“Cloudless skies and soaring temperatures”

AYM / BSA Contemporary Music and Performance Residential Course

The smiling café manager at Snape Maltings asks us if we’re absolutely sure we’d like cappuccinos. Wouldn’t we prefer something cold in this heat? An ice cream, for example? They have an excellent range of ice creams.

Outside, a sea of green stretches across the Suffolk wetlands and a light breeze makes a cappuccino a viable option while  the murmur of waving reeds and Britten’s Fanfare for St Edmundsbury wafts through the open windows. Somewhere out on the boardwalks, two euphoniums and two trumpets rehearse to an empty sky.

“The young musicians this week are an inspiration offering some fresh and insightful ideas and interpretations. The balance between structured rehearsals and a more relaxed creative approach is perfect. It’s a joy to work in an atmosphere where some of the more contemporary approaches to music are embraced and seen as the norm, every opinion is valid and discussions are encouraged.” Will Smith – (trumpet) brass mentor

Aldeburgh Young Musicians (AYM) and Britten Sinfonia Academy (BSA) are two of the most exciting, challenging and diverse opportunities available to outstanding young musicians from across the east of England. Both organisations help to shape the musicians of tomorrow bringing together like-minded people to rehearse, perform and exchange creative ideas.

Over a series of residential courses encompassing an extraordinary range of musical ideas, approaches and genres and led by the most exciting artists from every walk of musical life, the AYM programme is an explosion of creativity encouraging members to push the boundaries of what they can achieve and question everything they think they know.

Modelled on the aspects for which its parent orchestra is world-renowned, BSA is a focused, chamber orchestral training experience in which outstanding young musicians work with exceptional artists to hone their musicianship, leadership and ensemble skills. The two organisations have several young players in common and relish this annual opportunity to bring both groups together to explore sets of complementary skills.

“I really enjoyed working with the musicians from BSA who have a really different approach and different ideas. I feel like I’ve made fantastic connections and musical and social relationships in such a short time.” Georgia (AYM composer participant)

BSA/AYM rhearsal

BSA/AYM rehearsal

“Having such varied repertoire and such varied musicians from different backgrounds meant that the week was educational, challenging and interesting throughout” Morgan (BSA clarinet participant)

“I love AYM generally but this combined course was one of the best I’ve ever been on because we were challenged in such different ways” Katy (AYM saxophone participant)

Under the expert guidance of musical director and conductor Jessica Cottis and commissioned composer Neil Tomas Smith, the seven-day combined residency encompassed a range of activity from orchestral to chamber rehearsals, composition and conducting workshops, discussion, question and answer sessions, rhythm workshops and stretching on the lawn.

Stretching on the lawn

Stretching on the lawn

“Billed as a course in contemporary music and performance, the week highlighted the interaction between composer and performer in a truly unique way. Memorable moments for me included watching young composers learning their craft through the skills of their peers in the orchestra; hearing the electric guitar and the descant recorder naturalised into Poulenc’s orchestration by a young arranger (Poulenc would have loved it!); earnest and passionate discussions on improvisation and on the categorisation of a text score; and the translation of a Britten fanfare for the ancient stones of a cathedral to the open spaces of the reed beds and the solemn witness of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture.” Bridget Carey (viola) – string mentor

“It was a fantastic experience working with the young people from Aldeburgh Young Musicians and the Britten Sinfonia Academy on my piece ‘Dreams of Fire’. Everyone worked with great concentration to meet the various challenges the piece presented, culminating in an excellent performance at the end of the week. It’s heartening to see young musicians approach new music with open minds and plenty of enthusiasm!” Neil Tomas Smith (composer) – composition mentor

Mentors, selected for their broad range of professional experience and diverse approach to rehearsal and performance included Britten Sinfonia members Marcus Barcham Stevens (violin), Bridget Carey (viola) and Owen Gunnell (percussion) complimented by classical, contemporary and folk artist and long-time Birmingham Contemporary Music Group collaborator Jack McNeill (clarinet) and jazz and session trumpeter Will Smith.

“I was constantly struck by the mature creativity and curiosity fizzing through the musicians on the course – even through the breaks! Everything we threw at them was tackled with a furious inventiveness, the collective patience and respect for each other’s opinions and input was very encouraging, and made for a lively atmosphere where much was achieved in a relatively short space of time. As a mentor I felt welcomed into this environment, allowing me to offer my own views and experience while also learning a great deal from the talented AYM and BSA young musicians.” Jack McNeill (clarinet) – wind mentor

“It’s really nice, we have incredible professional mentors but because we’re working side by side with them, it is less about the teacher/student relationship and more about making great music together.” Eleanor (AYM double bass participant)

“As well as being able to help the students with aspects of their performing I feel as though I came away from the course having learned a lot from everybody there, the professionals and the young musicians inspiring in equal measure.” Will Smith (trumpet) – brass mentor

BSA / AYM rehearsing

BSA / AYM rehearsing

In a place as beautiful as Snape, process is paramount and the space and time to explore and experiment is a valued luxury.

“It’s great to have time. I’ve just been playing around and trying different things out which I haven’t tried before.” Jacob (AYM violin/composer participant)

Outside the café windows, the Britten fanfare rehearsal has concluded to a patter of applause from passers-by. There’s a short break ahead of the culmination Open Session in which participants and mentors will present a selection of work from the week to friends, family and the public. The complex and exciting programme includes new compositions by five young composers and the premier of mentor Neil’s Dreams of Fire, chamber works by Howard Skempton, Bach and Philip Cashian and Poulenc’s Sinfonietta. T-shirts and shorts are discarded in favour of concert blacks and flip-flops swapped for polished shoes. There’s a buzz among both audience and performers.

“The performance gives us something to aim for and the public a chance to experience something which might be completely new to them. I personally think that sharing our music with each other and with our audience is the most important thing we can do as musicians.” Emily (AYM violin participant)

Find out more about Britten Sinfonia Academy here

Find out more about AYM here