Nicole Wilson, violinist, broadcaster, journalist and founder of Musical Orbit, has been following our young musicians from LSO On Track and the Guildhall School as they got ready for a busy and exciting few days.
Last Sunday (1 July) 70 musicians sat side-by-side with the London Symphony Orchestra at the BMW Classics concert in Trafalgar Square, and yesterday (Thursday 5 July) we celebrated a decade of working with the music hubs in the ten East London former Olympic Gateway boroughs with a huge celebration concert at the Barbican Hall.
Nicole has been to meet the musicians of Next Generation as they got ready for their final performance at the Barbican Hall.
And so the big day has arrived… The Barbican stage is bursting to the seams with musicians of all ages chatting and laughing with each other, a palpable sense of excitement filling the air. Today is the culmination of months of work by the LSO Next Generation musicians and young musicians from eight schools from London’s Olympic boroughs as they join the full forces of the London Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 10th anniversary of LSO On Track.
As the rehearsal begins, I enjoy seeing the faces of the young musicians as the golden sound of the LSO fills the Barbican Hall. They turn around to gawp, then grin at each other, loving the magic of bringing a piece together for the first time. I spy a particularly animated 15 year old boy drumming in the middle of the percussion section and ask him how it feels to finally put together all the parts of a work which they’ve been practising for so long. ‘The off beats are hard to catch at first’ he admits. ‘But once the orchestra are there, you just feel it. It sounds so much better than I hoped it could!’ he beams.
As I look around the orchestra it’s a mixture of some people grinning and other looking completely awestruck. ‘At the start it was a frightening’ confesses Cairo who is at the very front of the stage singing his heart out. ‘The stage looked so empty. But now that the orchestra is up here with us and we know what we’re doing, it’s taken some of the stress out. When the orchestra are there, we know when to come in. When they are playing we can hear when to sing, it feels great.’
I'm particularly struck by one young violinist who stands up in the middle of the final piece and plays a stylish, rather folky solo, with a confidence that implies he does this every day of the week. All eyes are drawn to him, impressed by such stage presence. I discover later that his name is Rejus and having moved to the UK at the age of 7, he had no violin teacher for more than two years. 'I really missed it’ he admits after the rehearsal. ‘I really wanted to continue learning but there was no teacher for me. So I carried on practising on my own and then my head teacher put me in touch with Barking and Dagenham music services and they have been amazing!’
‘Rejus is an exceptional young musician’ Belinda McFarlane, LSO violinist, tells me. ‘He sat with me in the BMW Classics concert in Trafalgar Square two years ago. He was new to playing in an orchestra and what I really noticed was how much attention he paid to all the advice he was given and the coaching, and how he came on during that project. He began to grow and grow as a musician, and I’ve watched him flourish over the years.’ As Bindi talks to me she is helping Rejus fix the chin rest on his new violin. ‘He has worked and worked to raise money to buy his own instrument’ she explains. ‘I’m so impressed with his perseverance and determination. He’s one to watch.’
Indeed so many of these young musicians are having a whole new world of possibilities opened up to them by LSO On Track. One of those experiences is working closely with composers to discover how they construct a piece of music and the processes they use to create it.
‘The first couple of sessions were looking at the creative process rather than composing’ explains composer James Moriarty. ‘I took the work which we’re premiering tonight which was in progress at that point and used it as a case study. I showed them how I think about composing and the paths I take. We did various exercises encouraging them to compose and to think in a slightly different way about their own composing.’ Was this a new process for him? ’It was amazing!’ laughs James. ‘I had to really think about the material before I wrote the piece. When I came to write it , I knew it really well because I’d had to justify it four times over with the kids! If I thought a certain section was weak, I’d have to throw it out. So by the time I came to write it, I knew what material I had and what I had to do and how to put it together.’ Has this process changed the way he writes now? ‘It should be the way I always write from now on’ he smiles wryly. ‘I lived with the material for way longer than I normally would so I probably should always write like this!’
Kirsty Devaney, another composer with a world premiere featured in the concert, created music for a very eclectic group of instruments. Commissioned to work with the chosen students, regardless of instruments, she has had the experience of including Indian veena into her work. ‘I learnt a lot about what makes the veena sound good ’ Kirsty tells me, ‘and I worked really closely with them to find out what worked for them and their mixed abilities.’ It’s hard to miss the veena players on stage – carefully carrying these beautiful lute-like instruments with their long ornate necks they seem at the same time a shock to the Barbican stage and yet strangely at home as On Track embraces all styles of music and performance, refusing to pigeon hole music or musicians. Vera, a young guitar player beams as she explains to me that she never thought she’d get the chance to perform in an orchestra. ‘It’s amazing on stage’ she smiles. ‘It’s a once in lifetime chance for me. It’s mind blowing. It’s magnificent but easy at the same time. I never thought I’d be able to particiapte in an orchestra and for me that’s very big.’
For these children one can imagine how intimdating the Barbican stage could seem to them at first glance yet by the end of the first rehearsal, they’re smiling and chatting with the orchestra as though it’s their second home. As the hall starts to fill up for the concert with families and friends come to hear the product of their hard work, I ask Vera whetyer she has anyone coming tonight. ‘My Dad is coming to watch. I hope he’s proud.’
How could he not be Vera?!