Talking to Thomas Gould

A Day in the Life of… Violinist Thomas Gould
són orchestra delivers first for Southampton with exciting Richter premiere

Following our fantastically well-received debut at Romsey Abbey, April sees a return to our home base, Turner Sims, with an exciting new venture: Southampton’s premiere live performance of music from pioneering British composer Max Richter, famed for his soundtrack to the recent BBC hit Taboo. And this isn’t just a Southampton premiere, either: it’s one of only two performances of Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed in the whole of the UK this year – so make sure you catch it with us this spring!

First heard at London’s Barbican Centre in 2012, then performed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015, Richter’s iTunes classical chart-topping composition takes Vivaldi’s masterpiece as the starting point of a work described as ‘a startling musical transformation… drifting ambient soundscapes and monumental walls of sound’. And the són concert includes a further piece from this pioneering British composer, ‘On the Nature of Daylight’, which opens and closes the 2017 Oscar-winning film Arrival, and is also featured on the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island.

The concert offers an eclectic mix, appealing to classical music buffs and first-time concert-goers alike, as Richter is preceded in the first half by Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus and the passionate string colours of Barber’s ever-popular Adagio and Elgar’s Sospiri – a taster for the orchestra’s ‘Elgar Unwrapped’ event at the same venue in June.

“This concert features a powerful mix of string works which will really demonstrate the strengths of this professional orchestra,” explains Robin Browning, són’s artistic director. “And Richter’s treatment of Vivaldi’s music is not only fascinating and engaging, it also complements our commitment to promoting contemporary British music and to bringing superb live performances of newly imagined and reinterpreted works to Southampton audiences.”

We do hope you will be able to join us – and our superb soloist for Four Seasons Recomposed, violinist Thomas Gould. Leader of the world-renowned Britten Sinfonia, and one of the UK’s foremost interpreters of contemporary music, Gould has been described by The Guardian as ‘one of the new generation of classical musicians’. He shares with us his approach to concert performances – which includes an eclectic mix of tea with soya milk, Barbra Streisand belting out ‘Alfie’ and Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’. And his description of Richter’s music: ‘Edgy and epic!’

Read his one-to-one interview with Robin Browning for more inside information…

What is the day of a concert like for you?

I really look forward to concert days because I usually have the morning off to do nothing at all. A real luxury for me! I normally drive to the event which gives me the rare chance to just listen to music for sheer pleasure. Rehearsals on a concert day can be stressful so I like to take some time to myself before the performance itself. I have a bite to eat and several cups of tea with soya milk. Winding down afterwards involves more tea – and maybe something a bit stronger too!

Are there any special routines you always follow?

Not really, to be honest. I will practice and check through my markings on the score. Or, if I’m playing from memory, I’ll go through any potential pitfalls in detail.

How does performing the Richter compare with playing the Vivaldi original?

I’ve played the Vivaldi far more often so the Richter still has the excitement of the new. In terms of the actual notes the two pieces are in fact very different. The Richter needs more concentration. It takes phrases from the Vivaldi and repeats them, often with quite subtle differences, so you have to constantly make sure your fingers don’t automatically go into the default positions of the original piece.

Why would you encourage traditional classical music audiences to expand their horizons and experience Richter live?

I first performed Richter as part of the Sound Unbound Festival at London’s Barbican to a full house that included a fantastic mix of traditional classical music lovers and younger, more contemporary audience members. I can testify to the transformative effect Richter’s music had on everyone – and that many people can’t be wrong!

What three adjectives epitomise Richter’s music for you?

Edgy. Repetitive. Epic!

Imagine a contemporary composer has created a piece especially written for you. What would make it successful in your eyes?

The bottom line is that the audience has to enjoy it. They haven’t had the benefit of playing it or hearing it during hours and hours of rehearsals as the orchestra and the soloist have, so it’s really important they can get something from it on first listen.

Thomas Gould’s 60-Second Snapshot

Favourite piece of music
…to perform live
Bach’s Goldberg Variations

 …as a quick encore
A movement of solo Bach

 …to relax to
Barbra Streisand singing Burt Bacharach’s ‘Alfie’

 …to boost your energy
‘Syro’ by electronic musician and composer Aphex Twin

…from film or TV
The soundtrack to Taxi Driver

Who inspired you to become a violinist?
My sister [violinist Clio Gould]

Have you played any other instrument?
Hammond organ, piano, percussion

What is your favourite solo instrument to listen to?
The piano, it’s the most versatile

If you could play on any stage in the world, where would you choose?
St George’s concert hall in Bristol is a gem for its acoustics

Hear Thomas Gould perform Max Richter’s Four Seasons Recomposed with són at Turner Sims, Southampton on Friday 28 April at 7:30pm.

** Students and under-18’s **
special ticket price – ONLY £9

Tickets are £9 to £24 – click here for online box office
or call 023 8059 5151

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A Day In A Singer's Life

Want to know what soloists eat before concerts, how they choose what to wear, and how they keep calm?
Well, now you can find out, as we interview soprano, Lucy Knight

Here at SÓN, we always like to offer our concert-goers a little bit more. Our printed programmes are a good example of this.

Of course, we do cram it full of all the usual things, such as biographies, orchestra lists and programme notes (including, for our forthcoming Romsey Abbey concert next week, some brilliantly erudite notes from leading Beethoven-expert William Drabkin).

We think audience members like a little bit more than this, too. Our launch concert programme included specially written Sibelius articles, interviews and photographs, and even recipes for some Finnish Christmas goodies (it was a late-November event!)

So, for our Romsey debut, we couldn’t resist a couple of interviews. We enjoy a discussion with two of our són Masterclass students about the benefits and challenges of being an early-career orchestral musician. And we’ve also included a fascinating interview with the evening’s soloist, soprano Lucy Knight, about what her typical concert day looks like.

Want to know all about what soloists eat before concerts, how they choose their frock, and what they do to keep calm? Well, now you can find out – because we’re delighted to reproduce extracts from our interview below. Of course, if you’d like to find out more, including other interviews (no recipes this time, mind) you can pick up one of our programmes an hour before kick-off next Saturday. For now, read on and enjoy this taster…

Tell us about what you do on the day of a concert. What do you do to juggle all the timings, travelling & rehearsing?

My husband (a trombonist) and I have a busy schedule of concerts and late nights, so waking up early is not our greatest strength… On concert days I always feel a buzz of excitement: after weeks or months of preparation, now is the time to meet the orchestra and make the music come to life. I make an enormous breakfast to fuel me through the day – I’m currently obsessed with everything Sri Lankan, so it’s spicy scrambled eggs these days – before some exercise to wake me up, and a vocal warm-up. I’m a terrible driver, so if at all possible I will always opt for the train to concert destinations. We usually rehearse for three hours on a concert day, working through the music and addressing any issues such as balance (how loud the singer is in relation to the orchestra), which vary from venue to venue. Supper is usually rushing to the nearest restaurant that will serve food as early as 5:30pm, and quickly, before returning to the venue to get into concert dress and ready for the call to stage. Bed time is late after concerts as adrenaline is running high.

What about all the practicalities – how do you choose what to eat, what to wear, and are there any special routines you always follow?

Singers are told to avoid very spicy or high-dairy food, but I only have one food rule on concert days: to make sure there is plenty of it! Singing is very physical. We use our whole bodies to support the sound and make it carry over an orchestra, which requires a lot of energy. And there’s nothing more nerve-inducing than an empty stomach. I choose my dress the night before a concert and try to match it to the occasion, with dark colours for the Requiems and Passions, red for Messiahs, and pale or bright for more celebratory works like tonight’s Exsultate Jubilate. I don’t have any special routines as every ‘backstage’ is different (often I have my own dressing room, other times I can be sharing with a choir of 100) but you might find me in the kitchen breathing the steam from a kettle to hydrate my voice, especially after a heavy few days of singing.

What about your mindset? How do you approach an event from a positive mental perspective, and what do you do to stay calm and balanced?

It probably goes without saying that musical preparation is essential for a positive mentality. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel nervous before I perform, but learning to translate those nerves into excitement is one of the things we learn (whether through training, or trial and error) during the course of becoming a professional musician. And in fact the extra adrenaline is one of the things that makes a concert different to a rehearsal, and gives it that electrifying spark. Staying calm in general is definitely important, and for me this means a healthy lifestyle of good food, exercise, spending time with friends, and enjoying other things in life besides singing.

How do you know when an event has gone well, and how do you feel when you and your supporting orchestra have worked well together?

A great concert is immensely satisfying. I feel extremely fortunate to perform classical music as my job, and to be able to bring to life centuries of some of humankind’s greatest artistic endeavours. Music is not simply the dots on a page: it needs live performance in order to exist, and there is great excitement in bringing your own interpretation to these historical works and knowing that each concert will be different. I am aware that things have gone well with an orchestra when we are able to take risks together, and create the moments of spontaneity and magic where the music seems to have a life of its own.

What is special to you about the music you are singing in the Romsey Abbey concert?

To talk about the genius of Mozart must be the biggest cliche in classical music, but it exists for a reason. Not only is his music some of the most elegant and beautiful that has ever been written, but it is also captures the essence of human experience and emotion, expressing directly what words and other art forms cannot. In Romsey Abbey I am delighted to be singing Zerlina’s arias, the first Mozart role I ever sang whilst a student at Cambridge, in a notorious production which ended up with pizza falling into a harpsichord. Exsultate Jubilate also has special resonance for me, as this was one of the first concert works I performed as a Making Music Young Concert Artist in 2013, and how I met tonight’s superb conductor – Robin Browning – who was conducting the orchestra!

What do you do to unwind after an event?

You’ll probably find me with the orchestra in the nearest pub!

You can hear Lucy in concert with són at Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, in a programme of Mozart – arias from Don Giovanni and the Exsultate, jubilate – on Sat 18 March at 7:30pm.

Tickets are £12 to £22 – click here
or call 01794 512987 (during office hours only)

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How to get a Standing Ovation: 8 Seasons Reviews

Those who follow us closely will recall the review we posted of our very first concert – “Sibelius Unwrapped”, our launch event this time last year – penned by our artistic director’s plumber. Well, this year we received another one, from the same chap (who has, incidentally, been to every concert we’ve given so far) and also from another audience member (a member of the són Circle – our friends’ scheme).

In turn, we’d like to share them both here – but not to trumpet our amazing success (ok, maybe a little bit). We’d also love to prompt a conversation about audiences for mainstream “classical” music in general, to hear your thoughts about where that audience comes from, and where it’s heading – locally, nationally and globally.

Reviews and reactions like this may not be erudite pronouncements from the national newspapers, and they’d certainly look out of place as quotes on our homepage, yet they remind us of all the reasons we’re bringing amazing music to as wide an audience as possible. What we want to do at són, more than any other single thing, is to reach out and show people how incredible great music is. We’re doing this as much  as we can, and striving to get that message out there, all the time ensuring that everything we play is brilliantly-performed, innovatively-programmed and offers colour, power, drama, virtuosity, a (hopefully) some kind of transformative experience.

Whether we’re playing to adults or children, it doesn’t matter: they’re all either the audience of today, or the audience of tomorrow. What’s key is that this audience, all these people, all these hearts and ears – potentially wide open as we walk on stage at 7:29pm – are inspired to join us on our journey, following our music making for years to come.

són on stage with soloist Daniel Rowland and conductor Robin Browning at Turner Sims, Southampton

It’s a big debate, of course: the state of audiences for the arts, culture and (specifically) music around the world. We like to think that we’re doing our little bit: breaking down barriers, offering an eclectic mix of programming, building links with other arts organisations, as well as both developing and challenging audiences. There’s little doubt that the format of mainstream “classical” music has had to change lately (and has begun to do so), but the music itself doesn’t need to change. Apart from 500 years’ worth of incredible masterpieces to plunder, more and more works are being created every minute, in the widest variety of styles ever. New technology, acoustical changes, radical lighting, pre-concert talks – and, yes, even our very own “Unwrapped” series – all add an extra something to the overall concert experience. But, throughout it all, if the music is strong enough, and performed well enough, there shouldn’t be need for anything more.

At the end of our 8 Seasons concert last month, the entire, huge crowd in Turner Sims sprang to their feet in ovation – right after the closing chord of the last number. What made this happen? Well, it wasn’t the funky lighting (nothing out of the ordinary there), the amplification or electronic reverb (there wasn’t any), the GoPro camera mounted on the top of the double bass (ditto): it was the music, and the energy and spirit in which it was played. Pure and simple.

These two reviews – perhaps let’s call them “responses” – go some way to summing-up why that concert was such a stunning success. Take a look, and if so inspired, please leave us a comment below and join our discussion about audiences, about classical music and all the things són are doing.

Plus, we’ll be releasing a few short film extracts of the concert soon, too – so if you missed it, you can judge for yourself.

Happy reading – and humblest thanks to these two audience members for sharing their thoughts, and all our friends for supporting our work.

vibrant, energetic, unpredictable music-making

“The standing ovation at the end of són‘s 8 Seasons concert at the Turner Sims on 22 October spoke for itself. The audience had been enthralled for two hours by vibrant, energetic and unpredictable music-making, and they had to stand up and clap in order to acknowledge how remarkable that experience had been.

There were many moments of fine playing from Daniel Rowland, the violin soloist, and from the són strings conducted by Robin Browning; but what led to the standing ovation was the sheer energy and musical daring of the whole event. Interspersing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires completely transformed the all too well-known Vivaldi pieces into fresh, alive music never heard before. This was not the Vivaldi of Smooth Classics on Classic FM nor the Vivaldi of the answer machine message  ‘You are moving forward in the queue…’ This was a strange, edgy, nervous Vivaldi. Piazzolla’s pieces are responses to Vivaldi’s Seasons, but in this performance it seemed that it was Vivaldi who was responding to Piazzolla.

That inspired linking was the origin of this event, but it was the personality and the playing of Daniel Rowland which made the night so electric. His physical presence, turning to the orchestra leader, turning to sections of the orchestra, turning to the harpsichordist, made the musical experience also a visual and theatrical experience. As a violinist he drove himself to the limit with impossibly fast tempos, and he energised són by demanding extreme dynamic contrasts and throwing them from total calm into frenzied action.

When directed by Daniel in the Vivaldi the orchestra had to follow his unpredictable style of playing and respond to his risk-taking. When conducted by Robin in the Piazzolla they brought off amazingly complex rhythms and produced highly original string sounds, while at the same time fitting in with the improvised style of the soloist. They produced moments of great beauty and quite unexpected passages of elegant lyricism. But most of the time the music was on the edge: it was truly exciting, constantly alive with something new, different and unforeseen.

No wonder that, at the end, the audience was on its feet, clapping and cheering!”

Frank Stack

Soloist Daniel Rowland (left) and conductor Robin Browning backstage after 8 Seasons

Just incredible again!

“So, what can I say….. just incredible again – you really pull it off don’t you?!

You have me and Carley really enjoying something we never would have dreamt of not so long ago, but we have just experienced our 3rd session of orchestral music live and what a performance by Daniel Rowland. The 8 seasons were so dramatic and grabbing – it really does take you somewhere, certainly with the whole orchestra firing up. I can’t work out which instrument to focus on there’s so much going on, it’s purely fascinating to watch everyone at work. Hard to compare to John Suchet in Eroica Unwrapped [earlier in our concert season] – completely different but that was an awesome Beethoven work, too.

Well done són and thanks for introducing us into something other than the boring repetitive modern chart music that my girls drown me in.”

Lee Fisher

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8 Questions about 8 Seasons

Violinist Daniel Rowland talks about Vivaldi’s four seasons, Piazzolla’s tango music, violins
…and fish, with conductor Robin Browning

As a prelude to their performance together this October, són artistic director Robin Browning spoke with Daniel Rowland, charismatic soloist for “8 Seasons”, which features Vivaldi’s famous four seasons, coupled with Piazzolla’s tango-inspired quartet, so making up our fascinating “8”.

They chat about Vivaldi and Piazzolla, as well as Daniel’s inspirations, his love of tango music and a brief history of his beloved instrument.

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Robin Browning: You’ve got quite a connection with these fascinating pieces in this brilliant, but unusual combination. Most are familiar with Vivaldi’s four… So tell us a little more about those by Piazzolla.

Daniel Rowland: I heard Piazzolla for the first time at the Oxford festival in 2008, so I came rather late to it, in fact. They were played by Marcelo Nisinman, who is an amazing bandoneon player. He was once the protegee of Piazzolla – he used to rehearse in his parent’s apartment, so this little boy got to know the master very well. I remember the first time I got to play them all was with players like Priya Mitchell and a bunch of other brilliant players. I remember after that, I went to my hotel room and I burst into tears – I found this music so touching and so beautiful. I had never heard this kind of music before, it was my first contact with the Piazzolla.

And, so, following that there are two interesting things: one being that I founded a quintet with Marcello as a partner, who was in the original Piazzolla line up. We play a combination of old tangos and contemporary compositions written by Marcello which are based on the tango style.

And then the second thing is, quite shortly after having had this first Piazzolla experience in an orchestra, I was asked to play something for the Stellenbosch festival in South Africa, with orchestra, so I suggested the Piazzolla-Vivaldi combination which I had then just come across, following this concert in Oxford. So I played it there, and it was a huge hit – the audience were very enamoured. They had never heard this combination before, and I felt like I was on fire – I think! – so I recorded it there in South Africa and it has become a staple of my repertoire. I do think it’s an incredibly powerful combination: this Vivaldi and Piazzolla.

Daniel Rowland
© Balazs Borocz / Pilvax Studio

RB: I think they’re brilliant, the skillful way they cross-reference each other, and how cleverly each thread is interspersed. How many times do you think you’ve played it in your career so far?

DR: Oh, my goodness… I’ve played Vivaldi more, of course, because one is more often asked to play that. But the combination of the eight… maybe fifteen or twenty times, something like that. But, as you say about the cross-referencing thing: It’s amazing to think that these pieces span just about the whole period – Venice around the 1720s and then Buenos Aires around 1960’s-1970’s. And, yet, the sheer vibrancy, and the imagination in the music is incredible.

Piazzolla might have been inspired by Vivaldi, but I think he writes in very much his own language, too. I mean, in the original quintet version of the [Piazzolla] seasons – which I have also played many times – there are no particular references to Vivaldi. But in these arrangements we are going to play with són, there are echoes of Vivaldi, sometimes nested within the Piazzolla. These are touches from Desyatnikov (the arranger) and not Piazzolla himself, yet of course they draw a connecting thread through the entire evening.

It’s not only the greatness of Piazzolla, or the way it echoes Vivaldi, but more how his language is so dynamic and direct, as is Vivaldi’s, that makes it all fit so wonderfully together.

RB: And so how do they work in order? I mean, you intermingle them in performance – we don’t have a Piazzolla first half and Vivaldi second half… What order do you like to perform them in?

DR: Well, yes, doing a Piazzolla first half and Vivaldi second half certainly has its merits, I think. But usually, almost always in fact, I like to perform these in the same order that Gidon Kremer suggested, which is great I think and works wonderfully. So, he starts with Vivaldi’s Spring, and then goes to Piazzolla’s “Verno” – ie, to the Argentinian Summer. And then you keep altering like that. Back to Summer in Italy, then forward to Buenos Aires in Autumn, and so on.

This works because it means that the last three that you do begin with Piazzolla’s Winter, which is the most emotional and most exceptional of all of them; then after that, Vivaldi’s Winter because it’s quite a knockout. And, following that, Piazzolla’s “Primavera” which is Spring. Then after that quite wild and virtuoso ending, you can play a little memory of Spring by Vivaldi, a little bit like Schnittke, in quite a skeletal way – so it turns around quite nicely.

It’s fabulously intense music, so despite being only 8 little concertos (only!) it’s quite a compact programme length, yet because there’s so much going on, it feels like a nicely “packed” concert.

Daniel Rowland
© Balazs Borocz / Pilvax Studio

RB: Of course, all this flavour, intoxicating colour and contrast gives – to the audience – the illusion of greater length and density.

DR: It’s interesting, there’s certainly no lack of contrast, or virtuosity, or density in this programme! In many ways it’s a classic concert programme – both for those who love baroque music and also for those who love tango.

And also for people don’t know classical music that well and would love to give it a try. This programme really has everything you could possibly wish for in terms of direct appeal. There’s something for just about any taste.

RB: You mentioned Gidon Kremer, the famous violinist who originally commissioned the arrangements of Piazzolla by Desyatnikov (so as they would share the same scoring as the Vivaldi, as well as forming a beautifully coherent 8-concerto whole). Do you know Kremer, and have your paths crossed at all?

DR: No, I would very much like to have done, but I’ve never worked with Kremer. Having said that, he’s certainly one of my great inspirations. I love the way he always couples his violinistic abilities with such an inquisitive approach to all music. And, his whole openness about commissioning new works, plus I deeply love the way he plays tango music so instinctually.

RB: The two of us and són perform 8 Seasons in Southampton’s Turner Sims – such a fabulous hall, intimate and with fine acoustics. You must have been there in the past when touring with one of your quartets?

DR: Funny thing is, one of the concerts I did when I played with the Allegri Quartet (where I didn’t play very long, but for a little while) it could well be that one of the very first concerts I ever did with them was at Turner Sims, perhaps 2005 or something like that.

But, yes, I’ve played there many times. I particularly like the way the seating all stretches upwards, and I love the feeling of being in the “arena” with the audience.

Astor Piazzolla

RB: It’s a gorgeous hall – I never overlook the fact that són are lucky to perform there, especially as a part of their annual season. You’ve enjoyed a very successful and busy career chamber musician, but are you increasingly in demand as a soloist these days?

DR: I’ve always done a lot of solo work, enjoying a lot of diversity, but I have played a large amount of solo repertoire, contemporary works, chamber music and – like I said – a lot of tango music too. So it’s been an important thing for me. I would never say that I’m exclusively a chamber musician because I do too many different things, but of course in the United Kingdom, I am.

People know me maybe because of the Brodsky Quartet and that’s where a lot of people see or hear me, but I am very much at home playing solo works, recital repertoire and concertos – especially early 20th century concertos – and also slightly more unusual repertoire. I think I’m a bit of a centipede, you know, with many different limbs doing different things!

RB: Before you go, let’s talk violins and violinists a little more. Who did you study with, and who inspires you?

DR: I’ve been lucky enough to study with Igor Oistrakh, and also with Ruggiero Ricci. And with Ivry Gitlis, who I’m still very much in touch with. Earlier we both mentioned Kremer, who unfortunately I’ve never worked with but he’s a big inspiration to me.

RB: One last question – tell us a little bit about your instrument, and perhaps a little bit of it’s history.

DR: I play on a Storioni, which was made in 1794. He is considered the last of the great Cremonese makers. Mine is from his golden period, just as it drew to a close.

Incidentally, if you go to google images and search for “Storioni”, you’ll see: violin, violin, fish, fish, fish, violin, violin, fish… And this is because Storioni means “sturgeon (fish)” in Italian. A little known fact!

So I got this violin about ten years ago, and it used to belong to Gordan Nikolitch [previously leader of the London Symphony Orchestra] so the violin has quite nice history.

RB: Thank you Daniel for your time and your stories. I’m looking forward to hearing your Vivaldi and Piazzolla next month, and can’t wait to see you on stage at Turner Sims with són. Until then!

As you can tell, “8 Seasons” on October 22nd is going to be quite special, promising a diverse programme and a fantastic soloist. An evening of both well known classics and lesser known gems, it will take through four seasons on two sides of the planet, transporting you from Vivaldi’s Venice straight to Piazzolla’s Buenos Aires and back again. All from the comfort of Turner Sims! We look forward to seeing you there.

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Midsummer Magic

find out more about our triumphant family concert
earlier this summer at Turner Sims

Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
presented & illustrated by James Mayhew

2016 commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and – not to be ones to miss out on a celebration opportunity – són brought their innovative approach to one of Shakespeare’s most famous works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This marked the first in our family concert series, bringing amazing music, art and story-telling to the younger generation, introducing them to classical music in a fun and alternative manner – engaging more than just their ears in the experience.

As a pre-concert event, Turner Sims was taken over by the Southampton University Players for a performance of Bottom’s dream, a great way of introducing Shakespeare to our audience and starting off the day’s celebrations. The play brought everyone out onto the lawn in the sunshine (for once the British weather pulled through) and gave a taste of the magic to come.

Alongside this, the foyer was a hive of activity, with plenty of specially commissioned arts and crafts to involve the children and adults. Some of the players even got their faces painted for the occasion. For this we have to thank Antonio Reche, who not only engaged the children in creating their own fairy wings, but also created and put together James’s fantastic costume.

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At 3pm the concert began in the hall – lights darkened so as the artwork could be clearly seen on the huge projection screen above the orchestra. Children and adults listened and watched, entranced by an hour long extravaganza of Purcell and Mendelssohn, enlightening us to the images that Shakespeare was imagining when writing his iconic comedy.

June 18th was a particularly exciting day for us because it was our first full collaboration with our Artistic Advisor, James Mayhew. For those of you who don’t know about James, he’s an established and much-loved children’s writer and illustrator – creating the Ella Bella Ballerina stories and Katie books. However, James has also been presenting classical music to a live audience for over a decade, so we brought him to Southampton to paint alongside our lovely orchestra, and bring his magic to the city’s audience, young and old.

It was great to see such a huge crowd on the day, especially because this was our first outing together. Not only did James very kindly raffle the paintings we’d all witnessed him bring to life, but he also engaged in an exclusive book signing.

We asked James Mayhew a few questions about his work.

You have been involved in illustrating classical music for over a decade now, it was clear to me that the audience loved this aspect of the concert, why do you think it has such a big effect on the performance?

“I think there are many reasons, actually, because different people take different things from any experience, but I think that matching live music with live art does create a certain connection. The art can highlight musical refrains, develop with a crescendo, follow the rhythm, and even use colour to represent sounds. It’s really quite a discreet accompaniment and, with the context of a story, I think it stops music from just being “a nice tune” to being something more meaningful. Of course, a huge amount of time is spent choosing repertoire that is more likely to benefit – generally “programmatic” music – and then developing images that are both appropriate to each composer’s intentions and which can be choreographed to match the ebb and flow of the music.

I try to paint in a way that does not reveal the composition immediately as well. The paintings may appear almost abstract at first, and only come into focus and make sense as the music develops. So there is a development in the art underlining the development in the music.

How important is this type of event to getting families, and particularly children, interested in orchestral works?

It’s essential! There are lots of great events around the country and most orchestras take education and family audiences seriously now. This is wonderful, and it’s so heartening to see family proms with big audiences. But actually there are not many that present fuller works as I do with són, and I think that is extremely important. “Lollipop” concerts, with a few “greatest hits” and some “movie themes” are great fun, and have their place. But I am especially proud of the work I have done with Robin Browning, at introducing longer pieces and richer repertoire with integrity and imagination.

Children can, and will, listen to a longer piece if presented the right way. The music has more power, and children (as well as parents) experience better the full emotional potential of great music when it is in context.

Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Wedding March is a typical “lollipop”. Everyone recognises it. But it’s far more resplendent when part of an extended suite of complete music, as we performed in Southampton.

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As a children’s author, you are obviously aware of how all the arts are linked – do you think these types of concerts are a good educational tool?

Absolutely! Apart from inspiring children to take up an instrument, we are also inspiring children to be part of an audience – something I don’t think is given enough importance. Not all children will become a musician, but all children can appreciate and enjoy music. Using programmatic music also educates in terms of stories: myths, legends from all over the world, it’s very diverse; and Shakespeare too, seen from a different angle.

But it also educates musicians. I sometimes get players saying: “I’ve played that for years, I had no idea that is what the music is about!”. Because musicians are concentrating on notes, perhaps it takes someone who isn’t, who understand the stories and the inspiration, to bring that into the mix. If I was a musician I probably wouldn’t be able to do it.

I think the art is educational too. There is nothing digital or perfect about what I do, sometimes it’s a real rush to finish a picture in time. But children see that, and it’s funny. And they see some techniques and effects. They go home thinking: I could do that. And they often do! I get sent fabulous pictures by parents sometimes. They are also learning about geography, history: it’s so rich. Art and creativity can’t be squeezed into little boxes, it bursts out and stimulates all the senses.

We are planning more family concerts with you in the future, promising more Mayhew magic for Southampton. Do you think you’ll be able to create an even better concert than this one?

Well, I hope so! Of course anything in the future will be very different, because the music would be different. But the great thing about projects such as these with Robin and són is that they’re so varied, and they build and grow. I learn more techniques, the audiences learn to listen more, my relationship with the players gets better… as we explore different repertoire… it’s a three way thing: we are all giving and sharing and communicating. I’m very lucky. I love my job!”

Thank you James, for all your thoughts and insights.

We also spoke to són Artistic Director and conductor, Robin Browning, who described his initial expectations for the concert and how the afternoon spectacularly exceeded them . . .

“Before we chose this programme and invited to James to join us for our very first family concert, we knew it would be a big hit with Southampton and Hampshire audiences. What we could never have known was quite how incredible the afternoon was, from beginning to end, and how amazed the audience were – not just the youngsters, far from it!

What was your reaction to the day? You must be pleased after how much work went into organising it!

After the dress rehearsal, walking around the Turner Sims foyer, I was stunned by the hive of activity – over an hour before curtain up – including a throng of children making fairy-wings, and a huge number of people milling about, many with gorgeous painted faces clutching programmes and activity sheets. It made me smile, and I knew we were bringing something truly positive to Southampton. And then the pre-concert theatre began, with over 100 people sitting on the lawn creating an impromptu amphitheatre for Shakespeare, all segueing perfectly into the concert hall and the main performance. I can’t wait until we can bring James back to perform again with són.

The overwhelmingly positive response to our summer concert is evidence that innovative concerts make classical music accessible to all ages. They also enable us to show off the many facets of our orchestra, giving us the chance to reach out to potential new audiences everywhere. Our ‘Midsummer Magic’ brought people from all over Southampton, and across Hampshire, to enjoy various interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream during this special anniversary year.”

If the first són family event was anything to go by – in fact all our concerts throughout this, our debut year – then the coming season is set to be even more spectacular for són. We’re currently adding the finishing touches to our performance diary for 2016-17, and will launch the new season officially soon.

Be sure to keep in touch with all our performances, education workshops and family events – sign up for són eNews and follow us on twitter, facebook and instagram. Keep in touch, too – we’d love to hear your views!

Sophie Hart
són Creative Intern

August 2016

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