Projects Archive 2009-10

Wider Opportunities Celebration 

From Geishas to Garageband
Family Music Day 2009
CL at Lunch
Sound Stories 
Composers’ Workshop
Sinfonia at Work with McLaren

Wider Opportunities Celebration

On 7 and 8 July 2010, musicians from Britten Sinfonia will be joined by workshop leader Tim Steiner and colleagues from Norfolk Music Education Service to welcome over 700 young instrumentalists into concert halls in Norwich and King’s Lynn. The young musicians have all been learning to play their instruments through the Wider Opportunities scheme, and will be coming together to find out what it’s like to play in an (enormous) orchestra. We will be putting pictures and recordings from the event up on the website afterwards, so do visit us again soon!


From Geishas to Garageband: Britten Sinfonia in Pupil Referral Units

Since 2007, Britten Sinfonia has been working in Pupil Referral Units and other non-mainstream educational settings throughout Cambridgeshire. This season we spent the Autumn term at Ely PRU, working with students on a Japan-themed project. Using the music technology software Garageband, as well as iMovie, and working with Britten Sinfonia musicans and workshop leader Simon Gunton, the pupils produced short films and soundtracks folowing the lives of geishas and samurai warriors.

During the Spring and Summer terms, we moved to Fenland Learner Centre in Wisbech and Hartford Student Support Centre in Huntingdon to compose songs and raps with the students there. In all the settings, the projects have been as much about encouraging and developing pupils’ confidence and teamwork, and both we and the school staff have seen big changes in this area. Pupils’ tracks and videos will be online soon.


Family Music Day 2009

On Sunday, 1st November, over 80 families attended Britten Sinfonia’s Family Music Day. Children (and some of the keener parents!) had the chance to try their hand at musical activities, including instrumental workshops coached by our musicians, percussion, instrument building, and gamelan.

As the doors of West Road Concert Hall were opened, the families who had braved the wet weather flooded in and the place was filled with an excited buzz. Children who had early workshops hurried off, whilst others began the treasure hunt and explored the building. Soon, there were sounds coming from every corner…strings singing, singers humming, guitars strumming, drills whizzing, boomwhackers slapping, trumpets blaring and drums banging.

“The workshops were all fantastic.
Very hands-on and we were all involved.” - Parent

Before we knew it, lunch was upon us, and Origin8 caterers were doing a roaring trade (and quite rightly - the brownies were delicious!). Colouring was reaching fever pitch, and great composers were being firmly put into their places on the time machine, while queues of children were turning into tigers courtesy of the fantastic facepainter, Samirah.

After the lunchtime lull, chatting groups dispersed to carry on with the next workshop in their hectic schedule - whole new groups of children were able to discover the beauty of gamelan and the excitement of drumming.

Before long, workshops came to an end and everyone made their way through to the concert hall for the Grand Finale Concert. The Britten Sinfonia musicians were sitting on stage, and were soon joined by children from the day’s workshops - string, wind, guitar and percussion players created a huge orchestra. Concert Director Tim Steiner’s grand plan was to create a huge time machine using the music that the participants had learned during the day. As Tim introduced the first note of the time machine, the auditorium came to life. Just as suddenly, however, the noise died away and the Britten Sinfonia players began their first piece - Purcell’s Rondeau. For many children, this was their first exposure to live classical music, and to be part of the performance was exhilarating.

The concert wound on, through the musical periods, as we heard Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Britten and Ligeti, each interspersed by the children’s magnificent time machine. Finally, the climax was reached, when musicians joined children in playing Tim’s completed Time Machine piece.

There were some weary, but very happy, faces as the day came to an end. All in all, it was a great success - see you on 30th October 2010!

“The overall experience was amazing” - Parent

If you filled in an online survey, please click here to see the results, and how we plan to use your feedback. To see some of our favourite quotes and pictures from the day, click here.


CL at Lunch

To complement Britten Sinfonia’s award-winning At Lunch series, the Creative Learning department has put on a number of workshops and projects designed to introduce young audiences to the repertoire. In association with the Wigmore Hall’s Chamber Zone programme, we have held pre-concert workshops exploring Copland’s Sextet and Ravel’s Piano Trio, and visited Marlborough Primary School in Harrow to explore a new piece of music by Christian Mason. After they came to the concert, we asked the children at Marlborough to tell us what they thought of it and whether the workshop beforehand had helped them to understand the music better:


“The best bit of the concert was when they were playing the darker and more scarier pieces that play really fast, so I thought that was Excellent!”

“I could hear hockets and canons in the pieces.”

“The music was beuatiful calm, it allowed me to go and rest my eyes and imagine the music.”

Workshop leader Rachel Leach and musicians from Britten Sinfonia also spent time with pupils at Witchford Village College near Ely and Handsworth Grammar School in Birmingham exploring the Copland Sextet. We asked the pupils from Witchford what they thought of the concert, and here’s what they said (with thanks to


Sound Stories

The Sound Stories project began in January 2010 with a training session for primary school teachers who were keen to try out new ideas for musical activities in the classroom. Led by Hannah Conway, the teachers discussed how they could use a story - in this case Ed Vere’s book Mr Big - to inspire creative music making.

Mr Big is a gorilla whose scary appearance frightens off potential friends, until his beautiful piano playing persuades them of his real gentle nature. The character, who is “big on the outside but small on the inside”, certainly lends itself to descriptive music, from his thumping footsteps to his lonely tears.

Following the training session, Hannah visited the six schools - Barford, Barnham Broom, Browick Road, Morley, Spooner Row and Wicklewood - accompanied by musicians from Britten Sinfonia. Leading on from work the children had already done in class, she helped them to develop their musical ideas and create whole-class compositions based on the Mr Big story.

Finally, all the pupils came together for a Mr Big concert. Bringing their Mr Big masks, letters to Mr Big, gorilla collages and pictures of the city at night, it was clear that the children had really taken the story to heart, and were keen to hear the music that the Britten Sinfonia string quintet had chosen to illustrate it. After introducing the two violins, viola, cello and (the children’s favourite) the double bass, Hannah told the story to a rapt audience. Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons provided a perfect illustration of the frightened citizens running away from the gorilla, with a Dvorak waltz showing Mr Big’s gentler side and Leroy Anderson’s Typewriter providing the background for some frenetic typing of letters to the gorilla. With a final Hokey Cokey we were finished, leaving a hall full of excited children to compare masks and talk to the musicians.

And what’s the best praise following a concert for young children? Well, as one of the teachers pointed out, not one child needed the toilet during the hour-long concert: “A testament to their involvement”!


Composers’ Workshop

As part of his residency with Britten Sinfonia during January and February 2010, Nico Muhly was the mentor for this season’s Composers’ Workshop at Cambridge University. This event has become an annual fixture in the Music Faculty’s calendar, with five or six talented students selected each year to have their compositions workshopped and performed by an ensemble of Britten Sinfonia and Cambridge University musicians.

Unfortunately Nico’s day started with a series of trials and tribulations at the hands of Network Rail (an experience he describes in his blog), but once he arrived at West Road Nico quickly made up for lost time with his insightful, pertinent and often challenging comments and questions on the students’ work. The names to watch out for this year are Frances Balmer, Jude Carlton, Peter Matthews, Peter Yarde Martin, Joel Rust and Toby Young; as Nico commented afterwards,

“...these six composers were incredibly skilled, technically. Every gesture was really intelligently handled — quick atonal lines that whipped around corners like fancy waterslides.”


Sinfonia at Work with McLaren

What does a chamber orchestra like Britten Sinfonia have in common with an F1 team like McLaren? In fact there are numerous similarities, but in essence it all boils down to high performance. In both the orchestra and the racing team, a world class performance can only be achieved if all of the team members work together, acknowledging each others’ skills, supporting each other and trusting that, when split-second decisions need to be made, the experience of the team will allow this to happen.

We explored these and many other issues in a fascinating workshop with 12 senior managers from McLaren, which took place in March as part of our partnership with Cambridge University’s Judge Business School. Beginning by exploring shifting roles and relationships through Dohnanyi’s String Trio, and ending with rousing performances by the McLaren employees themselves, the day was full of fun, surprises and, most importantly, learning.

For more information on Sinfonia At Work, please contact Isobel Timms on 01223 300795 or email



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Britten Sinfonia At Lunch Five 2015-16

West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
01 July 2016 1:00pm

Britten Sinfonia Academy, now celebrating its fifth year, performs its own At Lunch programme featuring a world premiere.

Possibly Colliding: Session Six

St Giles' Cripplegate (Barbican), London
03 July 2016 5:00pm

An early evening concert featuring Britten Sinfonia Voices and conductor Eamonn Dougan in a programme of music from Russia and Russian-influenced composers.

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