What happens at a recording session? - Britten Sinfonia

What happens at a recording session?

Sinfonia Student, Eloise England, who recently spent a week in Britten Sinfonia’s Cambridge offices for work experience, shares her experience of attending one of our recording sessions in London.

My primary experience of working in the cultural sector lies in visual art, but over the past year I’ve become increasing interested in spreading my wings and venturing into other areas. The Sinfonia Students scheme has allowed me to apply my skills in new ways, and I was excited going into this week to learn more about the people and processes which make up the organisation. Hopping between departments I’ve been able to gather a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of what Britten Sinfonia does on a day-to-day basis, but the highlight has definitely been the opportunity to witness a live recording down in London.

Britten Sinfonia recording at St John the Evangelist church in Upper Norwood

On Tuesday I went along to the recording of Au Gré Des Ondes by Dutilleux (arranged by Kenneth Hesketh) as well as Vaughan Williams’ Concerto Accademico at St John the Evangelist church in Upper Norwood. As well as the full day of recording, it was interesting to see all the other elements which must be brought together so the recording itself can take place – including many, many cups of tea! In my ignorance of the recording process, it was a novelty to see the pieces played so well in a church – I’ve been in many churches but never one where anything like this was taking place and it certainly looked different. The recording room in the back of the church, packed with equipment and full of concentration was particularly interesting, and moving between the two I was able to see both sides of the process. For every moment that I spent listening to the orchestra playing beautifully, I could appreciate that there were many moments of hard work which came before it that facilitated the performance.

The performance itself and the system of refinement over the course of the day was amazing to witness, with the pieces repeated, perfected and repeated again. To a layperson the crystallisation of ideas and effects was engrossing – I have a much greater appreciation for the finished work because of the transparency of effort which went into it. Although there’s an art and skill to effortlessness, and a certain pleasure in the polished, when involved with visual art I’m drawn to evidence of the process, and signs of the struggle to create the piece. The effort of a work is for me the large majority of the joy in it, and this experience allowed to me realise that within music. There was a clear emphasis on collaboration throughout the whole day, which was amazing to witness. It was a pleasure seeing the players working together to realise the performance, and the environment of the recording was vastly different from anything I expected. The phrase I think I heard most throughout the day was ‘what do you think?’ and I was amazed how many times I was even asked it myself. It’s an attitude which I’m going to carry with me into my next project, and hopefully far beyond. Because of this, I can’t imagine an experience which would consolidate and highlight the ethos of Britten Sinfonia more – it was brilliant to see the approach of the organisation put into action at all levels.

Having seen only a tiny part of the planning process (and having now seen some of the organisation of future performances) I could already feel that the recording was a culmination of the work of the whole organisation and reflected the efforts of everyone involved. My main takeaway from the experience was an equal appreciation for process and outcome. This week has opened my eyes to the great number of roles within Britten Sinfonia, and the number of people it takes to make things happen. The recording was amazing, but it was almost as amazing that the whole occasion had been planned and pulled off perfectly. I see much more live orchestral music, and greater attention to detail in the larger process of creative projects in my future.

Eloise England, December 2018

Sinfonia Students is a voluntary scheme for students at the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, offering practical work experience for those interested in pursuing a career in the arts. Applications for Sinfonia Students in the academic year 2019-20 will open later in 2019. Keep an eye on our Vacancies page just before university terms start.