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And we’re back!

Last night’s Illuminating Classics concert at St Andrew Holborn was our first concert in the world of Covid-19 – and it was amazing to be back playing together for our small, socially distanced but incredibly warm and appreciative audience.

Conductor Chris Stark illuminated the music with commentary and musical examples

Despite the social distancing and mask wearing for all players apart from wind and brass, it really felt very special to be able to perform the Ballet Music from Idomeneo by Mozart and Haydn’s 99th Symphony, complete with musical examples and commentary to illuminate the music for our audience.

Greetings to Grady

We are SO excited at the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra to be working with Grady Hassan, the winner of our 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year competition.

First we’ll have the chance to perform the Vaughan Williams Tuba concerto with Grady as our soloist in next summer’s Waterloo Festival Concert.

And in November 2021 we’ll premiere an exciting new piece for tuba created by ERSO’s winning composer Alex Papp

Grady Hassan

Growing up surrounded by musicians, learning a musical instrument was almost an inevitability for Grady. Upon taking up the tuba, with support from his brass teaching father, Grady was soon playing with the National Youth Brass Band of Wales, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. 

He is a recent graduate of the Royal College of Music, having completed a Masters in Performance, where he studied under Lee Tsarmaklis and Peter Smith. Whilst at RCM, Grady was a recipient of the Michael Quinn Award, the Parnassus Award and Study Award as well as winner of the 2019 tuba prize. Prior to pursuing a career in music, Grady studied a Bachelors in Biological Sciences at Imperial College London.

From 2019 to 2020, Grady participated in the LPO Foyle Future Firsts professional development scheme. During this time, Grady regularly performed as an extra with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

In addition to his performing career, Grady is a peripatetic brass teacher for Lambeth Music Service.

“I am so excited to be performing the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto with the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra. I chose this piece as it beautifully showcases some of the lesser heard qualities that the tuba has to offer. With its virtuosic cadezas, lyrical passages and playful gestures, Vaughan William’s tuba concerto is really something special. I can’t wait!”

And the winner is…

After an absolutely amazing set of performances from all four finalists, it was incredibly tough for our panel to decide on a winner for the 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year competition.

We’re delighted to announce that we did reach a decision and that the winner is ERSO’s hugely talented brass leader and tuba player Grady Hassan.

Grady will perform the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto with ERSO in our June concert and will perform a solo piece created by the winner of our composer’s competition Alex Papp at ERSO’s 90th Birthday Concert in November 2021.

Grady Hassan

It’s Finally Time!

It’s been a while coming, as Covid meant we had to postpone the Final of our 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year competition. And today it’s finally time!

Want to know more about our “fab four” finalists??

Grady recently graduated from his Masters at the Royal College of Music.  His ambition is to secure a professional orchestral job and says, “to be able to make a living from playing the tuba would mean I’d never work a day in my life!”  He told us that he has always had an affinity for the lower pitched instruments of the orchestra, having also dabbled in bassoon and cello in the past. However, having grown up in a brass dominated household (Grady’s dad played in ERSO on occasion in the past!), the tuba won out.

Hugo is a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music and is also on trial with the BBC Philharmonic as sub-principal bassoon.  He started as a violin player before switching to the bassoon at 15 due to a lack of bassoons in the school’s orchestra, and has never regretted the change as he finds the bassoon much more rewarding to play!

Alastair splits his time between performing, composing and teaching. He is a Visiting Professor of Saxophone and Electronics at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, performs as a soloist and in chamber ensembles and composes both contemporary works and educational music.

Preston, who is studying for a Masters told us  that when he was about three years old, as he was listening to his older sister practising at home and felt inspired to pick up one of her tiny violins and join in!

#ERSOOnline – we’re so proud!

lili boulanger
Lil Boulanger (1893-1918)

At ERSO we are proud and excited to share our very first #ERSOOnline project with everyone.

Check out our film  Lili Boulanger – D’un matin de printemps – An introduction by Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra which illuminates key aspects of the piece through examples and commentary from our conductor Chris Stark, followed by a full performance of the work.  At ERSO we’re all slightly obsessed by this fantastic piece and with Lili Boulanger, who deserved to be far better known!

A huge ERSO “thank you!” goes to our amazing principal conductor Christopher Stark, whose skill and masses of hard work meant that all of our individual parts were combined into this lovely film.

Enjoy and share!

5 months!

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it will be five whole months since our last ERSO rehearsal.  But how great that Sunday 15 March was an amazing one..

It was the Final Workshop for our 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 were delighted to announce that talented young composition student Alexander Papp was the winner.  Alex will be creating an amazing new piece for the winner of our ERSO Soloist of the Year competition – watch this space to see who will be the lucky soloist who gets the chance to work with Alex…..

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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.