What has ERSO been up to in lockdown?

At ERSO we really, really miss rehearsing and performing in front of our lovely audience of friends and family.  However, during the last few months we’ve been keeping busy and we’re almost ready to unveil our very first online musical project.

Our aim was to get ERSO players making music together again, albeit in a different way.  We’re all slightly obsessed with the piece we picked – “D’un matin de printemps” by the female composer Lili Boulanger, who deserved to be far better known.

erso online project comicA couple of lovely afternoons have been spent in virtual rehearsal, the players have all recorded their parts and many hours have been spent editing and now its almost time to share it with you all!

Meanwhile here’s a great recording of our chosen piece to whet your appetite!

Whilst we are waiting for Government guidance on when amateur orchestras will be allowed to start rehearsing again, we’re also making plans to ensure that we have protocols in place to allow this to happen safely once we are given the green light.

And finally, we’re enjoying staying in touch online with our players in our Online Quizes.  Turns out those violins are smart…

Hope to see you all soon, and meanwhile stay safe and well.

What almost was…

We’re so disappointed at ERSO not to be coming to the Waterloo Festival this weekend, so we asked our conductor Chris Stark to write something about the special piece that we’d hoped to play. We really hope to be back playing together for our audience as soon as its safe and we can’t wait until next summer’s Waterloo Festival!

Copland 3

Ironically this is a work that has, at its core, a message of compassion that is exactly what we all need in these unstable times. We hope you’ll get the chance to explore the piece anyway – there are some fantastic recordings available on Spotify and YouTube. I’d start with Copland 3, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, San Francisco Symphony.

Copland’s Symphony No. 3 came to life over probably the most unstable and transitional period in the last century, over the final years of the Second World War. Declaring that his piece should reflect the ‘euphoric spirit of the America’ at the start of this journey into a new world, Copland’s musical language is embedded in a spirit of optimism and brotherhood. In 2003 it was revealed that the FBI, suspicious of his left-leaning political ideals and activities, had watched him for years. As he said confidently to Senate inquisitors in 1953, “Musicians make music out of feelings aroused out of public events”. This is a sentiment that seems to be backed up in this piece; a message of compassion for fellow humans runs deep, with its construction around one of his most celebrated works, his 1942 Fanfare for the Common Man.

So much of Copland’s music sits on this wonderful cusp between two styles; one, deeply routed in the sound of America. There is music from the barn dances, with hoe-downs and rodeos, and depictions of vast American landscapes such as those heard in his ballet Appalachian Spring. But alongside this ‘Americana’, his language is always informed by his many European influences, and from the more traditional canon of western music. Copland studied for three years in France with the esteemed composer, conductor and teacher Nadia Boulanger (the elder sister of the Lili, the composer of our first ERSO lockdown project that we are currently working towards), and in his Symphony No. 3, (his last and largest offering in a form that sits as a sort of king of the Western classical canon) we see Copland engaging most overtly with the European tradition.

The Symphony’s 45 minutes or so are in four movements, with two large outer movements that surround a dance-like movement and a slow movement, and the whole piece has a trajectory and a cohesion that sit it firmly in the camp of a Symphony. The first movement forms an arch from open, generous music that we might expect to hear in his ballets, to pain and confusion, before returning. At the crest of this pain, the music almost contains the painful irony of a Shostakovich Symphony. In the second movement, we are in the world of a traditional scherzo, with playful jaunty rhythms of Bartók. And a slow movement that has the burning intensity in its pianissimo writing of a Mahler slow movement.

But within all of the music, Copland always welcomes us into his music. He may have thought that he was being disparaging about himself when he said that people ‘always think of me as a jazz composer’. But his genius is to make such profound large-scale statements in a musical language that has such open arms. The conductor Koussevitzy, who commissioned this piece, said of it “there is no doubt about it – this is the greatest American Symphony. It goes goes from the heart to the heart”

ERSO goes online!

At ERSO we’re really excited to be embarking upon on our very first online musical project.

Our aim is to get ERSO players making music together again, albeit in a different way.

The project will involve us creating a short video which will illuminate key aspects of Lili Boulanger’s D’un matin de printemps through examples and commentary from our conductor Chris Stark, followed by a full performance of the work.

So what was Lili?

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)

Marie-Juliette Olga Boulanger, known as “Lili”,  was a French composer who was the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. Her tragically early death meant that the world lost one of the potentially great composers of the 20th century.

Lili and sister Nadia were born into a musical family. Their grandmother was a famous soprano, their father a composer who had won the Prix de Rome in 1835 and their mother, Countess Raissa Myshetskaya, a professional singer.  Both sisters showed signs of musical talent at an early age and studied composition with Gabriel Fauré when they were very young.

Nadia began at the Paris Conservatoire at the young age of 9, and Lili accompanied her when she was well enough  – she was in poor health and dependent upon others physically for most of her lifetime.

Nadia’s ambition was to win the Grand Prix de Rome, which had illustrious former winners including Berlioz, Bizet and Debussy. Despite focussing upon this goal for four years, she only ever received the second prize (although many said that her entry was in fact the best and that it was misogyny which prevented her from winning the main prize) and eventually abandoned this dream and focused upon teaching and performing.  She went on to become a well-known composition teacher who worked with many of the leading composers of the 20th century, including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Philip Glass.

Having decided that her health meant she was unlikely to marry, Lili’s mother and sister questioned what Lili might do to support herself.  She decided that she wanted to pursue composing as a career and win the Prix de Rome.  Her first attempt was in 1912, but she had to withdraw due to illness.  In 1913 she tried again and became the first woman to win the prize, as co-winner with Claude Delvincourt, for her cantata, Faust et Hélène. This success led to a contract with one of the most important music publishers at the time, Ricordi, providing a regular income.

The next five years were spent in poor health whisht she composed and worked with her sister to support the French soldiers during World War I. She wrote to a friend, whilst ill with bronchitis, “I feel discouraged because I understand that I would never be able to have in me the feeling that I have done what I would like to do.”

Despite her discouragement, Lili was prolific in her short career, producing over 50 works. D’un matin de printemps (“Of a Spring Morning”) was one of the last pieces that she was healthy enough to copy out herself before she died at age 24 in 1918.  Different arrangements were produced including a version for violin, for flute, and for piano, another for piano trio, and another for orchestra. Although she finished the piece, her sister Nadia reportedly edited the works to add dynamics and performance directions.

 

 

Meet the Finalists – Grady

gradyWe caught up with Grady Hassan, Finalist for the 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year competition and also our fab ERSO Brass Leader.

What is your main occupation at the moment?

Currently I am in my final year of my master’s degree at the Royal College of Music and am hoping to graduate in the summer. In addition to my studies I teach privately, peripatetically and am a freelance performer.

What are your ambitions for the future?

In the future I would love to have secured myself a professional orchestral job with some chamber music and teaching in addition. Ultimately my ambitions are to be happy and doing music is something I adore. To be able to make a living from playing the tuba would mean I’d never work a day in my life!

What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?

I’ve always had an affinity for the lower pitched instruments of the orchestra, having also dabbled in bassoon and cello in the past. However, I grew up in a brass dominated household so the tuba was always going to win out!

What made you choose the concerto that your will be playing?

I chose the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto as it is arguably the most significant of all the tuba repertoire. Vaughan Williams completely redefined tuba playing, elevating it from purely an ensemble instrument to a solo instrument capable of virtuosity, flare and beauty. Despite being the first piece of its kind, and being written nearly 70 years ago, Vaughan Williams completely hit the nail on the head, and as such, his tuba concerto remains one of the greatest solo tuba pieces ever written.

What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?

Being able to perform a concerto with an orchestra is an incredibly rare opportunity, particularly as a tuba player. Having been a part of ERSO over the last year and seen what the orchestra is capable of under the baton of Chris Stark, I have no doubt that an opportunity to perform a concerto with ERSO would be a really amazing experience.

 

Meet the Finalists – Preston

Preston YeoQ: What is your main occupation at the moment?
A: I am currently a final-year Undergraduate at the Royal Academy of Music and will soon continue onto the Postgraduate course.
Q: What are your ambitions for the future?
A: My dream is to perform as a soloist and collaborator, working with inspiring musicians and sharing music with people all around the world.
Q: What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?
A: When I was about three years old, as I was listening to my older sister practising at home, I felt inspired to pick up one of her tiny violins and join in! I started formal violin lessons soon after that and have loved being on this journey.
Q: What made you choose the concerto that you will be playing?
A: For me, there are many aspects that make Sibelius’ Violin Concerto special. I would say the most striking sense throughout is of the bittersweet tragic-heroism (perhaps somewhat autobiographical), from stark isolation to overwhelming power. I am also most compelled by the evocative characters and influences from Finnish culture and folklore woven throughout the entire fabric of the work. All this creates a journey which you can’t help but be swept along with!
Q: What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?
A: Winning the competition would mean so much more than just gaining the opportunity to perform as a soloist with orchestra; The opportunity to work on the concerto and perform it with an inspiring, imaginative conductor, coupled with dedicated and passionate musicians, fills me with excitement and joy. I look forward to sharing this powerful and thrilling experience with everyone!

Meet the Finalists – Alastair

Alastair Penman (sax)We caught up with Alastair, one of the fab four finalists for the 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year competition.

What is your main occupation at the moment?
I split my time between performing, composing and teaching. Alongside my role as Visiting Professor of Saxophone and Electronics at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, I perform as a soloist and in chamber ensembles including the Borealis and Kaleidoscope Saxophone Quartets. As a composer, I write both contemporary works and educational music, with many of my compositions being published by Saxtet Publications.

What are your ambitions for the future?

Having already begun to establish myself as a performer and composer, I want to continue to develop a varied and wide-ranging career. Whilst I have much experience of performing solo and chamber recitals, and I have performed numerous concerti with Wind Orchestras, I have only had the chance to perform in front of Symphony Orchestras on a handful of occasions; this is something I would love to do more of in the future. I will also continue to focus on my work with live electronics and will be releasing my second album in late 2020.

What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?
I didn’t begin playing the saxophone until I was about 14. However, whilst at primary school I had started learning piano and later clarinet, on the suggestion of my older sister, who played the flute (and now plays professionally). When I moved up to secondary school, I admired the sax players in school big band; it was this that prompted me to take up the saxophone!

What made you choose the concerto that you will be playing?
Tableaux de Provence is a much loved piece among saxophonists, and is regularly performed in the composer’s own arrangement for saxophone and piano. It is much less often heard with the original orchestral accompaniment, which I feel is a real shame because the orchestration is so colourful and really adds another dimension to the piece. Since I first heard it, I have thought that Tableaux de Provence is a beautifully written piece that sits particularly well on the instrument; I actually performed the piece in both the final recital of my Master’s degree and the final of the RNCM Gold Medal Competition, but have never had the chance to perform it with orchestra!
What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?
I would revel in the opportunity to perform Tableaux de Provence with a top quality orchestra, and to work with an established and innovative conductor. Performing with ERSO and Chris Stark would give me vital concerto experience, which I hope would lead to further concerto performances in the future.

Meet the Finalists – Hugo

hugo

We caught up with Hugo Mak, one of our fab four finalists for 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year

What is your main occupation at the moment?

I am currently a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, studying bassoon with professor Robin O’Neill. I am also on trial with the BBC Philharmonic as sub-principal bassoon.

What are your ambitions for the future?

“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  Mark Twain.

As a passionate musician, I hope to perform in a professional orchestra full-time.

What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?

I played the violin before switching to the bassoon when I was 15. There was a lack of bassoons in the school’s orchestra so I picked up the school’s rusty instrument and started finding my way around the complicated keywork. I have never regretted the change as I find the bassoon much more rewarding to play!

What made you choose the concerto that your will be playing?

For the bassoon there is not a lot of romantic repertoire, let alone concertos. This recently-discovered concerto attributed to Rossini is a lovely piece that I think deserves to be played more often.

What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?

Being a bassoonist we are usually hiding at the back of the orchestra, having the chance to perform as a soloist would be a wonderful opportunity!

 

It’s Alex!

alex pic
Alexander Papp

After an amazing afternoon on Sunday’s Final Workshop for the ERSO Emerging Composers’ competiton, we had a really tough choice to make in selecting a winner.  Our fab five finalists were selected from a really impressive set of candidates and the workshop showed why these five earned their places in the final.  Each composer had a totally unique approach to creating a Birthday Fanfare for Ernest Read –  but the thing that united them was talent!

After much deliberation, we are delighted to announce that talented young composition student Alexander Papp is our winner.

The TRULY fabulous five!

all finalists
Finalists Alex Papp, Sarah Cattley, Caitlin Harrison, Andreas Swerdlow and Jared Destro with Emma-Ruth Richards and conductor Chris Stark

What an afternoon we had at today’s Final Workshop for the ERSO Emerging Composers’ competiton.  Our fab five finalists were selected from a really impressive set of candidates and today showed why they earned their places in the final.  Each composer had a totally unique approach to creating a Birthday Fanfare for Ernest Read –  but the thing that united them was talent!

We were delighted to be joined by acclaimed composer Emma-Ruth Richards, who helped us to select the finalists, and whose feedback will be invaluable to the young composers.

Watch this space for news on our winner – a tough choice for ERSO to pick a winner from such an excpetional group!