Project Archive 2008-09
Britten Sinfonia is delighted to be involved in The Great Fen Project which aims to create a 3,700 hectare wetland between Woodwalton and Holme Fen. In May 2009 we held two fundraising concerts for the project, and alongside these we have been running a major Creative Learning project, Fen Soundscapes.
Children and young people in Ramsey and Yaxley (the two villages at either end of the Great Fen area) had the fantastic opportunity to work with professional composers (Jane Wells and Mike Challis) and Britten Sinfonia musicians. The project encouraged them to explore composition based on the natural world and the landscape of the Great Fen area.
In March, we accompanied children from Ramsey Spinning Infants School on a visit to the Ramsey Heights Countryside Classroom where Year 2 classes spent the day with Mike recording the sounds they could hear around them in the Fen. This was an interactive day where the children were asked to be as quiet as possible (no mean feat!) and encouraged to listen out for sounds including birds, leaves crunching, reeds rustling and any other wildlife. They even got to make their own sounds using what was around them and particularly enjoyed squelching in the mud! You can listen to some of the sounds they recorded here.
The children continued working with Jane and Britten Sinfonia musicians in a series of after-school and holiday workshops where they composed their own Great Fen-inspired music. They also got to meet composer John Woolrich when they attended a rehearsal for the Great Fen Concert in Peterborough Cathedral. You can see and hear some of the results of the children’s work below.
Meanwhile, Mike, along with colleauges from the Jam Van, was working with teenagers in Yaxley, who learned to use professional-standard equipment to record and edit natural sounds and instrumental music. The teenagers then organised all of these sounds into a “Fen Soundscape” which evoked both the natural landscape and their and the younger children’s responses to it.
We launched Fen Soundscapes on Tuesday 21 July 2009 at St Thomas a Becket church, Ramsey, and the exhibition continued from Wednesday 22 to Sunday 26 July. If you missed the exhibition, you can still experience the installation:
Download a video walk through of the Soundscape*
Download an audio tour of the Soundscape
See photos from the project and listen to the Soundscape*
*these downloads require Quicktime
The Fen Soundscapes project was a partnership between Huntingdonshire District Council, Cambridgeshire Young Lives and Britten Sinfonia. It was funded by Youth Music.
We worked with two Pupil Referral Units during 2008-09: Chance in Cambridge and Ely PRU. Both projects were led by Simon Gunton and both, in their own way, introduced pupils to a Baroque composer.
The Ely project began with a visit to the city’s magnificent cathedral to watch Britten Sinfonia and Polyphony rehearsing Handel’s Messiah. For many of the pupils it was their first visit to the cathedral, and for all it was the first time watching a choir and orchestra. Back at the PRU, the pupils and Simon talked about the story told in the Messiah, and compared it to a contemporary film, The Matrix. The pupils then set about writing their own “Messiah” stories and setting them to music. Guest appearances by violinist Lizzie Ball, percussionist Owen Gunnell and trumpeter Alex Cromwell added to their soundtracks, and the star of the show was rapper Tor Cesay, who helped the pupils write and record their own lyrics to accompany their music. The project culminated in a performance at Ely’s Babylon gallery, in front of an audience of proud parents, teachers and friends.
At Chance PRU, we took the theme of “remixing Bach”. The pupils listened to Bach Two-Part Inventions, played by Owen on the marimba, and chose their favourites. Inspired by Jem’s song They (based on Bach’s Prelude in F minor), they then recorded extracts from the Inventions, played by violinist Nicky Goldscheider and cellist Joy Hawley, and remixed them using Garageband. Tor joined us again for a lyric writing masterclass, and the highlight of the project was a trip to The Junction in Cambridge, where the pupils heard their finished tracks played over the club’s huge PA - and a passing drum and bass producer dropped in to congratulate them on their fantastically professional sounding work!
For this year’s Cambridge University Composers’ Workshop we were delighted to welcome Oliver Knussen, one of the UK’s greatest composers, to comment and advise the students on their work. An ensemble of nine Britten Sinfonia musicians, conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth and fresh from a series of performances of works by both Knussen and Wigglesworth, performed pieces by Kate Whitley, Jonathan Coffer, Tom Kimber, Joel Rust and Frances Balmer.
General consensus amongst Britten Sinfonia staff and musicians was that this year’s Workshop showcased some of the most talented young composers we’ve heard in a long while - all names to watch out for in the coming years!
“Amazing - [Knussen’s] incredibly sharp ears picked out several details that greatly improved my piece.”
“A really invigorating experience - thank you!”
Composer and workshop leader John Webb and a team of Britten Sinfonia musicians spent two busy days at the Perse Pelican School in Cambridge, introducing the whole school to Britten’s Nocturne. The theme of night obviously captured the young children’s imaginations, because when we arrived they had already written a collection of beautiful poems about night creatures, lullabies and the sky at night. John and the musicians helped the children to set these to music, and at the end of the two days, they performed their very own Nocturne Song Cycle to a packed hall of parents. See the school’s report and pictures of the project here.
“Everyone has learnt so much, and we have a unique and very special piece of music to boot! Brilliant!”
A couple of weeks later, our Cambridge audience enjoyed a concert performance of Britten’s Nocturne, sung by Mark Padmore, and before that a fascinating insight into the poetry on which the piece is based, presented by Kate Kennedy. To read more about these poems and music, in Mark Padmore’s own words, click here.
Britten Sinfonia loved working with composer David Horne as part of the Soundjunction project, so we were delighted when the opportunity came up to work with him again, this time as part of a Creative Learning project in Birmingham.
David, along with a team comprising Joy Farrall (clarinet), Juliet Welchman (cello) and flautists Christine Messiter and Anna Noakes, spent two days at Handsworth Grammar School, helping the year 10-13s to write striking, contemporary music for the Britten Sinfonia ensemble. Having learned about the instruments’ ranges and capabilities, the pupils set about composing new pieces for between one and three instruments, which were then performed and recorded by the group. The project really pushed the pupils out of their comfort zones and into writing challenging and original music: as their teacher said, “a fantastic opportunity, which was greatly enjoyed and appreciated.”
We enjoyed two great days with the Judge Business School (JBS). The first involved around 35 managers from Essex County Council, who were staying in Cambridge as part of the JBS’s Executive Education programme. Fraser Trainer joined Britten Sinfonia and JBS facilitator Allegre Hadida to lead a Creativity Masterclass, in which the managers composed and performed their own music, all within the space of a couple of hours! Though the session was fun, the message they took home was serious: how can we best use the skills of our team in order to work creatively? Musicians, of course, do this all the time, as our team brilliantly demonstrated at the end of the workshop when, without warning, the unusual ensemble of violin, viola, clarinet and tuba had to improvise a piece based on words suggested by the audience.
In June we held another Masterclass with the JBS MBA students, who were fascinated to watch our string trio as they rehearsed and then performed a piece by Dohnanyi. Watching the rehearsal process up close really highlighted the way in which leadership is shared amongst the members of a chamber ensemble, and the complete trust and respect which they have for their colleagues’ feedback. We presented the MBA students with their own Creativity Challenge at the end of the session, when they had to recreate the sounds of a rainforest, a restaurant kitchen and a train station, using only their voices and bodies. The results showed that quick-thinking creativity and teamwork aren’t just the preserve of Britten Sinfonia musicians - Bravo to all involved!
For more information on the Sinfonia At Work programme, click here.
Southampton, Norwich and Cambridge
24 - 27 September 2015
American pianist Jeremy Denk joins Britten Sinfonia to direct a vibrant programme of music from two of history’s greatest composers, J. S. Bach and Stravinsky
Town Hall Main Hall, Cheltenham
03 July 2015 6:30pm
Britten Sinfonia bring Bernard Herrmann's iconic score to life in a live screening of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, as part of the Cheltenham Music Festival 2015.