Making Bridges with Music: ‘A’ The Conductor and Composer

Making Bridges with Music is a project which sees childminders take early years children into care and residential homes, to make music together with the residents.

In the second week of the project one of the older residents ‘A’ who is 97 years old, told me how he loved Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart and so, the following week, I played it on the accordion as the whole group of ten residents, ten young children, childminders and carers all danced with their hands until I stopped playing. I noticed that ‘A’ really seemed to be conducting. He came alive as the music was playing. So this week I brought in a conductors baton and offered it to ‘A’. I explained that I would play the Mozart, but would follow his tempo and expression. ‘A’  immediately leaned forward in his chair and held the baton up and then conducted beautifully. He looked as if he had been doing this all his life, making sure he had eye contact with all of us in the room, checking each section of his ‘orchestra’ and using his hands and face very expressively. It was a wonderful performance.


After ‘A’ we then had three other conductors, two young and another resident. As these others conducted (varying speed enormously!) ‘A’ continued to also conduct without the baton. It seemed as if he had discovered his vocation. When talking to him he described how he had never played an instrument, but had sung in choirs for some of his adult life. When watching ‘A’ play the hand percussion, observing him singing and seeing him conducting makes me wonder what his musical career could have been. It is not too late – for even now he is playing in our multi-generational orchestra and having (or so it seems) the time of his life.

Later on various young and old all had a go playing on my accordion as I held it and worked the bellows. I asked ‘A’ if he would like to and he nodded. So I came nearer and he played a very lovely little four bar melody. It was complete in itself. He had played enough and did not want to play any more. Later in the afternoon we transcribed this melody and used it as the basis for a new song from the group which we called ‘Memory Box’.

We discovered today that ‘A’ is both conductor and composer – perhaps new careers for a man in his nineties, inspired and rejuvenated by having young people come into his residential home to play with him.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more.

Making Bridges With Music is an innovative project bringing young and old together to make music. Childminders are bringing pre-school children to three different residential and care homes in Torbay during June and July to see what happens when the generations meet and create new music, song, stories and more.
This is a project funded primarily by Awards For All.


Making Bridges with Music: G’s Birdsong

Making Bridges with Music is a project which sees childminders take early years children into care and residential homes, to make music together with the residents.

G is a 79-year old resident of The Warberries. The first time I met him, my colleague (who’d been helping to co-ordinate a previous gardening project with children and childminders at the home) was surprised by how animated and cheerful he appeared and remained for the session. G seems to me to be very talkative, although his speech is quite disorganised and he often talks about and remembers parts of his professional life. As a porter he looked after young adults, some with disabilities and some with mental health, and he was by accounts, well respected and liked by his charges.


At the beginning of session 2, he entered the room and clapped and danced with a red ukulele to entertain the children, he has exuded smiles and humour throughout both sessions. Today he was joined and supported throughout by his wife, D. With his regular verbal and musical interventions, G is a really compelling participant to track and capture.

Hugh and Jade were guiding and recreating the Oz-inspired story from Session 1. At the point where mirrors and mirroring came into the narrative, G seemed to take over, as if conducting; producing a birdlike whistling sound and flailing his arms. He then proceeded to sing in a sonorous Scottish folk voice, a series of verses to the room, and everyone quietened in response to him while his wife looked on in apparent incredulity. No one recognised the song, but upon replaying the video later that day and transcribing it together, we think G was inventing a lot of it in the moment. We recognised the melody of ‘We’ll Meet Again’, a song that another resident has played on keyboard at both of our Friday sessions, and we recognised fragments of bird themed imagery, perhaps growing out of the whistling sounds. While he sang, he seemed to be making wings with his arms, as if gliding.

The wings are like this
The birds begin to fly
But Mum returns and seems very unhappy
To see that her babies have gone
So It’s now a year
Before you’ll hear
The only one you’ll hear is a little robin
And he is a very good man
And his love is well shown
And we’ll meet again to us

By the end of session, h
is mood had adjusted and he seemed quietly emotional and contemplative, talking to his wife who may have been unpacking it all with him. I talked to them both and she was still quite shocked by the singing. What really inspired me is that D insists she hasn’t heard him sing before, in over 30 years of marriage. Jo, the manager of Warberries, was also able to affirm the change; he has been singing regularly during lunchtimes since our first session here last week.



G seems to have found some freedom to sing performatively, so I wonder about the changing of permissions in that space and to what extent these precipitated G’s creative outburst. Mostly, I wonder about the song and I look forward to seeing/hearing the life of the invention play out, with ideas in my head but no solid expectations.

Next week we are planning to make paper birds and to have ambient birdsong coming through a Bluetooth speaker at the start of (and throughout?) the session.

A thought whilst cycling

Hugh Nankivell – BSO Participate Associate

I recently finished a BSO Associates project in Torbay. For this project I travelled to all my sessions and planning meetings by bike. I didn’t have to take many instruments or much equipment (at most a melodica, a laptop, a shaky egg, a notebook and some lunch) and the school I was working in was nearby. It felt very good being able to cycle to the sessions. I was energising myself and being a rare role model for musicians on bikes.

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I remember when I was working with Opera North in Yorkshire there was a member of the orchestra who travelled to most concerts and workshops by bike, with his viola on his back. He was unusual, but I have often thought of him in the years since.

I felt a sense of relief at not having to take a whole load of equipment. When I am working in care homes or with early years I usually need to take in a keyboard, an accordion, a guitar, a box of percussion, some ukuleles, a white-board, my laptop, pens, roll of paper etc etc… This means that even if the session is nearby I cannot travel by foot or bike, but must go by private motorised transport. I accept that at times this is (probably) inevitable.

I recently had a meeting with Ben Twist who works for Creative Carbon Scotland, he was telling me about the changes in thinking he is encouraging with arts organisations in Scotland to do with their carbon footprints. Some organisations are better at coping with (and even anticipating change) and others much less good. How does an organisation that has a massive infrastructure (a symphony orchestra, a ballet or opera company) actually think about reducing its carbon use when it is wedded to a model that is massively consumptive of fossil fuels and is based on a repertoire and practise that is based on a model of practise from previous centuries?

With the BSO we are starting to think about new models and the Associate Scheme is one such. The six of us are spread out across the region and not based at a central depot (Bournemouth/Poole) and so the BSO can now access the communities of the SW more effectively even though we still may need to travel distances, usually by private transport. The recent ABO conference hosted by the BSO entitled ‘Disruption’ was a real provocation towards exploring what the Symphony orchestra can be in the future (where there are women conductors, more BME and disabled performers) and another part of this should could be, how do we plan for a constantly changing world.

The BSO is also starting to look at these issues with the SW virtual orchestra, and the recent appointment of James Rose as new ‘Change Maker’. So this is the start of a journey to a truly inclusive orchestra to which we travel as participants and audience by bike or public transport or visit virtually, where the music we play is affected by the world we live in and is able to change and reflect this.

Trinity Laban students Side by Side with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Earlier in January this year, the BSO was delighted to announce the Orchestra’s new long-term partnership with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. This collaboration sees the two organisations work closely together to identify talented and committed young musicians and composers from communities currently under-represented in the profession.

The BSO and Trinity Laban have also paired up for the unique Side by Side series, in which Trinity Laban students work alongside professional musicians. Principal BSO players have recently performed alongside and are offering mentorship to Trinity Laban students. Percussionist and Trinity Laban student Craig Lutton, who was a part of this year’s series, shares his experience of the project so far.


Photo Credit: Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra

“I gained so much from the experience working Side by Side with the professionals. Sacha Johnson was leading the sectional – he was on bass drum and I was on cymbals – and when we were playing together it was really great, it sent shivers down my spine. The two day event ended with a sold out concert at Blackheath Halls which was really successful. I’m coming to the end of my studies and orchestral music is primarily what I want to do, so to learn from Sacha and play side by side with him in a concert was really special.

The experience was intense because you’ve only got around 8 hours of rehearsal and then it’s the concert – it’s just like being in a professional working environment. You’ve got limited rehearsal time and you’ve got to nail it straight away. It was a nervous excitement I was having, with Sacha beside me, literally side by side, it was a step closer to reaching my dream of being an orchestral musician.”

During a rehearsal’s lunch break, Craig was lucky enough to receive an impromptu cymbal lesson from Sacha Johnson.

“Sacha said that when you go into the profession this is what most of you would play in the main orchestras, so he said over the lunch break he’d spend half an hour teaching me and I thought ‘this is fantastic’. I was learning from a true professional, because he’s played with all of the London orchestras and toured the world. He taught me so many different techniques and sounds, it was really beneficial. I could then put that into the afternoon rehearsal and the evening concert. He was really digging deep into how I could make my playing better. He gave me a bit of a career talk as well which was really inspiring to hear. It was a really poignant moment.”


Photo Credit: Brian Furner

Craig spoke about his time studying at Trinity Laban:

“It’s been very special. I’ve had lots of amazing performance opportunities and I’m so glad I moved to London from Northern Ireland. There’s so many opportunities, London’s the centre of the universe for music! It’s been incredible and I’ve met so many people, I’ve made friends for life and made some great contacts. The Side by Side concert at Blackheath Halls with the BSO was a really special moment and I’ve had so many others.

My current teacher Michael Doran coached me in the Ulster Youth Orchestra in 2009 – 2013 which is where I first met him. He encouraged me to audition for Trinity Laban and I knew straight away in 2009 that I wanted to study under him. Here I am now having nearly finished four years of his beneficial tuition!

In my second year, Michael got me in for two performances of La Boheme playing with the ENO and once again in third year – that was special and probably a highlight from my time at Trinity Laban. It was at the London Coliseum, and being in the pit playing the cymbals was really special. I remember the moment just as the curtain came down for the interval and I was standing on stage playing the side drum. It was amazing – I was absolutely buzzing marching out on stage. There were about 2,000 people watching, it was insane! I had my dad in the audience for the first night so that was great, because I’d never really thought I’d make my professional debut in an orchestra. When I was younger it was always the dream, so for it to actually come true made it one of the best nights of my life.

The principal percussionist in the BSO is Matt King, who also studied at Trinity Laban. Sacha was telling me about him and it was really inspirational to hear about people with professional jobs in orchestras – principal jobs – who have studied at Trinity Laban. There’s a lot of them in the professional world and that’s another one of the reasons why I chose to study here.

I did another Side by Side series with the BBC Concert Orchestra. We had Alistair Malloy, their principle percussionist, who was playing beside me again. I could use things that I’d learnt from Sacha in January and bring it into that performance. I’d never really worked on cymbals until the lesson with Sacha, he said ‘if you want to be a professional percussionist you’ve got to nail this’, so I thought right, this is my moment. I then stuck at it for 2 months and it’s really paid off.”

Craig Lutton interviewed by Alice White; originally posted on the Trinity Laban website

To find out more about Craig visit his website:

Concert highs and post-concert lows or, the “auditory cheesecake” of Inspiration


Inspiration Choir SouthamptonIt’s now a week, or three for Newcastle, since we felt the music and rhythm, “wrap around, take a hold of (our) heart(s).” And “What a feelin’!” that was. Comments from singers on the choir website forum all agree on the ‘buzz’ we got from performing and being part of such a grand scale production.

The euphoria was tempered, perhaps more than usual, with relief that we managed to pull off what Gary admitted was “a very big sing” (I think there were actually 33 separate items!) and, “a huge feat of note and word learning.” For Southampton the learning curve had added steepness in that we had sung fewer of the pieces before.

Pete’s notes after our last rehearsal had final-week-tweaks for nearly all the numbers and ‘words’ featured in at least half. The effort put in by so many to get from there to the applause and plaudits of concert day was rightly acknowledged by both Gary, “I will never take for granted the amount of work that you all put in between rehearsals; it is what lifts us above the rest,” and Pete, “It’s the choir who put so much work in and so reap these fabulous rewards!” Gary, Pete and Teresa’s hugely significant parts in training and urging us on to reach the heights of concert day were also noted in after-show comments; the magic does not just happen.

So how does it happen? We know many listen to the learning tracks in the car or in the bath/shower. But Southampton singers told me earphones are in while walking the dog, turning the compost heap or watching Match of the Day (on mute)! One Southampton soprano even tuned in during an acupuncture treatment!

And when the “thrills and laughter” of the concert are over, what then? Some say, “I wish we could do it again,” others ask for earworm cures or wonder when the MP3s for the next concert will be available. So, could it be we’re addicted to the music? Numerous studies would suggest that this is so.

Researchers have found that there are biochemical mechanisms that underlie music addiction. When most individuals really like a song, they experience chills and a ‘high’ of sorts, which may give them a lot of energy and a pleasurable feeling. This sensation is enhanced further when the music-making is shared, as in a large-scale choir.

But, in addition to the chills, listening to music you like also triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in underlying positive reactions caused by food, drugs and other pleasurable activities.

Professor Henkjan Honing, from the University of Amsterdam, has written about the euphoric effect an experience of music we all share can have: “The pleasure we derive from it, not only from the acrobatics of making it but also from the act of listening to it.”
I certainly had dopamine highs while singing last Saturday night but also, equally strongly, while listening to some of the stunning BSO interludes. For example, the solo flute and cor anglais in Sayuri’s Theme were shiveringly beautiful and then Teresa’s oriental style keyboard accompaniment simply added to the delight.

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker was probably right when he wrote: “I suspect music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of…our mental faculties.” Now the ecstasy of the concert is over, are we craving more of the choral cheesecake or wondering how we can, or if we even want to, resist the urge to indulge once more!

It’s true we only have so much time to pander to our passions and I know of Southampton singers who are taking the summer off singing to play cricket or bowls or even, like retiring politicians, to “spend more time with their families”! But for those who are already easing their withdrawal symptoms (and persistent earworms) by downloading and plugging into the next batch of MP3s you’re probably subscribing to the “Don’t stop me now, ’cause I’m having a good time” approach to singing with Inspiration and no doubt there will be plenty more signing up to “Let the sunshine in” next term.

Alan Matlock, April 2017

Interview with Andrew Burn, Kokoro Administrator and former BSO Head of Projects

Andrew Burn

Andrew Burn retired from his position as BSO Head of Projects in 2016 but continued with his role as Kokoro Adminstrator. He stepped down from this position at the end of March this year and spoke to Quarternote about his 24 year career with the BSO.






Q. You’ve dedicated almost 25 years to working with the BSO and must have seen many changes during that time. How has the orchestra grown and do you have any memorable experiences you would like to share?

A. It certainly was a very different organisation when I joined as Head of Education in 1993, moving from the Liverpool Philharmonic; the main difference being of course we had two orchestras – the Bournemouth Sinfonietta as well as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The BSO served the larger venues whilst the Sinfonietta covered the smaller, rural venues across the South West. That meant the organisation had a particular dynamic: both orchestras were doing their particular concerts but with very separate lives, very separate schedules. The way it worked administratively was that the Chief Executive and the Head of Programming ran the symphony orchestra in effect; and then the Concerts Manager of the Sinfonietta and myself, as Head of Education, ran the Sinfonietta. The Sinfonietta probably did the lion’s share of the education and participation work at that time. In my time with the Orchestra I’ve seen four principal conductors and five chief executives

Q. What has been your proudest moment of working for the BSO?

A. That would be very difficult, so I’ll have to pick two! The first would be putting on the premiere of Stephen McNeff’s opera oratorio The Chalk Legend, which we staged for the Cultural Olympiad in Dorset as part of the 2012 Olympiad. This was a piece that grew rather like Topsy. It was originally going to be a choral work for the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, youth choruses from Dorset primary schools, Kokoro and the Dorset Youth Orchestra. But Stephen decided he needed a libretto written for this piece and the whole story was built around the idea of a Viking raid that happened on the Dorset coast and it coincided with the discovery of a whole series of human skeletons when the relief road was being built from Dorchester to Weymouth. And it was discovered that these skeletons had all been decapitated, through the amazing archaeology of the Dorset archaeological department and it was discovered that they were indeed a party of Viking raiders. So what Stephen did was create a whole story with his librettist Richard Williams around this incident, which starts in the past but actually also comes into the present. One of the challenges was that quite clearly this was growing and it was at the point when Stephen said “I think this really needs to be semi-staged and we need to get in a theatre director and we probably need costumes,” that my heart started to sink because I just saw the pounds, shillings and pence mounting up! But somehow we did manage to do it.


Scene from The Chalk Legend

What was really important was to find a venue, because this was an event to celebrate the Cultural Olympiad in Dorset and it just somehow wouldn’t have been quite right here in Poole or at the BIC. We wanted some sort of venue out in Dorset. After some searching, it was actually Penny Tweed, a member of the Orchestra, who said her husband runs a sailing centre just outside Portland. This sailing centre was originally a huge helicopter hangar and she said they’ve got this huge space. So Stephen and I went to see it, along with Mark Forkgen [Kokoro’s Musical Director and Principal Conductor], and although I think ideally it could have been a little bit bigger from an audience point of view, we realised that this was a fantastic space to stage this opera oratorio in. And so it eventually ended up with fantastic costumes, with a set and my then-colleague Nick Thorne who was working for Kokoro and for me at the time, one of his challenges was to find a JCB which marked the change of time from the past to the present. It was a huge undertaking, amazingly worthwhile and exciting. We had fantastic audiences, very responsive audiences, which was brilliant, so that’s probably my proudest moment.


Inspiration Choir Southampton

The other one was actually getting Inspiration Choir Southampton going, which was a two-year project. This was a project built on choirs in the north, in Leeds and Newcastle, which Dougie Scarfe had been working on when he was head of the orchestra up at Opera North and he wanted to bring down this project and establish it in one of the cities here. We went for Southampton because the Orchestra had rather lost its relationship with that city and it was actually really exciting and to get that going and to see it just beginning to really get itself established before I left.


Q. Are there any performances that have been particularly memorable for you?

A. Going back to 1993, it was the centenary of the Orchestra and we put on a huge concert at the Royal Albert Hall with Andrew Litton which was Mahler’s Second Symphony and an orchestral work by Henri Dutilleux, who was the Orchestra’s Composer Emeritus at that time, a really marvellous and distinguished French composer who came over for those performances. That was particularly memorable. Kees Bakels who did a semi-staged concert performance of Tosca, is another of my vivid memories and was a marvellous evening. Yakov Kreizberg, he put on an unusual piece of late Romanticism by Franz Schmidt, a symphony of his, which we did in Winchester Cathedral which was a marvellous concert. Then into Marin [Alsop’s] time, the two Bartok concerts that she put on – the semi-staged performance of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle and the ballet, The Wooden Prince – those were two particularly memorable concerts of her years. There was also her whole Stravinsky project and then her performances of contemporary music by John Adams and various other American composers. And then into Kirill [Karabits’s] period, I’ve been particularly interested in his exploration of unusual Eastern European repertoire – works by Shchedrin for example and this year Karayev and the Lutosławski Cello Concerto. But of course Salome – what an amazing opening to the season last year that concert was.

BSO Salome - Herod (Kim Begley) begs Salome not to take Jochanaan's head with alternate offers of jewels and wealth

Salome, 2015/16 Season Opening at Lighthouse, Poole

Q. When did you first become involved with Kokoro?

A. Kokoro was founded in 1994 by Kevin Field who was the Co-Principal Percussion of the Orchestra. It was founded very much as a separate organisation – Kevin raised money for it, he got funding from the Arts Council which was Southern Arts at that time, although the BSO gave it a lot of help. We gave it publicity support, quite often Kokoro would do one item in an evening concert or a late night concert so didn’t have the costs of venues and so on. And in 1999 when sadly the Bournemouth Sinfonietta had to close, one of the things the Arts Council was saying to us was they still wanted us to try and serve a lot of the smaller rural venues which was a challenge.

The way we looked at it was, we decided we would try and create ensembles – the strings around 23 players, an expanded brass group of around 12, a wind ensemble – and so we could use these creatively to serve some of the smaller rural areas. And it seemed very logical to bring Kokoro within the BSO family. The other problem at that stage was that Kevin had moved to Malaysia to be the Assistant Conductor there and Kokoro was finding it difficult as there wasn’t somebody quite at the helm and it was having funding difficulties and so on. So it actually made an awful lot of sense for it to come into the BSO brief. And as I’d had a close relationship with the smaller local authorities when I was involved with the Sinfonietta, Michael Henson, the then Chief Executive of the BSO, asked me to try and develop the whole ensemble programme because it was linked to local authority funding and that’s how I came to be involved with Kokoro.

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Q. Could you describe your role with Kokoro?

A. I suppose I’ve been the flip side of the coin to Mark Forkgen, the ensemble’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. Mark and I have worked very closely over the years on the concerts, the programming of the concerts. I will throw in my pennyworth of ideas – ultimately of course Mark as Principal Conductor is very much the driver of it – but we’ve had a really good working relationship over the years. Latterly for a time when I was running Education and Ensembles, we did have somebody to help me with Kokoro but that became financially unviable so in later years I’ve done everything. I’ve booked the players, organised the marketing, get the big copy for the flyer to our colleagues in Marketing and so on, organise the music with the library – basically doing all the day to day things, going with the ensemble when they’re at their concerts and so on.

Q. Kokoro is known for championing new compositions. Are there any premieres the ensemble has given that you feel particularly proud of?

A. Stephen McNeff was the Composer in Residence of the BSO – this was a project funded by the Performing Rights Society and the Royal Philharmonic Society. That was really, I think, quite important in that Stephen also wrote for Kokoro as well and there was a number of premieres that we gave in that time – there was his cabaret piece Strip Jack Naked, for example– so those were important premieres for Kokoro. Also, latterly, works by Hywel Davies, who is currently Kokoro’s Composer in Residence. We’ve also had interesting opportunities that have come our way. We were able to give a premiere of a piece by Hugh Wood because for various reasons it hadn’t been performed and that involved Canticum, Mark Forkgen’s chamber choir from London. And for the opening of the Lighthouse we were invited and commissioned by the Lighthouse to perform a premiere of a work by John Taverner.

Q. Could you tell us more about Mark Forkgen and Kokoro’s work with Canticum?

A. Mark conducts the London Concert Choir which is a large choir of 200 singers, so a big standard chorus, but he also conducts this very fine chamber choir. They are amateur and semi-professional singers, often young singers who are establishing their way in the profession, they’re a very, very high standard. And it really started in 2004, which was the 70th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, we decided we wanted to try and celebrate Max’s birthday. Mark and I devised a whole day, a sort of mini-festival event, and it was at that point that Mark said, “Well actually I would really like to involve Canticum because they can do certain bits of repertoire which Bournemouth Symphony Chorus would be too big to do,” and so that’s how Canticum got involved. We liked them, they liked us and so it’s continued with almost an annual collaboration in some way.

Right through the noughties, Kokoro put on these mini day festivals following on from the one for Maxwell Davies because that had gone so well. We did mini festivals devoted, for instance, to Benjamin Britten; we did an American day; we tried to link into BSO projects so when Kirill’s theme for the season was ‘East Meets West’, we put on an ‘East Meets West’ mini festival and Canticum has been involved in all of these. More recently, when we were looking at various pieces Hywel Davies might write for us, we had the idea of Hywel writing a piece for Kokoro and Canticum and that was a particularly moving and powerful work on the theme of war – the First World War – which we premiered at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015 and then revived last year at Kings Place, so it had a London performance, and all those were with Canticum.

Q. Could you tell us about Kokoro’s collaboration with Arts University Bournemouth and past projects that you’ve done with them?

A. This started because Stuart Bartholomew, the very charismatic and remarkable Vice-Chancellor of the University, knew of Kokoro and had been to some of our concerts and at one point said to me, I would really like to see if Kokoro could do a concert on campus, we have this new lecture theatre that’s been built, perhaps you could put on a concert there. Mark and I went to speak to Stuart and we devised a concert which somehow would reflect aspects of the work they do there. We put this concert on, it was absolutely packed out and a big success. Then Stuart asked us if we would do a follow-up and we did this very much sort of linking up painting and drawing with music and there was a project of AUB students that was linked into this. And then after that we sat back and thought, well what do we do next? And Stuart said, “Well we have this Acting Department and wouldn’t it be great if there would be something you could do with our actors?” This led to putting on Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, and of course not just the Acting Department, they have the Costume Department, Make-Up so they all joined in. That was our first collaboration which we put on at the Ocean Room with South West Dance – very successful and a documentary was made by the Film Department about it and we immediately said, “What can we do next?” Mark had the idea of doing Brecht/Weill’s The Threepenny Opera which is a big piece and again that worked really well. And I think by this time AUB were beginning to realise the opportunity this gave their Acting students to develop their music skills, their singing skills. The Acting Department is very much for actors, it’s not for actor-singers, but in each year there are some very talented singers as well.


Kokoro performing in the joint production with AUB of The Threepenny Opera

So that led on and then, we decided what shall we do next. This is 2014, the centenary of the opening of the Great War and we thought, let’s do Oh! What A Lovely War. In this production we actually had the Puppet Department joining in, they had made fantastic huge puppets of generals and some of the other characters in the opera. We then took a break for a year and we did after that Sandy Wilson’s musical The Boyfriend. Right throughout this time we had been thinking one of the things we would love to do is a Sondheim musical theatre work, but of course Sondheim is unbelievably difficult and so we had been really waiting for the right moment and last year, Doug Cockle who is the Head of the Acting Department said to us, “We’ve got a year coming up next year a lot of whom are really quite strong singers and singer-actors.” So the decision was made to stage a production of Sondheim’s Into the Woods in March this year, bringing together students from the Acting, Costume and Make-Up Departments, with Kokoro’s Principal Conductor Mark Forkgen as Musical Director. This has been Kokoro’s most ambitious venture so far and yet another fruitful collaboration between the ensemble and the talented students and staff at AUB.


Q. Could you tell us about Kokoro’s work with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies?

A. As I mentioned before, when Max was 70, Mark and I decided we wanted to celebrate that milestone in his career and we started planning this mini festival day of his music involving lots of people – the Dorset Youth Orchestra, the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Kokoro of course and some local schools, Poole High School for example was involved. At this point we were working with Max’s then-manager and she made it very clear, Max very much likes what you are doing. It wasn’t quite actually in his 70th birthday year, we planned this as an upbeat to his birthday. So this was going to be in January or February and his actual birthday was in September.

We put together the whole programme and we kept in touch with his manager and we were saying, we hope Max likes this and we totally appreciate he’s so busy composing and conducting across the world that he’s unable to come. And then suddenly in July my wife and I were up in a little cottage in Shropshire and the phone rang and this was Max’s manager who said he’s coming, which of course this was absolutely amazing. So we were then able to add him into the mix he agreed to introduce each of the concerts, I did an extended hour long question and answer session with him and he was just in great form. He was just lovely with all of the performers and with the young performers and I think went away – well I hope he did – we got the impression he went away very happy with everything. It also led almost immediately to him saying to Mark and Canticum, “I’ve got two pieces that haven’t been performed, I would very much like Canticum to have the premieres,” and one of the pieces was actually dedicated to Mark and Canticum, so that was a great spin-off. The other exciting thing out of that was the ensemble was nominated for a Royal Philharmonic Society Award for that year, in the category of Concerts and Festivals, which was a very exciting thing for us. We didn’t win, unfortunately, but there we go. But it was a great thing to be recognised and it was largely through that, that we started doing more of the mini festival days.


Sir Peter Maxwell Davies

We continued to perform Max’s pieces from time to time, we would send him a postcard just saying, we’re doing this piece, and quite often we would get a postcard back saying “Great, I’m delighted you’re doing it.” And then as his 80th birthday loomed, we decided we want to mark this in some way. The final piece that we did in the Maxwell Davies Day, was his great music theatre piece, Eight Songs for a Mad King and around the same time he wrote another iconic music theatre work for dancer and ensemble, Vesalii Icones. We went to talk to Pavilion Dance South West and asked them if they would be interested in becoming involved in putting on a performance of this piece, which they were.

They organised the choreography, they got an amazing dancer straight out of Trinity Laban to be the main dancer. And in the first half, we put on a mixture of Max’s solo pieces and duos, interspersed with short dance pieces which were danced to Max’s music. The choreographer was a hip-hop dancer and it was fascinating to see how he actually created his own world around the Maxwell Davies piece. This was 2014 and by this time Max’s health wasn’t that good – he’d had leukaemia and had had treatment and had recovered but was still suffering – so there was a big question mark over whether he’d be able to come. And then finally we heard that he was coming and again just like before he introduced the piece and was charming and gracious and very complimentary to all the performers and took part in a Q and A session afterwards. And after the show, I took him out for a meal with his friend who was looking after him and he did reveal that day he’d actually felt really ill at the beginning and was almost on the point of saying I just can’t go down to Bournemouth, but did come down. So we were really pleased we had that second opportunity. And then sadly of course he passed away last year. But about a week before Kokoro was doing our concert at Kings Place with the London premiere of Hywel’s piece and as a tribute to Max, Mark played his beautiful short piano work, Farewell to Stromness, which Mark said was one of the hardest things he ever had to do to play that piece under those circumstances, but it was great for Kokoro to have that relationship with this remarkable composer and human being.

Q. Kokoro regularly perform in rural areas, could you tell us more about these performances?

A. This is not just Kokoro, but in my work when I was Head of Ensembles, we used to take these smaller ensembles into small rural venues. We built up a very strong relationship with Artsreach, Dorset’s rural touring organisation, and over recent years we’ve had groups like BSO Resonate Strings, the BSO Winds, the Brass ensemble and Kokoro all doing concerts in often small churches, small village halls right across Dorset, and for me these are often some of the most special concerts because you get such a rapport with the local audience. It almost doesn’t matter if it’s really quite difficult contemporary music because the members of the orchestra have gone to that community, it’s something special for that community, and they come and listen and they often listen with real rapt attention and in the intervals the musicians and the local people mix and it’s really very exciting indeed and I’ve found that a very rewarding part of my work over the years.

Kokoro (1)

Kokoro performing at Burton Bradstock Village Hall in collaboration with Artsreach Dorset

Q. Finally, what would you say you’ve enjoyed most about working with the BSO and are there any words of wisdom you would offer to someone working in the orchestral sector today?

A. Taking the latter part first, I don’t think I’ve got particularly any words of wisdom! I think the only thing is I think it’s very similar when I look at my younger colleagues compared to when I was starting around forty, getting on for fifty years ago. You have to work very hard, you have to be very passionate about music or the arts to want to work in this sector because it’s not terribly well-paid – you do it often for the love of it. But the rewards are fantastic – to hear marvellous performances, work with marvellous musicians and artists and composers.

I think the other thing is that the orchestral sector as well as the arts generally in this country are very resilient, they’ve gone through hard times and vicissitudes, but continue to survive and indeed are now such an important part of the country’s economy that I do believe they will continue to go from strength to strength and I do believe that people want them, audiences want them, need them and I think the way companies have expanded to involve education and participation work, so people are playing alongside BSO musicians, and the work that the Orchestra does with dementia patients in public health and so on is all a major part.

The other thing I think is the musicians themselves – certainly when I started off, the musicians trained at a conservatoire and that’s what they then did, they did concerts and it really took quite a number of years before they started to do education, participation work. But nowadays the young musicians coming out of college really think, I think, in terms of portfolio careers, so they may have a time playing in an orchestra, they might quite deliberately elect to do some orchestral playing freelance and then also do education work, participation work, working with smaller ensembles, working on solo work, doing a whole range of musical activities to earn their living and I think that is a way forward and I think musicians have become more flexible now and I think that’s only a good thing and power to their elbow.

The BSO is a family – it was a larger family with the Sinfonietta but it was a family – and there is always this family feeling about it and that was one of the things I liked so much when I came here. There was a marvellous violinist in the 1st Violins, David Sheen –alas now passed away – and on my second or third day, he came and said to me, “You’re the new boy in education aren’t you?” and I said, “Yes I am,” and he introduced himself and he said, “Well you’ll have a marvellous time here, it’s a great family; I came here forty years ago and have played and have had a most marvellous time and I know you will too.” And he was quite right. The musicians of the orchestra have always been very supportive in the work that I’ve been doing and there’s a real camaraderie and friendship, so it’s been a great time.

In the Spotlight…Kevin Morgan, BSO Principal Trombone

BSO61010-8399Why did you decide to become a musician?
I had started a degree in electrical and electronic engineering but found myself travelling home at every opportunity to play in the local youth orchestra and brass band. The final decision was made when the maths became really hard!

What’s the best thing about being a musician?
The camaraderie and shared experiences. When an orchestra is really working as a team it is like a murmuration of starlings – everyone acting together as one.

What’s the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
The 1993 centenary concert at the Royal Albert Hall. We played the Second Symphony of Mahler and I remember the hall shaking with the sound of the Orchestra, chorus and RAH organ playing altogether. The trombone parts are a joy to play and the climaxes make the spine tingle.

If you could work with one musician, who would it be and why?
The Swedish jazz trombonist Nils Landgren worked often with the pianist Esbjorn Svensson (who unfortunately died in 2008 while scuba diving.) Svensson was a very creative writer and incredible improviser all of which was underpinned by a profound knowledge and understanding of Bach. Had circumstances allowed, I would have jumped at the chance to learn something from this amazing musician.

What work do you enjoy playing above all else and why?
The Seventh Symphony of Sibelius has to be a favourite of all trombone players. Like Brahms, Sibelius sounds very intuitive – it just develops naturally – but when you see it on the page it looks completely different and far more complex (it is that hidden rhythmic and harmonic tension that gives their work so much energy.) In this short symphony, the tension builds gradually three times, twice reaching a glorious C major resolution – the middle resolution being darker in character – and the trombone is given the majestic sustained melody that hails that arrival. Although I would like to think that it is because of the heroic and noble nature of the trombone that it is scored like this, it is more probable that the trombonist in the Helsinki Philharmonic got to the bar before the trumpet and horn players and bought Sibelius the first drink.

Tell us about the history of your instrument?
The trombone has been used in most musical genres to date. The original instruments, sackbuts, were used in early polyphony, in the Venetian courts and in various instrumental groups from the fifteenth century. They were used alongside other wind and string instruments and would play similar musical lines. In sacred music, trombones were often used to support the voices and developed into three sizes – alto, tenor and bass, each shadowing the appropriate vocal range – the soprano register either being supported by a treble instrument or simply using the natural brightness and energy to sit on top of the chorus. Although there is not a great deal of repertoire that utilises the trombone in the instrumental music of the Baroque and early Classical periods, the choral works of Handel, Haydn and Mozart and others include elegant and fluid writing for the instrument. Trombones did however begin to be used in the operas of Gluck and beyond, the first instance in a symphony (that is still performed) is the Fifth of Beethoven where he uses a section of three – alto, tenor and bass. Unlike early polyphonic writing, the use of the trombones, as all instruments, from this point onwards reflects more their specific characteristics so that they become part of a palette of sounds. The two most immediately obvious characteristics of the instrument are the wide dynamic range and the ability to perform a comedy slide without a safety net. For trombone players, often the most satisfying moments are the quiet chorales in Brahms and Mahler, the colour that the instruments add to Sibelius and the mellifluous lines of the Mozart requiem. For the back desks of the violas the most satisfying trombone moments are the bars rest.

What are your interests outside of music?
I am lucky to live in a beautiful area of the country that is fantastic for walking. Until recently I would also have included cycling in my list of hobbies but have discovered that my colleague Robb Tooley cycles further on a Tuesday evening than I do in a month. I have also started to renovate two houses – unfortunately it is the finishing that seems to be the tricky part.

Photo Credit: Christian Lawson