On 15 December last year we had the privilege of performing Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending at Shirehampton Public Hall, exactly 100 years after it was premiered there by violinist Marie Hall and pianist Geoffrey Mendham. Details of the concert, the associated education project, and the original premiere, are available here.
Despite the restrictions due to Covid-19, the project was delivered on budget, and we achieved almost all of our objectives. It was not possible to have a live audience, so the concert was streamed online for free, and we attracted around 4,000 viewers of the live concert, with another 8,000 viewing it subsequently. This compares to perhaps 200 who would have been able to attend the original premiere. A series of related talks and other performances also attracted several thousand views. We are grateful to Arts Council England, Paragon Music Trust and the Vaughan Williams Trust for their generous funding.
The education activities were limited by coronavirus restrictions, staff shortages and school policies, but we started early and were able to spend longer in the schools than originally planned, and modified some of the activities. Over 700 children (in St Bernard’s RC Primary School, Oasis Long Cross Academy, and Oasis Bankleaze Academy) were able to learn about Vaughan Williams and The Lark Ascending; to compose and perform their own music inspired by the Lark; produce artworks and creative writing; and link this with the history of Shirehampton and their studies of the First World War. We produced a video to record their achievements, and hope to be able to hold a concert later in the year when restrictions have eased.
Bristol Beacon were enormously helpful with the promotion and technical aspects of the event. Most of the marketing was online via social media. Our Facebook event page reached over 60,000 people, and we generated a lot of retweets and favourites on Twitter. The BBC, ITV and Classic FM all broadcast features about the concert, and it was also picked up by several newspapers including The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mail, and over 200 local newspapers’ websites around the UK.
All of this coverage and social media activity generated many comments – overwhelmingly positive – from members of the public, as well as the children and others involved in the education project.
This was an exciting and complex project to deliver. We learned a lot, and worked with lots of great people – soloists, technicians, presenters, teachers and others. We taught the people of Bristol, the children of Shirehampton, and ourselves, more about this important local centenary of one of Britain’s best-loved pieces of music. And in a difficult year, we were able to bring a little hope and beauty, as expressed in this comment (one of several along similar lines)…
“Just to thank them for such a calming but uplifting time of beauty and wonder in a currently chaotic life.”
We’re delighted to have received an Arts Council National Lottery Project grant towards our celebration of the centenary of the first performance of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. This is on top of a grant from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, for which we are very grateful.
We’re excited to be joined by violinist Jennifer Pike, who will play the work with us at Shirehampton Public Hall on 15th December 2020 – exactly 100 years after Marie Hall gave the premiere there in the presence of the composer.
Although we have been planning this for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented any progress over the summer, and has forced us to rethink a few things. Now that we have secure funding, detailed planning will take place over the coming weeks. The current plan is for a combination of live and online events, plus talks and articles. The concert on 15 December will be a shorter version of the original programme from 1920. In addition our Preludes team will be running a multi-faceted Lark-themed project in several schools in the Shirehampton area, looking at both the music and George Meredith’s poem that inspired it, and incorporating music, art and poetry.
We’re looking forward to working with Jennifer Pike, Shirehampton Public Hall, Kings Weston House, Bristol Beacon, the schools and all of the musicians, tutors, technicians and others who will help to make this an exciting – and much-needed – celebration of one of the nation’s favourite pieces of music.
Keep an eye on our website and social media for further details as our plans develop over the next few weeks.
When the country went into lockdown in March, and most children were unable to go to school, our Preludes team continued to work with some schools that remained open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Now that all children have returned to school for the new term, Preludes is ready to continue providing regular music education to over 2,000 children across ten Bristol schools.
We have been working closely with the schools to understand their new Covid-secure arrangements, and to agree how we can work with them safely and effectively within their “bubbles”. The schools each have slightly different approaches, and our tutors, who are used to working across several schools, are having to work in new ways. But we relish a challenge!
This week we have started to return to some schools, and more will follow over the next few weeks.
We have had to change a few things, but have designed a programme of activities which is still of great quality but also keeps the tutors and children safe. We can still do some singing and playing of instruments, but will also be doing more of the quieter activities, such as composing, telling stories with music, and learning about composers. We are delighted to have recently been given some money by the National Mark Masons to record more videos, which we have been using to support and supplement face-to-face teaching in some schools.
The last few months have been stressful and disruptive for many children, and it is great – for them and us – to be able to start getting back to some normality. Preludes has proven time and again that its benefits go way beyond simply learning music. This quote, from one of the teachers at a school where we provided video tuition during lockdown, is one of many…
“During Lockdown, the support Preludes gave our children with high quality, well thought about and planned music lesson weekly videos, were invaluable to our children and families – not only providing them with fun, happy, immersive lessons to join in at home with, but making a positive impact on the continuity of their education, within this very disruptive time for them.”
On Wednesday 15th December 1920, 99 years ago, you could have paid four pence to go along to Shirehampton Public Hall for a concert of the Avonmouth and Shirehampton Choral Society. Also among the performers that night, alongside the young singer (and later actress) Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, and teenage local cellist Helen Just (who would go on to have a distinguished teaching career at the Royal College of Music) was violinist Marie Hall, already a well-known star.
Marie Hall was a protegée of Philip Napier Miles, squire of nearby Kings Weston and himself a talented amateur musician. Napier Miles was a good friend of Ralph Vaughan Williams, who had come along to the concert for the first ever performance of his new work The Lark Ascending, in a version for piano and violin, which he had dedicated to Marie Hall.
Also on the programme that evening were Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, a selection of songs (including a newly written one by Napier Miles himself), Bach’s concerto for two violins, and some choral works by Hubert Parry.
We don’t know how the concert went – there are no accounts or reviews. No doubt the audience of 200 were appreciative, but perhaps didn’t realise the significance of the event until the orchestral premiere took place the following year and The Lark Ascending became an instant success. It remains one of Britain’s most popular and best loved pieces of music.
We have booked Shirehampton Public Hall for 15th December 2020, to celebrate the centenary of this concert. The plans are not quite finalised, but there will certainly be a performance of The Lark Ascending by a star violinist, and we certainly won’t have kept the original ticket price! Watch this space for further details over the coming months.
The Bristol Ensemble unveils its new baroque specialist ensemble for the first time, under the directorship of Adrian Chandler, in a concert at St George’s Bristol on 13th November.
Adrian is one of the leading interpreters of Italian baroque music and founded the renowned ensemble La Serenissima. He takes over the leadership of Bristol Ensemble Baroque in what will be a vibrant, energetic and thoroughly engaging performance exploring some well-known and less familiar composers of the Baroque period.
Of course, Bristol Ensemble has always featured baroque works in its programmes, but this concert will be performed on period instruments by baroque specialists, creating a more authentically 18th-century sound which reveals these works in a new light. Baroque instruments are generally quieter than their modern counterparts, and there are subtle differences in the design and materials. Baroque violins, for example, use gut strings rather than metal, which give a more mellow sound. Baroque wind instruments have fewer (if any) keys, with fingers used to cover the holes. Baroque pitch is about a semitone lower than modern pitch, and techniques such as vibrato, commonly used by modern singers and string players, rarely appear in authentic baroque music.
The launch of Bristol Ensemble Baroque is partly due to the fact that there are now so many fine baroque players in the Bristol area. Hopefully it will become a regular part of our concert schedule in future.
Listen to Adrian Chandler playing Autumn from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with La Serenissima
We are delighted that Preludes has been chosen as the charity for this year’s Treefest festival at St Mary Redcliffe church in Bristol.
Treefest is a spectacular festive display of Christmas trees held in the Gothic splendour of St Mary Redcliffe. Local charities, schools, businesses and other organisations can enter a Christmas tree and decorate it in a style of their choosing, giving them a great opportunity to tell local people about their services, causes or activities – and to raise money for good causes. There’s also a varied musical programme and a chance for visitors to vote for their favourite tree.
Treefest has become increasingly successful over the last five years, attracting thousands of visitors and helping to raise valuable funds for local charities. This year the event will support St Mary Redcliffe’s work in the community and Bristol Ensemble’s education project Preludes, which has been transforming music education in the city for the past ten years.
This year’s festival runs from 3rd-7th December. On Thursday 5th December, from about 5pm onwards, why not come along and join some of the Preludes team and children for “Come and Sing Carols” around the tree, plus a “Come and Try an Instrument” session.
We look forward to seeing you there!
In 2009 Bristol Ensemble began an educational journey in two schools in South Bristol through the formation of the Preludes Project. It was conceived with an overarching vision: To transform the lives of children who live in disadvantaged communities, by putting classical music at the heart of their education. This inclusive project is unique in its provision of classical music training that is accessible for children of all abilities.
The project has gone from strength to strength over the years, working with many more schools and over 1,400 children. It recently celebrated its 10th anniversary with a concert in the glorious surroundings of St Mary Redcliffe Church. The theme was “BRISTOL SEA-PORT CITY – SONGS OF THE SEA”.
The schools involved were: Baddocks Woods E-ACT Academy; Bedminster Down; Cheddar Grove; Easton C of E; Greenfield E-ACT Academy; Ilminster Avenue E-ACT Academy; Knowle DGE; Oasis Bankleaze; Oasis Long Cross; Perry Court E-ACT Academy; and Redfield Educate Together
On the programme was a wide selection of music from Classical through to Sea Shanties, performed by voices and instruments including strings, brass, woodwind and percussion and delivered with wonderful professionalism, flair and sheer enjoyment.
One of the added benefits of the project has been the engagement of the children’s families and carers in their learning and performing journey. The church was filled with excited supporters, proud of the children’s extraordinary achievements and eager to hear the results of all their hard work. Also in attendance were long term funders of the project, and several local dignitaries.
The Preludes teaching team, led by Penny Rawlings, works tirelessly throughout the year and on the day provided their usual warm professional encouragement and support.
For more information on Preludes, see our Preludes page.
It is always lovely to get feedback on our concerts from audience members, and last month’s mini-tour (at Wiltshire Music Centre, Christ Church Nailsworth, and St George’s Bristol) of a concert of music by Ludovico Einaudi generated quite a few lovely comments. Thank you!
Here is a selection…
“Captivating and mesmerising they said – just a bit! What a wonderful evening, like a massage for the brain.”
“Bristol Ensemble plays Ludovico Einaudi concert at St George’s last night was excellent. The beautiful pieces and the images of nature were mesmerising.”
“Absolutely loved it. Selection of the songs was great. Surpassed my expectations.”
“It was a fantastic evening at St George’s. I have seen the Bristol Ensemble many times and Roger Huckle is an excellent leader. I had been given an early insight to the evening as I attended the Einaudi concert at Nailsworth given by Paul Israel and the Bristol Ensemble. That was a particularly moving experience but did not prepare me for what was to come last night. Einaudi’s music is emotional in the extreme and the lighting and images made it more so. Paul Israel is a special talent.”
“What a treat. I won’t forget this evening – I applaud Bristol Ensemble, terrific to watch and so thrilling to listen to. Einaudi music live is a thing of wonder.”
“Outstanding performance by pianist and ensemble. One that will be remembered for some while. Effective use of visual landscape photography to enhance beautiful music.”
“Beautiful rendition of Ludovico’s work”
“Beautiful. More Einaudi please Bristol Ensemble! There was a wonderful atmosphere and it was obvious that everyone was captivated.”
“Bristol Ensemble were a real treat. I love Ludovico Einaudi’s music so know it well , B.E. played it fantastically. My whole evening was great.”
Bristol Ensemble’s board of trustees is seeking to appoint a new Chairperson in the first quarter of 2017 following the retirement of the current Chairman.
Bristol Ensemble, established in 1994 by violinist Roger Huckle, is the city’s only professional orchestra, and is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. It gives around 50 concerts a year, ranging from a small chamber group to a large orchestra, with a repertoire stretching from the 17th century through to premieres of new commissions.
The orchestra’s plans for the next five years are exciting and challenging, and it is well placed to continue to build on its position at the forefront of classical music in Bristol.
The essential requirements we are seeking in a new Chairman include:
- Fully engaged and committed to the long term development of the organisation
- Well connected and influential in Bristol. Needs to live in or near Bristol
- Committed to putting in the time for board and other necessary internal & external
meetings (the board meets quarterly and there is a monthly Executive Committee
- A regular concert goer
- Be an effective ambassador for the organisation and all aspects of its work
- Inspire the board and all those associated with the organisation
- A visionary and good completer/finisher
- Have good leadership skills and able to delegate effectively.
If you are interested in finding out more about this voluntary role, please contact the Treasurer, Andrew Gustar, by email at email@example.com.
We are seeking submissions of interest by the 1st December. Interested candidates should provide a letter outlining their suitability for the role and what particular skills and interest they could bring to the ensemble. Candidates will be invited to meet the Artistic Director and two members of the board at an agreed date where they will have the opportunity to discuss the role in more detail.
All 4 Music has changed its name to Be More Musical. It even has a fancy new logo!
Don’t worry though, we will still be putting on exciting music workshops with our fantastic tutors. Billy Elliot, A Capella Jazz, the ever popular Scratch Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac and a new Recorder project are all ready to be explored, just follow this link to the Be More Musical website.