Celebrating our 60th anniversary
Throughout the season we’ll be sharing videos, podcast episodes, photos and more that celebrate the stories, memories and mementos of our 60-year history.
1. Joshua Bell on his earliest memories of the Academy
2. Lady Marriner, Sir Neville’s widow, talks with Sir David Attenborough about how the Academy came to have its unusual name
3. A message from Alan Watt
The Academy’s Chief Executive, Alan Watt, introduces our 19/20 season in this short video. As well as taking you on a whistle stop journey through our touring plans, and our Learning and Participation activities, Alan has a message for our audiences around the world.
4. Amadeus – 35 years on
“The next time we talked about it, [the possibility of the Academy recording the Amadeus soundtrack], was down in the country in Devon where I have a house – Milos (Forman – the film’s director) arrived with a very big Hungarian sausage for us to spend the weekend eating and we played tennis – Milos is quite good but he didn’t win…. We decided which episodes in the script were going to need music and what sort of music and then it was agreed we could record the music so we came to London – in Abbey Road Studios – and recorded everything.”
Amadeus went on general release in the USA in September 1984. The movie won 8 Academy Awards and the soundtrack, recorded by the Academy and Sir Neville Marriner, reached #1 in the Billboard Classical Albums Chart, #56 in the Billboard Popular Albums Chart, has sold over 6.5 million copies to date and received 13 Gold Discs, making it one of the most popular classical music recordings of all time. Sir Neville recorded a conversation about Amadeus – and how the Academy came to be involved – for the Academy Podcast in 2016
5. Musical Conversations – the Academy’s intergenerational orchestra
In the first of several ‘Moments’ celebrating our learning and participation work, we wanted to share a story about our most recent work in schools.
Between January-June 2019, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields ran the pilot phase of an intergenerational music project with students from Langdon Academy and local older residents from Newham.
The aims of the project were to address loneliness amongst older people and to increase creativity and enjoyment of classical music along with tolerance and understanding. The group worked with Academy musicians, animateur Jason Rowland (Royal Opera House, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra), filmmaker Chuck Blue Lowry (work shown at the British Film Institute, Women of the World Festival, London Short Film Festival and Whitechapel Gallery amongst others) and theatre maker Sue Mayo (Magic Me, People United, Goldsmiths College) to create an original composition, called My Song for You.
Some of the group created texts for the performance, while others learned new instruments or developed their skills to create the piece, which was inspired by Dvorak’s ‘Serenade.’ As well as music making, the group thought a lot about what a serenade is. Why would you sing to someone else, and how do we show our love for others? This involved lots of conversation across generations, discovering commonalities and differences.
“It was wonderful to work together and not worry about age or background”
“Before I was shy and used to stammer a lot but when we got to know each other and the band we got stronger. We worked as a team”
Following the success of this pilot project, we are developing a guide on delivering intergenerational music projects to enable Langdon Academy to run the project again next year. We are also seeking funding to work with other schools and the older people within their local communities.
6. The Academy Chamber Ensemble
To celebrate their autumn tour of the US and Canada, here is a special ‘Moment’ all about the Academy Chamber Ensemble.
At the heart of the concert programme for this tour is the Mendelssohn Octet for Strings in E flat Major, Op.20. This spirited work, written by the 16-year-old Felix, was performed at the first concert the ensemble ever played, on its foundation in 1967, and has since become a firm favourite of the Ensemble and audiences alike.
The Chamber Ensemble was, in fact, formed specifically in order to play the Mendelssohn Octet and the success of the ensemble – being as they were eight players extremely used to playing together rather than two separate quartets brought together for the performance – was apparent right from the start.
“My favourite recording of the Octet, and the first I ever heard” Tom Service, The Guardian, on the 1979 recording above
The Academy Chamber Ensemble comes in different shapes and sizes, (for example often performing as a quintet, sextet or octet), depending on the repertoire and is made up of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ principals – both string and wind players. The Chamber Ensemble enables the Academy to programme chamber music in addition to the works played by the full orchestra and, in fact, in the early days the Chamber Ensemble often played the second part of the Academy concerts, with the rest of the orchestra going off stage. Having the Academy’s principals regularly playing chamber music together helps the orchestra remain in touch with the chamber music approach to its music making.
“an ensemble of first-rate musicians, technically superb, generously expressive, and obviously enjoying themselves.” Dallas Morning News
Listen to an episode of the Academy Podcast all about the Chamber Ensemble where, among other things, you can hear Tomo Keller talk about the qualities and the pure joy of the Mendelssohn Octet.
7. The Academy’s Music Library
As it’s Libraries Week we thought we’d take you on a quick tour of the Academy’s music library where you’ll find boxes, filing cabinets and shelves full of scores and instrumental parts…
Depending on the repertoire we will hire or buy the music and, over the years, have accumulated a lot of music! There are various works for which we own more than one copy with each one containing the markings of a different director. For example we have several sets of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with the bowings and other markings from Neville Marriner, Joshua Bell and Julia Fischer.
There are many musical gems within the library – for example Neville Marriner’s set of scores from the recording sessions for the Amadeus soundtrack
Every now and then there’ll be a sheet-music based emergency – our former Concerts & Tours Manager, Richard Brewer, tells one such story here
8. Meet the Academy’s Leader, Tomo Keller
In this short video Tomo Keller shares his early memories of the Academy and gives some fascinating insight into his role as leader of the Academy.
9. Four Academy Firsts
Your potted guide to how the Academy started, and the ensemble’s first concert, tour and recording.
1. How it all began
The Director of Music at the Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, John Churchill, had the ambition to form a small orchestra at the church and some initial funding was secured. Neville (Marriner), an expert of both baroque and chamber music was taken to a pub in the neighbourhood of the church and over a pint it was decided that the ensemble should consist of 11 string players and the church’s organist on harpsichord, plus additional wind players when the repertoire so required. The ensemble would be led by Neville from the first desk of the violins, without conductor – a practice that had been in use in the baroque era, but was not common anymore.
2. The first professional concert
‘A Survey of the Baroque Concerto’ was given at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields on 13 November 1959. Tickets were a shilling.
3. The inaugural tour
The Academy’s first ever tour was to Ireland. Despite being warmly received by audiences the residing memory of the tour was the cold! After performing in a cold hall in Dublin, the orchestra travelled by (cold) bus to Waterford. After a night in a cold hotel, they took a bus back to Dublin. Unfortunately, the bus windows were jammed open – it was so cold one player’s arm even froze-stuck to a window!
The Academy was spotted as a new talent by the record company L’Oiseau-Lyre’s owner Louise Dyer, who was in the audience for the Academy’s first concert, and “A Recital by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields” was recorded in Conway Hall, 1961.
“played with precision, care, consummate musicianship, and with more sense of style than all the other chamber orchestras in Europe put together.” Gramophone
Text adapted from The Academy of St Martin in the Fields by Meirion and Susie Harries
10. Composer in Residence: Sally Beamish
Sally Beamish is one of Britain’s best-known contemporary composers. Renowned for her versatility, Sally’s catalogue of works includes concertos for instruments from violin to accordion; music for film, opera and dance; tributes to composers from Debussy to Britten; and incorporates diverse influences from jazz to the music of Scotland. A former member of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, she has recently returned to playing, on a viola made by her daughter, after a gap of 25 years. Sally Beamish is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow and was recently made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Her music is published by Edition Peters and by Norsk Musikforlag.
Q: You’re the Academy’s first Composer in Residence – how did this appointment come about and what does it mean to you to have this role? It was a great honour to be invited, and very special to me because of my long relationship with the Academy – first as a child attending rehearsals and sessions when my mother (Ursula Snow) was playing, and then as a viola player myself. Neville was very encouraging of my first steps towards becoming a full-time composer, and invited me to write for the orchestra really before I was ready; I had never written for orchestra. He came back with the request a few years later, and the Academy have commissioned quite a few pieces since then. Of course, the performances have been superb. I discussed the residency with Neville not long before he died, so it is particularly poignant to have written this work in his memory.
Q: How does familiarity with an ensemble and its individual musicians impact or influence the writing of music commissioned by it? It’s a gift to have the individual sounds of the musicians in my head when I’m composing – a great starting point, and an inspiration.
Q: What is it like when you hear a piece you’ve written played for the first time – does it sound as you expect, are there things you hear that are surprising? There are always aspects that surprise me, as the players bring their own artistry to a new piece. They often uncover things I didn’t know were there.
Q: Which composer, living or dead, would you most like to have a drink with, and why? I’d love to share a bottle of Valpolicella with the 17th century composer and poet Barbara Strozzi. In her lifetime she was the most prolific, and most published, Venetian composer of secular vocal music, male or female. A colourful and gifted woman who was way ahead
of her time.
Q: You wrote a piece in memory of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies inspired by a blackbird. Hover is inspired by Manley Hopkins’ poem The Windhover which is about a falcon. Is this an ornithological coincidence or do birds inspire particular ideas for you? Birds, and birdsong, have always figured strongly in my music, but in the case of the ‘hover’ theme, I was referring to my own sense of suspension before my move back to England from Scotland. It was only afterwards I realised that in depicting his powerful, graceful, and intensely focused bird, I had in fact written about Neville.
The Academy gives the UK premiere performances of Hover at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Tuesday 12 November and West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge on Thursday 14 November.
On 13 November 1959 the Academy of St Martin in the Fields gave its first public performance at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. Tickets to ‘A Survey of the Baroque Concerto’ cost one shilling and the programme featured works by Baroque composers affectionately dubbed “the Italian ice cream merchants” by Neville Marriner.
12. The one where everybody was late
Back in 1984 the Academy was scheduled to give a concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s south bank. Our Music Librarian, Katherine Adams, remembers the day well as it was her first concert as a member of the orchestra’s staff. She arrived at the venue in very good time but as the ‘curtain up’ time arrived there was an eery quiet all around the venue and neither audience nor orchestra appeared… It transpired that, due to a student strike and ensuing delays to traffic, almost everybody was late in arriving.
Luckily the show did go on. Eventually.
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