Developing the next generation of brilliant, empowered musicians is at the heart of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields’ mission. As well as working side-by-side with members of Southbank Sinfonia here in London, ASMF musicians often take their mentoring abroad and deliver coaching and masterclasses to young musicians whilst on their international orchestral tours. They provide training for young musicians in the performance of chamber repertoire, communicating and working effectively as an ensemble, and the making of artistic decisions. Such education projects are an invaluable opportunity for music students, giving them the opportunity to both play with, and be mentored by, professional musicians.
This month, Lynda Houghton, ASMF double bassist, reflects on the latest education project in Australia, as well as her own musical journey into the Academy of St Martin in the Fields through such education opportunities.
When Sir Neville Marriner founded the orchestra 63 years ago using the name ‘Academy’ in the title, the implication was clear; he wanted a group of top calibre players with highly inquisitive musical minds who were open to discussing new ideas, stylistic experimentation and excelled in conductor-less chamber music making.
Crucially he always sought out and welcomed the opportunity to bring in talented young players into the ensemble either as soloists, or into the string ranks, so that they could learn whilst sitting alongside more experienced players.
Like most of today’s members I started out as one of those new, young instrumentalists and was made to feel welcome in this formidable group. I learnt so much from the extraordinary discipline that Neville demanded from his musicians which was mixed with huge respect and large dollops of good humour and mischief.
It is in this spirit of passing on the baton to the next generation that today’s ASMF players get involved with young professionals and students in ever more diverse settings and situations in the UK, USA, and Australia. The pleasure of sharing and coaching is immeasurable and raising the awareness and ability to communicate nonverbally is one of my greatest joys.
The Botanical Gardens that overlook the Sydney Opera House and Harbour are the spectacular setting for Australia’s Premier Music Conservatory and Library. It was here that, during ASMF’s recent Antipodean tour with Joshua Bell, some of the players joined forces with four outstanding Conservatoire students in two coaching sessions, culminating in a performance of Beethoven’s Septet in the stunning Utzon Room within the Sydney Opera House complex.
“It was a real honour and privilege to get to work with ASMF musicians in such an intimate setting. The Beethoven Septet was particularly great choice as it has a great variety of players from different sections which allowed us to discuss the music from different perspectives. Although we only had 2 days to put everything together, I had such a joyous time playing the Beethoven Septet with the ASMF musicians. ”
Noah Oshiro, cello student at Sydney Conservatorium of Music
The students, Andrew Wang (violin), Noah Oshiro (cello), Hayden Burge (bassoon), and Dan Thomas (clarinet) were receptive to the collaboration and eager to explore the music with Bob Smissen (viola), Stephen Stirling (horn) and myself (Lynda Houghton, double bass). Their levels of interaction, understanding and listening were encouraged and honed which resulted in a more conversational approach to the piece. Harvey de Souza had a prior session with Andrew on the fiendish violin part which includes a virtuoso cadenza, and Fiona Cross (clarinet) was on hand at the first session to coach Dan.
After the informal concert performance of the complete work to friends, family, and teachers, we were delighted to see and hear about the obvious enjoyment everyone, especially the students, had got from the process. As Dan mentioned afterwards, he had initially considered the Beethoven to be a rather boring piece but had discovered it was quite the opposite – his confidence had noticeably grown. Big thanks to Nick Munro for facilitating this project in Sydney and we look forward to the next time.
“The Beethoven Septet project was an amazing experience, and it was such a privilege to both rehearse and play chamber music with the incredible musicians of the ASMF orchestra. Working with such extraordinary ensemble musicians was truly inspiring and certainly lifted my own performance. The ASMF musicians gave their time and shared their experience so generously, and I was so grateful for this opportunity.”
Dan Thomas, clarinet student at Sydney Conservatorium of Music