate that same emotion and energy that fuelled our first encounter. See you there!

Join Som, Southbank Sinfonia, La Maîtrise Notre-Dame and soloists from the Paris Opera on Tuesday 30 September at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Find out more about the concert here.

Find out more about Som Howie here.


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Don’t Stop the Music

Mark Lipski
Double Bass

At 4:30 one Friday morning in April, 33 alarm clocks went off, and 33 musicians rubbed the sleep from their eyes as they made their way to St John’s Waterloo. There, clutching coffees as the sun slowly came up, they boarded a bus that took them to St Teresa’s Primary School in Basildon, Essex. When they arrived, the cameras followed their every move as they prepared to perform, and captured the surprise and joy in the eyes of a class of young children who had never seen an orchestra.

A new TV series called Don’t Stop the Music follows the journey of a class of underprivileged primary school children as they learn about music and form a school orchestra. Many of these children from Essex had never heard of an orchestra, much less seen one live, much less again been able to interact with the musicians in an intimate setting.

James Rhodes, a classical pianist who is known for his groundbreaking work in taking classical music out of stuffy concert halls and onto more accessible platforms, had laid the groundwork the previous week by introducing the children to the concept of an orchestra and teaching them about some of the instruments. Our part in this adventure was to be at the school as the children arrived, and to play powerful music by Mozart and Beethoven as they filed into assembly.

We were instructed to be in full concert dress as the bus arrived at the school so that the camera crew could get interesting shots of us coming off the bus; they got more than they expected as I and my fellow bassist struggled to get our instruments through the narrow doors, with perhaps less grace than you’d want to see in a documentary about professional musicians.

Upon entering the school, everything was in lockdown so that the children would have no idea we were there until the right moment. The assembly hall had blackout paper on all the doors and windows. We had to finish our brief rehearsal 45 minutes before assembly started, and then we had to maintain almost total silence so that arriving children would not hear us. If we wanted to use the bathroom we had to have a team of technical managers scout the hallway to ensure it was clear of children, then rush to the bathroom, and repeat when we were finished. I felt like James Bond, dressed in my dinner suit and rushing around hallways like a spy.

Don't Stop the Music | Southbank Sinfonia | Rebecca Miller

Southbank Sinfonia, with Rebecca Miller conducting, perform Beethoven’s Fifth in the school hall

The signal came: the children were ready. Everyone got in their seats and prepared themselves, and suddenly the doors were thrown open and we played. We played the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, that well-known but incredibly powerful piece of music. Although I was concentrating on playing (it’s a tricky little number), I could catch glimpses out of the corner of my eye of the kids’ reactions. One little boy stopped in his tracks with his mouth open. Another approached the conductor’s podium, lost in the moment, and had to be guided back to the line by a teacher. Two girls whispered and pointed. And most just sat there, watching and listening, to this amazing music being created in front of their eyes.

When we were finished, James Rhodes spent some time talking to them, reminding them of what they’d learned the previous week, getting sections of the orchestra to demonstrate their instruments, directing the kids’ attention to the all the parts that make up an orchestra, discussing Beethoven’s life, circumstances and struggles. He told them about us as musicians, and asked how many hours they thought it took to become a professional musician (somewhere between 32 and a billion, apparently). James is an incredibly charismatic person, combining his fantastic expertise with his infectious enthusiasm for the music, talking to the children on their level without talking down to them; this is a balance that is tremendously hard to achieve.

Although the Beethoven is an incredibly powerful piece of music, it is also rather heavy. To end the session, we played Mozart’s buoyant Marriage of Figaro overture. Rather than the awe and silent wonder evoked by the Beethoven, the children’s faces now displayed joy, humour and all the other emotions evoked by such a happy and frivolous piece.

Don't Stop the Music | Southbank Sinfonia | James Rhodes

Mark helps Tyrone discover what it’s like to play the double bass

As James wrapped the session up, the children had a chance to come and see us close up. We gave individual demonstrations to small groups of children, interacting with them, telling them a bit about our instruments, showing them some of the weird and wonderful sounds we can create. I showed a young boy named Tyrone what it felt like to hold a double bass and pluck its heavy strings.

When the session was finished, the cameramen filmed the children filing out and us packing up our instruments. As the bus pulled away, all the children were pressed up against the school fence, screaming and waving. It’s rare to see music’s powerful effect on such uninhibited young minds.

As a rule, musicians are people who do not rise early. Performances frequently finish around 10pm, so in order to be on top of our game that late, we rarely rise before 8am. Many of us had other rehearsals that afternoon, or concerts in the evening. It has to be something special to get us out of bed 4 hours before usual, and this event delivered beyond all expectations. It was a chance to leave the concert hall and get right in front of young people. It was a chance to make classical music available to children who had never seen an orchestra. And most of all, it was a chance to touch young lives and hopefully leave them something they’ll treasure their entire lives. I feel privileged to have been part of it, and it’s something I’ll treasure my entire life.

Get a glimpse of the reactions from our young audience in the trailer below. Don’t Stop The Music is a two part series being broadcast on  Channel 4, with the first episode shown on Tuesday 9 September at 9.00pm. Find out more about the series here.

Find out more about Mark Lipski here.


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Oboe Warfare: In Conversation with Julia Hantschel

With a Rush Hour concerto performance on the horizon, oboist Julia Hantschel unlocks the door to the work of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů.

THE ART OF COMMUNICATION

Describe the Martinů Oboe Concerto in a nutshell.

The way the piece is orchestrated means it’s about communication, with the oboe trying to interact with other instruments in the orchestra. The soloist is trying to express and share the emotions that are happening in that moment, and in a concerto with such strong emotions the conversations are quite easy to understand.

The first movement is very free flowing with a sense of peace, and hints of dancing rhythms, but then the second is so dark, depressing and devastating. A resolution follows, and the final movement has a sense of incredible freedom.

But it’s not just as simple as ‘the oboe’ and ‘the orchestra’ in this piece. There’s so much going on everywhere, we’re all taking cues off each other – be it the horns, trumpets or piano – and everyone is involved in this huge conversation that envelopes the whole band.

PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE

What goes through your mind while performing the concerto?

Emotion is everything. As an example, the second movement is like psychological warfare as you fight to break free but can’t. You are resigned to failure, to being trapped, and it’s deep emotions like these that I try to focus on. That process of resignation, and ultimately acceptance, is something I can relate to from my life – I think everyone probably can – and it’s a case of trying to channel that emotion into the performance.

But the piece, in part thanks to its instrumentation, is so colourful and I love that. The first and last movements are so different to the second, and there’s a huge emotional range to explore in the performance. Since I first discovered the piece several years ago, I’ve been playing it again and again.

Martinů composing at his piano in New York (c.1942)

20th CENTURY EDGE

How does the Martinů compare to other pieces or composers? 

To me, this concerto is a bit jazzy. It doesn’t go as far as Gershwin, but it’s a nod in that direction and definitely has an edge to it. This isn’t a classical or romantic concerto, it’s very much a 20th century piece with hints of Stravinsky and Shostakovich too.

This mixture of influences is hardly surprising given that Martinů’s life personified the upheaval of the 20th century. He was born in Czechoslovakia, but at various times lived in France, Spain, Portugal, the US and Switzerland. Initially this nomadic existence was for artistic reward, but later became a necessity and then by-product of a continent divided by the Second World War and the Iron Curtain.

Do you think your own international background, having lived and studied in Germany, New Zealand, Finland, Switzerland and the UK, helps in performing a piece like this?

I think so, yes. In general it helps to broaden your mind and shows you different points of view, but it’s also an important experience to go through as you move to another culture. Everything in your life that you thought was stable changes and you have to adjust to your new surroundings.

Then, from a musician’s perspective, there are interesting differences between orchestras in different countries. But with Southbank being such an international orchestra, the atmosphere feels so open. You don’t have to find a way of playing to match the existing style – like is the tradition in some continental European orchestras for instance – but instead the orchestra as a whole finds its own balance.

Southbank Sinfonia prepare for the Oxford Half Marathon

Julia and part of the Half Marathon team

MUSICIAN ON THE RUN

How do you escape from the stresses of being a professional musician?

I run! It’s so important for me to get my balance back, psychologically as well as physically. Sitting in an orchestra for six hours a day means you need something to release the energy, release the pressure, forget and relax. I’m not thinking about performances while I run, I’m just getting away from it all.

But the Martinů is quite heavy, because it’s a solo piece rather than an orchestral piece, so I’m making an extra effort at the moment to get fit for that. It’s important to build up some lung capacity and muscle for the performance, but there’s the useful side-effect of it helping my training for the half marathon a team from Southbank Sinfonia are competing in.

Alongside helping to raise funds for our inspirational music education projects, I’m really looking forward to running with my friends from the orchestra. As performers you’re usually in such a competitive environment with a constant pressure to excel at your instrument, so it’s fun to have the half marathon as a joint goal to support each other through.

Find out more about Southbank Sinfonia’s team running the Oxford half marathon here.

Julia is performing as soloist in Martinů’s Oboe Concerto with Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Waterloo on Thursday 18 September. Join us for free at 6.00pm, enjoy a complimentary glass of wine and escape the rush hour! Find out more here.

Find out more about Julia here, or listen to the piece in the video below.


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Anghiari Festival 2014: Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Anghiari’s Door

One of the most remarkable things about Southbank Sinfonia is that every year another 32 musicians are welcomed to form an orchestra. Not only does that mean that each year’s band has its own nuances of personalities, nationalities and sound, but also that Anghiari is seen through new eyes every July.

Incredible views: The sun sets over the walls of Anghiari and the Tiber Valley

Incredible views: The sun sets over the walls of Anghiari and the Tiber Valley

The orchestra has been resident at the annual Anghiari Festival for over a decade now, and supporters who travel out one year invariably get hooked and return the next. So what makes this Tuscan hill town so special? Right from day one of being involved in Southbank Sinfonia, the town is talked about in almost mythical terms. Ancient buildings, divine food, stunning views and glorious sun (although it’s been a little shy this year) are mentioned time and time again. However, until you experience Anghiari in the flesh these are just hollow words.

On a grand scale, the vast vistas of the Tiber valley from the medieval walls are truly incredible. But the atmosphere within the town is so much more than just scenery. It’s a sense of centuries of history, of individual characters and stories shaping every single building perching in their uniquely hodgepodge way up the hill. It’s the smell of Italian cooking seeping through the windows and onto the narrow cobbled streets. And when Southbank Sinfonia are in town, it’s the sound of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, or perhaps the Ravel String Quartet, wafting through the air and reaching your ears in locations you least expect it. Before you realise it, you’ll have a huge grin on your face and goosebumps galore.

Words, pictures and videos cannot hope to do this place justice. But, to make a start, just one tiny element of this incredible collage are the door knockers, with every house’s different. Some are simple, some are extravagant; some have ornate faces, others a characterful handmade charm. Of course each is essential to getting into a house, but they also do so much more than that – they help give the town its collective charm. The sum is greater than its parts.

In some ways, the musicians and instruments of Southbank Sinfonia are the same (bear with us here…). Some are large, some are small; some are gregarious, others more subtle. A whole collection of personalities and sounds that are brilliant by themselves, and which become something even greater when performing as a whole orchestra.

And now the fun part! After much debate, prosecco and impersonation among the orchestra, we’ve tried matching up a few examples of ironwork to the personalities of our players and their instruments. Silly? Probably. But to begin to share the magic of Anghiari, you have to think outside the box.

Of course, to experience the bigger picture there really is only one way: make sure you join us in Tuscany in 2015.

Tom Wraith, Cello.

Tom Wraith, cello: The lion is a common symbol in Anghiari, mostly in docile form but – just like Tom and his cello in the Ravel String Quartet or the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony – capable of roaring at will.

Svetlana Mochalova, Cello.

Svetlana Mochalova, cello: Serenity, gracefulness and a calm intensity ooze from Svetlana’s playing.

Nicola Crowe, flute.

Nicola Crowe, flute: The flute creates a smooth, round sound but Nicky adds her own beautifully delicate and alluring detail.

Stefano D'Ermenegildo

Stefano D’Ermenegildo, violin: A larger than life personality with an enormous variety of facial expressions while performing, from cheeky smiles to pursed lips of concentration.

Oliver Patrick, percussion.

Oliver Patrick, percussion: No explanation needed. Sorry Oli!


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Anghiari Festival 2014: He ain’t heavy, he’s my orchestra

Imagine a Vespa weaving in and out of traffic. That’s the musical equivalent of a piccolo soloist.

A Fiat 500 might be a violinist, still nimble enough to park in small spaces; a bassoonist a Volvo Estate – surprisingly heavy, and getting trickier to manoeuvre.

Then at the larger end, a double bassist could be a clunky van with a dodgy clutch, and a percussionist with a set-up of timpani or a vibraphone is an articulated lorry.

Now imagine a whole orchestra. In our case, upwards of 32 musicians and their instruments to transport from venue to venue – a logistical supertanker.

Hauling an ocean-going oil tanker up the narrow and steep streets of Anghiari, plus the winding dirt-track hairpins of Tuscany, is certainly a good way to justify an extra pizza or two. With 23 events over the past week, as we move between rehearsal and concert venues several times a day, hundreds of calories are burned loading and unloading the van (we’ve called her Sonia) or pulling Veera the bass case (she’s unable to stay in a straight line) up the cobbled inclines of a hill-town. Led by the industrious Jo and Sam (Orchestra Managers), we’ve become quite adept at hopping between – and, thanks to the rain this week, quite often in and out of  – churches, piazzas, schools and castles on top of mountains.

So, just in case the photos of stunning views and beautiful ancient theatres were giving the impression we’re living the Italian high life, here’s our illustrated top five methods of Tuscan orchestral transport:

5) Bassman’s lift:

Mark shows off his bass carrying solution.

Over the head: Mark shows off his bass carrying solution.

4) Sonia the van:

Van

A midnight get-out from the theatre (L) and Sonia’s minibus sister navigating steep dirt tracks (R)

3) Old fashioned brute force:

Midnight timpani lugging

Who needs a gym when there’s late night timpani shifting between piazzas to be done.

2) The wheelbarrow:

Wheelbarrow

Clunky music stands that are difficult to carry? No problem, our fleet of wheelbarrows are at the ready.

1) The Ape:

1) Jen, our Creative Leadership Manager, goes ape

Jen, our Creative Leadership Manager, goes Ape while helping the locals with outdoor seating.


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Anghiari Festival 2014: Home from home

When you travel a thousand miles to a foreign country, there’s a good chance you’ll feel disorientated. With a different language, cars driving on the opposite side of the road, a completely different structure to the day (we vote for siestas to be brought back to London, by the way) and even unknown customs for ordering and paying for food, it’s possible to feel a little intimidated when abroad.

For Southbank Sinfonia though, Anghiari really does feel like a home-from-home. Yes, there are 32 musicians this year experiencing the Tuscan hill-town and its festival for the first time, but the orchestra is also sewn into the DNA of the place so it instantly feels familiar. On the window of the Pro Loco (the tourist information office), the hub where we print our programmes, a great sticker on the window reads ‘Southbank Sinfonia: Sede di Anghiari’ (Anghiari Headquarters).

Anghiari's Tourist Information office, complete with SbS logo

Anghiari’s Tourist Information office, complete with SbS logo

Then the menu for Bar Baldaccio’s features photos of the orchestra as well as the Baldaccio Quartet, made up of former Southbank Sinfonia members who took their name from one of our favourite eateries. The quote of recommendation for food from Sam Burstin, now a violist with the Philharmonia, is a review to be believed. Open the menu up and there’s even a South Bank pizza on offer – spicy salami and sun-dried tomatoes are the topping, in case you were wondering. Delicious.

Anghiari couldn’t be more different from London, yet we couldn’t feel more at home here. Thank you Anghiari!

The Southbank Pizza

The Southbank Pizza – highly recommended.

Bar Baldaccio's menu, complete with Southbank Sinfonia photos

Bar Baldaccio’s menu, complete with Southbank Sinfonia photos.