The Orchestral Artistry Masters programme is a professional specialism at Guildhall School of Music & Drama for instrumentalists seeking a career in orchestral playing, delivered in association with the LSO. We spoke to three students in their second year on the course, ahead of a side-by-side performance with the LSO.
Julia Raga Pascual, Clarinet
I’m in my second year of the Orchestral Artistry course. I got involved because I knew I wanted to be an orchestral musician; I was looking for something to help me achieve that, and I found this programme. You arrive expecting it to be focused on playing orchestral music, but I’ve been involved in so much more – learning about LSO Discovery and the background of the Orchestra, doing coaching with children, working with adults with disabilities, sessions with babies … Everything involves music, and sometimes the personal reward you get from these experiences is even better.
Hearing the LSO rehearse is amazing. You can go to the concert afterwards and see the evolution in just one day – it’s amazing how they can adjust everything in a few hours, even if they were on tour the day before and doing a completely different programme!
My main teacher is Principal Clarinet Andrew Marriner. I remember my first lesson, I was so nervous, but he was so lovely and just wanted me to play well. You get to know a lot of the musicians, because you have sit-ins where you sit in the Orchestra, play a little bit, and get instant feedback. Hearing their point of view can change everything.
After studying on the Orchestral Artistry course, I’ve learned about everything going on in the LSO, which people on the outside sometimes don’t see. It’s changed the way I think about being a musician: I wanted to be an orchestral player, but now I want to be an orchestral player who gets involved in everything.
It’s also changed how I understand music – listening to the other people around you, finding a sound that blends with everyone, being flexible, and being you. When I first worked with LSO musicians, they said, ‘Forget about the right notes!’ They want something special, something that could only come from you. We can all play a lot of notes, but not everyone can communicate something about the music.
Susanna Bailey, Flute
When I did my undergraduate studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, I’d had a little taster of playing in the orchestra during a placement at Welsh National Opera, and I thought, ‘I really want more of that’. I knew that the Orchestral Artistry course was the kind of experience I wouldn’t get elsewhere – first-hand experience, being sat amongst the Orchestra … I love being part of a really big ensemble, it’s an amazing feeling.
We get to sit in and listen to the Orchestra in rehearsals at the Barbican, but we also play in Guildhall orchestral projects. We sometimes have coaches from the LSO dotted about – they get to see us in action and give us direct advice that’s tailored to that particular piece of music.
We also did a project working with LSO Principal Guest Conductor François-Xavier Roth on Ravel’s La valse. I loved the experience of working with a conductor of that calibre – he brought so much energy to it, and it felt like we were being treated as professionals, not students. Everyone had so much fun; you didn’t want to be anywhere else.
It’s so interesting getting to know different members of the LSO and finding out how they came to be part of it, because not one person has the same story. It’s encouraging because it means there’s not one way to do it. Getting to know the musicians also means there’s less of a barrier when I watch them on-stage, even though they’re one of the best orchestras in the world. At the end of the day, we’re all musicians and we all love making music.
One of my highlights has been participating in the LSO Create Monday Club, working with young adults with learning disabilities. The project explored the idea of how to create a solo piece of music. In my group the participants would use gestures, movements or even dancing, and we’d create music based on that. I was a bit nervous but actually it was so wonderful. Once one of the participants had gone for it, it put the rest of them at ease, and they realised they could try anything.
The course has challenged me in the way I think about being an orchestral musician. I used to think I just had to be the best flute player I can – and there’s an element of that that’s still true – but actually it’s so much more than that, because if you’re working in an the LSO it’s not just playing all the time. It’s about you as a person, what you can offer to the Orchestra, outreach, working with composers on commissions … there’s so much variety that I hadn’t considered before.
Learning with the LSO and taking part in mock auditions has really challenged me to think about how I can put my stamp on the music I’m presenting, and how I can show what I have to offer as part of the Orchestra, not just as an individual. It’s challenged me in a really positive way to think about how to always strive for the best music-making, how far you can go for the sake of the music.
Piotr Hetman, Double Bass
I’m currently a second-year student on the Orchestral Artistry course. Before this I studied at Guildhall School as an Erasmus+ exchange student, and that’s when I became interested in Orchestral Artistry: the possibility of working with members of my favourite double bass section and participating in LSO rehearsals was especially attractive to me.
During the first few months of my studies at Guildhall, I had the opportunity to play with the LSO three times. I really wanted to make a good impression, so I prepared very thoroughly before each performance. To this day, I remember the beginning of the rehearsal of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the conductor Semyon Bychkov. I had practised this piece with the recording so many times before the rehearsal that I had the feeling I could play it by heart. But at this rehearsal, after the first bar of the violin tremolo, when the cellos and double basses introduce the main theme, I froze! It was such a powerful experience, a mass of sound! I wanted to stop time and keep this wonderful moment forever. After that, playing in the double bass sections of one of the leading orchestras became my goal.
The Orchestral Artistry programme has helped me in orchestral auditions too. I’d already prepared many of the excerpts required for auditions through classes at Guildhall, and LSO musicians have helped me to learn the styles preferred by different orchestras. This experience has given me a lot of faith in myself: I’m on the extra list of a number of orchestras, in 2018 I was Co-Principal Double Bass at the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, and I’ve qualified for the LSO String Experience Scheme and the Gustav Mahler Academy Course.
My first concert with the LSO as a member of String Experience was Bernard Haitink’s 90th birthday, playing Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. For both me and my family – who were watching in the audience and through the live-stream on YouTube – it was a great pleasure, and proof that hard work helps to make dreams come true. I will have the opportunity to perform the same symphony during the LSO and Guildhall School side-by-side concert on 20 June; I’m sure that Sir Simon Rattle’s hunger for musical intensity, fuelled by the youthful energy of the Guildhall School musicians, will give this symphony a new and unique character.