How and why did the Southbank Sinfonia come about?
I worked in the Music Department of Westminster Abbey for ten years and whilst there, formed the Parliament Choir. The choir needed an orchestra so I fixed them with one of the players currently at Music College. They were all about to leave and none of them had jobs to go to. I realised then just how precarious it is to have trained for 10-15 years if there are no jobs available. Excellent young players are sometimes forced to give up. That struck me as tragic and I wanted to do something about it. Together with Michael Berman and Katharine Verney (parents of two of my choristers at Westminster), we founded Southbank Sinfonia.
Over the nine-month programme at Southbank Sinfonia, what do these young musicians learn?
A huge variety of activities: Orchestrally, each week is a different project. One week they play alongside the Royal Opera House orchestra, the next they play with gut strings and Baroque bows. Then there’s a jazz project with Guy Barker, and then learning about broadcasting, playing Side-by-Side with a BBC orchestra. We present a ‘Rush Hour’ concert each Thursday which the players introduce, they’re trained by actors from the national Theatre to do that and in the course of the year, there are all sorts of other aspects to cover like tax, websites, agents, and unions.
What is the most memorable experience you have had with the Southbank Sinfonia?
‘Every Good Boy Deserves Favour’ – a play written by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn in which a full symphony orchestra is one of the actors. We worked on it (with Stoppard and Previn) for two months and then did 71 sold out performances on the revolve at the National Theatre. I was dressed like Stalin and was in the middle of the revolve with the orchestra spinning around me. It was electrifying and fascinating.
The orchestra has performed around Britain and Europe, but will this be the first time they will be performing in Asia?
Having worked with the City Chamber Orchestra previously, I had met various people including Chris Patten. He introduced me to Peter Thompson and Helmut Sohmen and they suggested I take Southbank Sinfonia to Hong Kong. As I’d worked there previously, it seemed the obvious place to dip our toes into Asian waters. We have funding for a few Asian players to come to SbS every year, but of course if they don’t know about it and what it’s like, they’re not going to apply. It’s a well-trodden pathway in the UK now, from conservatoire to SbS; we need to make that the same in Asia.
Can you tell us more about the repertoire for the upcoming concert?
We are a Classical orchestra so Mozart and Beethoven are an obvious way to include everybody and the young, dynamic spirit of the orchestra suits Beethoven very well. We wanted to work with Ning Feng and originally he suggested a Mozart concerto, but I was keen to have something really stirring which again used all our players. I love the Figaro overture as an opener; I get no greater operatic thrill that sitting in the opera house as those first few bars of the Figaro emerge. My last work in Hong Kong was conducting the whole opera (Figaro) at the APA last year so it’s a work I connect very happily with Hong Kong. We of course are keen to do as much contemporary music as possible too and something British that was written for us by Sally Beamish for our 10th anniversary seemed a good splash to begin the second half.
Tickets for the concert are available now at all URBTIX counters, online at http://www.urbtix.hk or through telephone booking at 2111 5999. For enquiries, email [email protected].
Beethoven Symphony No.1 | 4th Movement