The eagle eyed readers will have noticed that whilst a large proportion of the LSO is in Aix, almost all of those left behind performed Fauré Requiem in St Paul’s this week. I say almost all, as Fauré neglected to include the most angelic of instruments, the flute. Ever anxious to keep my nose to the grindstone, the Discovery team has had the four spare woodwind principals working from 10 in the morning until 9 at night every day this week. A few weeks ago we scoured the country auditioning young woodwind players to find the best flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon players in Britain. On Monday we arrived to find an assorted bunch of very nervous students in LSO St Luke’s on what was the hottest day of the year. After the initial rehearsal of Ein Heldenleben it became clear that we had picked a very talented bunch indeed, or as they say in Aix, the crème de la crème.
The scheme has been running for some years since the demise of the Shell scholarship over a decade ago. This used to be a week of intensive workshops for players on a rotating basis year on year, wind, strings, brass, percussion. The participants were gradually whittled down over the week until four finalists battled it out in the final as they played a concerto with the LSO and crucially sat in the orchestra and played excerpts from the orchestral repertoire. Chris Richards, our principal clarinet who is coaching this week, was a finalist back in 2000 and I remember very clearly his performance in the woodwind section on that day. So you can see that it is a good indication of future success in the music business. When the competition ended, the LSO decided that something similar should replace it and so the Academy was born. In my opinion it is much better as there is no competition element anymore and the students stay all week absorbing information rather than leaving as soon as they get eliminated.
The music business has changed drastically in the last few years, and this academy is quite different to the last. There is no final performance with the orchestra, instead a concert where all the students will perform in small groups right up to a chamber sized ensemble for the Strauss Wind Symphony. If you are around tomorrow afternoon (Saturday) I urge you to come and see the stars of the future, you won’t be disappointed. The breadth of work that a musician of the 21st century has to do is much bigger than before. There are very few members of the LSO who only come to rehearsals and concerts; a huge number of us are involved in teaching, coaching and Discovery work in schools – this experience is something which we have been anxious to share with the young players this week.
So on Monday we had a traditional start with coaching on the wind parts of Heldenleben to get everyone blowing together, followed by some orchestral repertoire classes for each of the instruments. We dealt with how to get through L’Apres midi in one breath and still make it sound nice, and also we played the flute parts to Prokofiev Classical Symphony getting faster each time as I tried to convince them that it really isn’t that hard. I pointed out that confidence and psychology play a huge part in tricky passages, although I’m not sure they were convinced. Between you and me, the Classical Symphony is very hard indeed no matter how many times you play it, just don’t tell them that. At the end of day one most of the students had a slightly glazed expression on their faces, mainly due to the length of the day and the amount of information they had to take in. I think they slept well. There was no rest though, apart from Thursday evening when we all descended on a local pizza restaurant. It was a sign of young enquiring minds that I found myself bombarded with questions, this was partly because I had told them that I would answer any question they wanted. Of course this started with sensible queries regarding CVs and how and when to apply to orchestras and moved on to funny things that have happened in concerts/tours and by the end of the evening it began to go down the “is the rumour about (insert musician of your choice) and that (insert conductor of choice) true?” I decided to leave them to their imaginations and went home.
As well as the traditional coaching which is similar to the sort of thing they receive in music college we added some extra sessions, one of which was on commercial music. As you the know the LSO is well known for playing the soundtracks to many of the best loved films and so with the help of the brilliant Chris Rogers and his click tracks, we rigged up a makeshift recording studio in the crypt. There were yelps of joy as I handed out parts to Harry Potter and Star Wars. The purpose of the session was to get them used to playing with headphones on with a click banging away in their ears whilst sight-reading, which is much more difficult than it sounds. We played through a cue called Nimbus 2000 (it’s a broomstick) which is very tricky indeed, so we read through the notes and it sounded pretty good. However as soon as the headphones went on and the click started, rhythmic unity became a little scarce and many people fell off the broomstick entirely. They laughed and rather cruelly I made them listen to the recording, which they duly did whilst hiding their faces in shame. But boy did they pick it up quickly and the second run through was much better, but it did highlight to them that film music isn’t as easy as you might think and a different set of skills is needed to those required in concert work. One of the most depressing moments of my week came at the end of the film session when they asked about the latest Harry Potter score which we recently completed with Alexandre Desplat. The saga has been ongoing for the best part of a decade, just look at the actors from the first film compared to now! One of the flute players pointed out that we were recording the early films before he had even picked up a flute for the first time…thanks. It just goes to show how fast things move in this industry. They will be in the same situation in what will feel like the blink of an eye.
The most illuminating session for me was the Discovery project we did earlier in the week. Rachel Leach, one of our animateurs, came in for a session based around the sort of compositional workshops we do in schools. The students, most of whom had no experience at this, were given a crash course in how to deal with the kids, how to get the best out of them and a few tips and pointers on warm ups. There is however only one way to learn and that is to be thrown in at the deep end and so after half an hour, 30 small children, real, live children from Prior Weston school came marching in to Jerwood Hall. Chris and I do this sort of thing all the time and love it, but as they approached our students, some looked absolutely terrified and would probably have rather played more Classical Symphony. Rachel, who quite frankly could get the whole of Parliament to behave with one gesture, immediately controlled the room. We stood in a large circle which she promptly rearranged as many of our students were standing next to each other for protection. Prior Weston were completely relaxed. The kids had to name some woodwind instruments and when they named one, the students leapt up and had to introduce themselves and their instrument in an engaging fashion. Some were more successful than others.
“This is a flute. It is made from silver. It has keys. You blow across the top like a bottle.”
Hmm, more effort required guys.
“The clarinet is made from bits of old silver and dead trees.”
Not bad, but probably more suited to secondary schools.
The bassoons decided to use theatrics and ended up making silly noises with their reeds and taking apart all the tubes to show how massive it was with the grand finale being of course a very fruity low note which made all the kids laugh. When it came to voting which was the coolest woodwind instrument, the bassoon won by miles simply on their stage presentation, a lesson to us all. I think this must surely be the first time the bassoon has been voted most cool instrument. They have mentioned it in almost every conversation this week. The rest of the session consisted of splitting into groups and using a picture score to create their own version of Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra. Again some players were naturals and others looked like rabbits caught in the headlights. Most illuminating. When the kids left, again our students look tired and worn out as the reality of being a professional musician began to sink in. What do you mean I can’t just play the flute? Not anymore kids!
As orchestras move into the future our breadth of work increases and the academy has hopefully helped these fantastically talented students gain some insight into our world. The speed at which they have learned has been tremendous and it will need to be as the world of music moves very fast indeed and they will have a small window to get their foot in the profession when they leave. They may have all been in short trousers when I was under pressure in Abbey Road during those first Harry Potter films, but they should heed the little boy at their schools workshop this week. In the any questions bit at the end he put his hand up.
“I’m going to join the LSO!”
“Are you? That’s great!”
“Yes, I’m going to join when I’m 8.”
“Wow, that’s fantastic! How old are you?”
I hope Phil Cobb is listening…
Here is the link to the concert tomorrow http://www.lso.co.uk/page/145/LSO-Academy-Woodwind-showcase/335
Pictures next week.