Sunday July 12th saw the South Cotswold Youth Orchestra take part in a special performance on the last day of the Music for Youth National Festival in Birmingham. The National Festival is a week-long celebration of music making featuring pop, urban, classical, wind bands, music centres, symphony orchestras and more. The festival sees performance in Symphony Hall, Birmingham Town Hall and the Adrian Boult Hall, and as part of its celebration of 10 years in Birmingham, there were various fringe performances taking place in the library and marquees around the city centre.
The SCYO were invited to perform at a special performance celebrating the centenary of composer Benjamin Britten. During 2013/14, SCYO have taken part in the Britten and Beyond Project, which has seen 20 selected groups from across the globe establishing links with one another and exploring his music (you can find out about SCYO’s partners at the Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia in Rome here). The culmination of this project, involving Music for Youth, the British Council and the Britten Foundation, took place in the Adrian Boult Concert Hall, within the Birmingham Conservatoire.
When we arrived, we were introduced to Pete Letanka, who would be leading a workshop involving all of the players for the afternoon. Pete is a jazz pianist & composer, and a very experienced workshop leader having led education projects with the Royal Opera House and London Philharmonic Orchestra. We would be learning two songs, one a specially commissioned work to celebrate the project and another based on ‘Cuckoo’ from Brittens Friday Afternoons. A chamber group of musicians from SCYO went to learn their music.
Meanwhile, in the Recital Hall Pete led a high-energy and fast-paced workshop which involved us working with pupils from Grantham Prep School to learn the songs, complete with actions, focussing on aspects of pitch and rhythm.
After a brief rehearsal in the Adrian Boult Hall, at 4pm the celebration began. The event was being filmed from various angles to be broadcast on the internet, and the screen above the ABH stage certainly kept the audience on their toes!
Clips and messages from the groups around the world were broadcast on the screen, including Bulgaria and Armenia. A teacher from the Maynard School in Exeter was interviewed about her school’s involvement, and then it was time for the SCYO to present the first ‘live’ performance. The videos really gave the players a chance to see what a big, international project they had been involved with.
The Orchestra performed three movements from Britten’s ‘Soirees Musicales’ – The rousing March, the dancing Tirolese, and the foot-stomping Tarantella. All of the players really rose to the ocassion, performing with professionalism and expertise. There were brilliant solos from flute, clarinet and oboe, and the strings really worked together to make a cohesive sound. The audience certainly showed their appreciation at the end!
After the performance, more clips were featured involving groups further afield, before we came to the grand finale. Pete taught the audience their part (yes, the audience provided some extra backing rhythms!). Before we performed ‘Cuckoo’ and Pete’s own composition. Everyone involved was impressed at the way the SCYO players threw themselves into this piece – both those playing instruments and those singing. It showed real enthusiasm and true professionalism – learning and performing a new piece within an hour takes courage and concentration.
The entire performance, including the clips and messages, will be online to watch again shortly and we will post a link when it’s up. With the whole thing filmed from various angles it should be brilliant to watch again and we can’t wait. And no, no one was immune to the occasional close up on the big screen!
A big ‘thank you’ must go to Judith for organising everything, and Music for Youth for their excellent organisation. We hope to continue our links with some of the groups involved too. It really was a fantastic experience for everyone, tutors and pupils alike, and it’s been a privilege to be involved in such a project.