The Lark Ascending Evaluation

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.”

Support for Preludes

Preludes is incredibly grateful to the Mark Masons Benevolent Fund for sponsoring the production of over 60 videos to help vulnerable children during the months of lockdown. The videos have been viewed many times by teachers, parents and children and are still being used in schools.

Penny Rawlings and Preludes – National Lottery’s Portraits of the People

National Lottery Champions - Penny Rawlings

We are thrilled to announce that Penny Rawlings, who heads up our award-winning Preludes project, is a National Lottery Champion of the Arts!

Her eye-catching portrait by photographer Chris Floyd is part of an exhibition of 13 ‘Portraits of the People’, being exhibited in eight of the UK’s most iconic art galleries around the UK.

The exhibition shines a light on work undertaken by individuals in the arts sector who are using National Lottery funding to ensure people can continue to be engaged and enriched by the arts, as best they can, during this time.  

British photographer Chris Floyd has captured a series of 13 portraits of people across the UK to bring this story to life. His photographic work has appeared in some of the world’s most highly respected publications including Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Harpers Bazaar, GQ, Esquire and The New York Times.

The exhibition will be on display in National Portrait Gallery, London, IKON Gallery in Birmingham, The Photographers’ Gallery in London and BFI (The British Film Institute). The portraits will also be on display at the BFI Southbank in London, and in galleries in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Preludes, the education arm of the Bristol Ensemble, works in areas of Bristol that are experiencing high levels of economic disadvantage and aims to put music at the heart of every child’s education.

Congratulations to the whole Preludes team that has been working with children in schools throughout the pandemic, making music part of their everyday lives. Forced to curtail their activities due to lockdown, the team made 16 videos to send to schools using the music teachers who usually taught them – in some schools they were also able to continue teaching some vulnerable children – in addition to 45 online recitals with freelance Bristol Ensemble players who were in urgent need of work. 

Look out for Penny talking about the team’s amazing work in Bristol schools on BBC Points West later today.

The Lark Ascending: we have lift-off!

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.

Jennifer Pike (photo by Tomasz Jurek)

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.

Preludes: bubbles and videos for the new term

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.”

Barber’s Adagio – In memoriam

Bristol Ensemble players have recorded Barber’s iconic Adagio in lockdown, with the separate recordings assembled through the wonders of technology into a beautiful ensemble performance. Watch the video on YouTube

An exciting Shirehampton centenary

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.

Preludes Jazz Project with Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation

A few pictures from our half term jazz project which took place from 28 to 31 October, led by our Preludes team Dylan, Dan, Penny and Charlie, with talented young musicians from Lawrence Weston in Bristol, in association with Ronnie Scott’s Charitable Foundation.

Specialist Baroque Ensemble to premiere in November

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

Click here for concert details.

Preludes with Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson and John Lenehan performed The Pied Piper by Jonathan Dove at St George’s Bristol, ably assisted by recorder-playing rats from Oasis Long Cross School.

Long Cross is one of the schools participating in the Preludes project. The children were very excited and overwhelmed to be performing with such prestigious musicians.

The parents who came along were incredibly proud of their children, and were introduced to classical music concerts in a concert hall for the first time.