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Movers and Shakers: Sir Charles Hallé and Sir Henry Wood

March 2019 is the 150th ‘birthday’ of Henry Wood, and April 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Hallé. Both men left a lasting musical legacy integral to the orchestral world in the UK. But where did they come from and what inspired their achievements?  In this ‘double bill’ we celebrate the lives of two great musicians…

Sir Henry Wood

Sir Henry Wood, described in an interview in the Guardian from October 1938 as the ‘busiest and most versatile of Britain’s musicians,’ began his career conducting at a church choral society in 1888 where he earned ‘the enormous sum’ of two guineas.

Born within a stone’s throw of Oxford Street, Wood’s interest in music was encouraged by an intensely musical engineer father. Trained in the UK (he studied composition and voice at the Royal Academy of Music from 1886) he travelled widely to see and learn from great international musicians.

Often credited with founding the Proms, Henry Wood was instrumental in bringing the summer music series to London. He did so in partnership with the entrepreneur, Robert Newman who became manager and lessee of the newly opened Queen’s Hall in 1894, and Harley Street throat specialist, Dr. George Cathcart, who funded the first season. The vision was a series of classical concerts that anyone could attend, regardless of income. In 1895, Promming tickets cost one shilling, the equivalent of around 60p today.

It was Newman who devised the idea of Promenade concerts on the French model and who took on Wood as the sole conductor. However, while Newman and Cathcart’s input was essential, it was short lived. Newman went bust in 1902, and the main backer withdrew in 1926 leaving the Proms without support until the BBC took over in 1927, yet Henry Wood continued.

Drawing of the inside of Queens Hall

The first ever ‘First Night of the Proms’ was on August 10th 1895. 2,500 people gathered for the concert, which opened with the National Anthem. The programme featured popular works by Saint-Saëns, Haydn and Liszt, as well as London premieres of works by Chopin and Bizet. By the time of the 1938 interview, Wood was in his 44th season at Queen’s Hall, and had conducted nearly 3,000 Promenade Concerts, nearly 1,000 Sunday concerts and 600 symphony concerts.

The 1939 Proms season was abandoned after only 3 weeks following the declaration of war: The season, which had opened during the Battle of Britain, was forced to close early due to the Blitz. The concert on September 7th 1939 was the last Prom concert to take place at the Queen’s Hall, as the building was destroyed when a bomb hit the roof on 10th May 1941. In its 50th season, now at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), the Proms again finished early because of the war, but concerts scheduled for broadcasting continued from the BBC’s Bedford wartime studios.

Wood was a charismatic presence on stage, embracing a new German style of conducting where the conductor’s role was much more expressive, not confined to keeping time. And he had a voracious appetite for music of all kinds. He and Newman had been determined to introduce a broad range of music to a wider audience, working to democratise the genre. The concert atmosphere was informal, with eating and drinking allowed during the performance, and the music had to be popular.

As the seasons progressed, Wood developed an enterprising, challenging and entertaining selection of music, always programming new works. He conducted an astonishing list of premieres during his career: 716 works by 356 composers, including Debussy’s L’Apres-midi d’un Faun. In fact, he was responsible for introducing many of the leading composers of the day to the Proms audiences, including Richard Strauss, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Ravel and Vaughan Williams. He was also passionate about promoting young and talented performers, and worked to raise the standard of orchestral playing.

[Image by: Ed g2s/wikicommons images]

Wood passed away on 19 August 1944 aged 75. He had conducted at the Proms for nearly 50 years. After his death, the concerts were renamed the “Henry Wood Promenade Concerts”, and the Proms continues as the longest running series of orchestral concerts in the world. Henry Wood is remembered every year, by the placing of a bronze bust (borrowed from the Royal Academy of Music) at the back of the RAH stage. His legacy is celebrated at the Last Night concert when a member of the audience drapes a wreath around the neck of the bust and the conductor leads ‘three cheers’ for Henry Wood.

Pianist and conductor Charles Hallé was born Karl Hallé on April 11th 1819 in Hagen, Westphalia. His father, a choirmaster and organist, first introduced him to music, and he quickly excelled. He was a child prodigy, first performing a sonatina in public at the age of 4, and in 1828 he played in a concert where he attracted the attention of the virtuoso violinist (and inventor of the violin chin rest) Louis Spohr.

Aged 16, he studied at Darmstadt with the organist and composer Rinck, and at 17 he went to Paris, where he stayed for 12 years. Whilst in Paris, he knew everybody worth knowing, counting musical greats including Cherubini, Chopin, Lisz and Wagner among his friends.

His time in the French capital ended with the February Revolution of 1848. Hallé had begun a series of chamber concerts in a small room at the Conservatoire, but the third series was cut short by the revolution and finding musical life in Paris had suffered after the revolution, he left for England.

His first appearance in his new home country was as soloist in an orchestral concert at Covent Garden, May 12th, 1848, where he performed Beethoven’s Concerto in E flat. In fact, the familiarity of the Beethoven piano sonatas in England is largely due to Hallé, who was the first pianist to play the complete series here.

He was also the inventor of a mechanical page-turning device for pianists. The pages were set into the mechanism, which was operated by means of a foot pedal. According to Harold C Schonberg’s 1963 book, The Great Pianists: “People would go to his concerts just to see the spectacle of leaf after leaf turning over, ghostlike, without the intervention of human hands.” 

But Hallé didn’t much like London, and in 1853 he accepted an offer to run Manchester’s Gentleman’s Concerts, which had its own orchestra. This orchestra was apparently so bad that Hallé considered returning to Paris, but he was industrious and meticulous. Being the type of person who would not open a letter until he had answered all previous correspondence, he taught himself English every morning on the way to work, and he stuck with the orchestra.

In May 1857, Hallé was asked to put together a small orchestra to play for Prince Albert at the opening ceremony of the Art Treasures of Great Britain. This was the biggest single exhibition Manchester had ever hosted. Hallé accepted the challenge and was so happy with the results that he kept the group together until October. This was the beginning of the Hallé Orchestra, now one of the oldest professional orchestras in England.

Hallé went on to start his own concert series, raising the orchestra to a standard far higher than normal for English music at that time. He decided to keep working with the musicians on a more formal basis, and on January 30th, 1858, the Hallé gave its first concert.

He conducted almost every concert and performed as piano soloist at many, until his death in 1895. He excited the public about music, raising standards and expectations, and introducing new concepts and works including premieres of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique and The Damnation of Faust.

A passage in the 1890 publication Manchester Faces and Places describes the change in attitude to music during Hallé’s time in Manchester:

… he declares his conviction that the progress of music in England has been greater during that time than in any other country.

This remark is illustrated by several anecdotes including this:

At that period [Hallé] discovered that if he asked a gentleman in society, ‘Do you play an instrument?’ this appeared to be considered an insult. Did not Lord Chesterfield indeed warn his son not ‘to fiddle,’ on pain of forfeiting his claim to rank as a gentleman? But since then how great is the change! A love of music is now becoming the common passion uniting all classes. A few years ago Sir Charles Hallé was waiting for the train at Derby, when a railway porter who recognised him said, ‘Can you tell me, Mr. Halle, when the ‘Elijah’ will be next performed in Manchester, because I can have leave to take my missus there?’ Only the other day a music-seller in Sheffield, who is in a position to know, assured Sir Charles that there are in that town alone between five hundred and six hundred artisans who play the violin.

Hallé’s death on October 25th, 1895, shook Manchester and the wider musical world, and his funeral procession brought the city to a standstill. Three of his closest friends, Henry Simon, Gustav Behrens and James Forsyth, immediately set about securing the future of the Orchestra, guaranteeing the 1895-96 season against loss. This commitment was renewed for a further three years whilst the Hallé Concerts Society was formed. Under the guidance of such distinguished conductors as Hans Richter, Sir Hamilton Harty and Sir John Barbirolli the Orchestra continued to thrive and develop.

In an interview for the Telegraph, Mark Elder, current music director of the Hallé since 2000 (seen in the image above with the orchestra in 2011), explains the driving force in the success of the orchestra both then and now:

One way in which Hallé was ahead of his time was his understanding that education is absolutely key to an orchestra’s success. When you understand something, you enjoy it. That’s why he was so keen to bring the latest music to England, and why he was the first person to play a complete cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas.

He also understood that to reach a public you have to make the effort to go out to them. Part of the secret, I feel, is to link the orchestra to its community in a way that goes beyond concert-going.

Both Hallé and Wood were passionate, not only about their own musical careers, but about sharing their love and excitement for music with the wider community. The legacy of these two historic artists centres around what is now a formal body of classical music but one which, in the case of both the Hallé and the Proms, still works to engage the wider community in as many ways as possible, staying true to its original intent. It is almost impossible to quantify the value of those musicians who work so hard to share their gifts, except in the enjoyment of the opportunities and organisations they leave behind, whatever the challenges they faced. In a time when the future of music in education is unclear, it is encouraging to understand how much difference one person with talent and vision can make.

Aiming High with the Opera North Orchestra Academy

Acclaimed for the high quality of its operatic performances, Opera North also boasts one of the country’s finest orchestras. The Orchestra of Opera North plays at each of the Company’s operas and regularly performs at concerts in the region. An important, and enjoyable, additional strand of its work however, is ensuring that the next generation of young musicians are given valuable support, guidance and inspiration as they build on their playing expertise.

This month, the team at Opera North share their vision with MWC…

Opera North Orchestra Academy is the latest in a series of Opera North Education initiatives. It is an orchestral training programme for outstanding instrumentalists aged 14-19 years and studying at Grade 7 or above. During a week-long residential course in Leeds, which will take place between Tuesday 28 August and Saturday 1 September 2018, participants will be encouraged to take their playing and performance skills to the next level, whilst also getting the chance to meet like-minded young people and forge some life-long friendships along the way.

Throughout the week, the Academy musicians will rehearse exciting orchestral repertoire alongside the full Orchestra of Opera North and benefit from sectional coaching with the orchestra’s players in a bid to develop excellence in ensemble skills and orchestral performance. Guided by the players from the Orchestra of Opera North, the Academy musicians will also be given the opportunity to rehearse and perform chamber music, enhancing their overall music-making experience.

This video gives some idea of the community-centric focus held by Opera North. Here, the musicians of the orchestra create a surprise performance for shoppers in Leeds…

The Academy residential will culminate in a public concert under the baton of an internationally-renowned conductor, giving the Academy players a glimpse into what it takes to stage a professional orchestral performance and the excitement of the event itself. Subsequently, the participants will be invited to take part in ‘keeping in touch’ weekends during the October and February half terms and to join collaborative projects as part of the Opera North Youth Company.

Opera North’s Education Director, Jacqui Cameron, explains the idea behind the project:

The Orchestra Academy Summer Residency week aims to give everyone who takes part a valuable insight into working and rehearsing with a professional orchestra in an exciting and supportive environment. We decided to make entry by audition only to ensure that all participants are at the best stage in their playing to take advantage of this opportunity and for us to tailor the learning precisely to their needs.

It’s perfect for those who are already members of their local youth orchestra, as well as for students looking for an immersive musical experience during the summer. We hope that, having been given this glimpse of what it could be like, it will encourage many talented young players to consider pursuing a career in music with all the rewards that can bring.

The Company is well aware that some young people can be deterred by the idea of an audition so the process will be made as fun and friendly as possible to try and keep nerves to a minimum. The audition day will be split into two parts with an informal workshop in the morning where the young musicians will play some orchestral excerpts and learn about ensemble playing, followed by an opportunity to impress in the afternoon. The latter will be with the same players from the Orchestra of Opera North who have worked with the young people in the morning, so the auditionees will be playing their prepared solos in front of a friendly face. Whether successful or not, everyone will benefit from feedback on their playing and will hopefully leave the audition day having found it a positive learning experience.

The Orchestra Academy joins Opera North’s acclaimed portfolio of youth ensembles for both young instrumentalists and singers of all ages and abilities, including Opera North Junior Strings, Opera North Children’s Chorus, Opera North Young Voices and Opera North Youth Chorus. The Company also runs an open-access Orchestra Camp in the summer for which there is no need to audition.

More information and applications (by Monday 9 April) for the Opera North Orchestra Academy can be made at https://www.operanorth.co.uk/opera-north-orchestra-academy. Auditions will be held in Leeds on Saturday 21 April.”




If you would like to speak to the Music Workshop Company about booking a tailor-made workshop, or would like to contribute your project to our guest blog, contact us to find out more:

Handel’s Water Music – 300 Years in the Charts

July 17th 2017 marks the 300th anniversary of the first performance of Handel’s famous Water Music. The orchestral suites were written for a party on the Thames river in London, held by King George I, in 1717.


The music consists of the Suite in F major (HWV 348), Suite in D major (HWV 349) and Suite in G major (HWV 350). However, although many of the pieces became instant hits throughout London, none of them were published at the time. Extensive research by Samuel Arnold led to a 1788 edition of nineteen pieces that is generally accepted as the authoritative Water Music, but the original structure is unclear.

One of the best-known and most frequently performed movements is the Alla Hornpipe from the D major suite:

George Frideric Handel is known today for many compositions, and for his role as a court composer. Born the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti, he is one of the foremost composers of the Baroque era.

But he should never have been a composer in the first place.

Handel was born at a time when music and the arts flourished only in the highest echelons of society. His grandfather was a coppersmith, his grandmother was the daughter of a coppersmith. Handel’s own father was a barber, and his mother was the daughter of a Lutheran minister. Handel went to the gymnasium school in Halle. A gymnasium in the German education system is a selective school for the gifted. The headmaster at the school Johann Praetorius, was passionate about music, but many of Handel’s biographers record that he was withdrawn from the school because his father was implacably opposed to music education.

In fact, Georg Handel was alarmed by his son’s interest in music that he took every step to oppose it, even banning musical instruments in the house and forbidding Handel from visiting any house where they might be found. There is a story that Handel found a way to sneak a small clavichord into the attic of the house, and he would steal away to play it when the family were asleep. This tale is unsubstantiated, but for the fact that Handel was able to play the keyboard well enough to come to the notice of Duke Johann Adolf, who on hearing Handel play the church organ, persuaded his father to let him have music lessons.

 It’s quite incredible given this unpromising start that Handel is still a household name.

His Water Music was written for King George I of England. It consists of three orchestral suites, and was first performed on barges on the Thames. Its first performance as an integral part of a massive Royal shindig, was reported in Britain’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant.

The party was possibly an attempt by King George to win popularity (for various reasons, including a serious economic crisis in 1720, his refusal or inability to learn English and rumours about the treatment of his wife, the King was not well liked), and he turned to Handel to help him impress.

In 1710, Handel had worked as Kapellmeister to the German Prince George; the same Prince George who in 1714 became King of Great Britain and Ireland. Handel had left Germany to settle in England full time, which had angered Prince George at the time.

However, the Water Music is said to have allowed a reconciliation between King George and Handel. It was rumoured that the success of the music enabled the King to regain some of the London spotlight back from his son, Prince George, who was throwing lavish parties and dinners. The Prince did not get on with his father – a resentment that possibly began when King George dissolved his marriage to the young George’s mother due to ‘abandonment’, which meant that the children never saw their mother again (though the King did his best to ensure that his son had more choice when he was himself to be married).

The Courant records that at about 8pm on Wednesday, July 17th 1717, King George I boarded a royal barge at Whitehall Palace, along with several aristocrats, for an excursion up the Thames towards Chelsea.

A second barge, provided by the City of London, carried around 50 musicians who performed Handel’s music. Many other Londoners also took to the river to hear the concert.

According to the Courant, “the whole River in a manner was covered” with boats and barges.

The king enjoyed the music so much, he asked the musicians to play the suites at least three times over the course of the trip, both on the way up to Chelsea and on the return journey, with the orchestra playing from around 8pm until well after midnight.

In 2009 the BBC aired a documentary showing an ambitious reconstruction of the performance, with the Water Music played by musicians of the English Consort in full period costume.

Contact the Music Workshop Company

Harnessing Potential for London’s Young Talent

The Mayor’s Music Fund mmf (charity no. 1141216) was launched in 2011 in response to a London-wide survey carried out by City Hall, highlighting a number of gaps in provision for school-age musicians in the capital. We hear from Chief Executive, Chrissy Kinsella about the fantastic opportunities provided by the Fund. 

Our vision is that every young Londoner who demonstrates significant musical potential, enthusiasm and commitment to learning an instrument is given the opportunity to develop that potential.

We aim to nurture and encourage young people to progress their musical talent through our Scholarships and Partnership Programmes. The young people who take part in our Partnerships are from diverse social and financial backgrounds, whilst our Scholars are from low-income, often challenging backgrounds.


Our objectives include collaborating with London’s 29 local authority Music Education Hubs to provide extensive musical opportunities across London’s 33 boroughs. We support high-quality, sustained instrumental tuition for Mayor’s Music Scholars, organise an annual series of playing days providing opportunities for Scholars to create music together, and support large-scale musical collaborations between Music Hubs and professional arts organisations, providing opportunities for aspiring young musicians (aged 8-21) to learn from, be mentored by and perform alongside professionals. We also enable professional musicians and artists to be motivational role models, empowering young people to explore and develop their musical capabilities, which in turn develops their social and emotional well-being and frequently uplifts academic performance. 

Our programmes…

Our four-year scholarships programme is specifically targeted at children who have received some first-access provision, but whose families are unable to pay for them to continue learning, even at this early stage.


We work closely with local music services and primary schools in each borough to identify children with potential, enthusiasm and commitment to learning. Scholars must be in Key Stage 2 at the point of nomination, have been learning for at least a year and show potential on their chosen instrument. They receive a programme of around two hours per week via their music service, to include instrumental lessons, ensembles, and other supporting activities. They also have a named mentor to look after their programme, and an instrument to take home if needed. A Head Teacher in Bexley describes the positive effect the Fund has had on one of his students:

Michael was asked about being nominated for a scholarship: ‘Before, I was really naughty at school and now I’m really happy. I’m really good now and can do my work a lot better because of my trumpet.’ This scholarship opportunity won’t just give Michael the chance to become a better trumpet player, but it will give him a greater chance at life and breaking through the barriers of social deprivation.

Our Partnership Projects are large-scale collaborations, working with professional arts organisations to address a specific gap in provision. Previous projects have included an advanced string ensemble programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Hounslow and Sutton, a musical theatre orchestra led by the Tri-Borough and Youth Music Theatre UK, a world music ensemble based at the Lyric Hammersmith, run by Musiko Musika, and a jazz-meets-classical project in Hackney, working with the London Symphony Orchestra. One Young Musician’s Training Orchestra participant said:

Being in the Music Theatre Orchestra gave me an insight of how professional ensembles work and it is by far the best ensemble I’ve ever done! My confidence grew and I will continue to strive to improve and more determined than ever.

Success and Impact…

Since 2011, the Mayor’s Music Fund has awarded 375 scholarships across every London borough, representing over 330 schools. The second cohort (scholarships awarded in 2012) has just graduated, taking the total alumni to 140. The impact of our programmes is far reaching: In addition to evidence of higher self-confidence, self-esteem, and improved behavioural, social and academic skills, Music Fund scholars have gone on to win scholarships or places at independent schools such as Christ’s Hospital, & the Forest School, high profile state schools, Junior Conservatoires & London’s Centre for Young Musicians, and at specialist music schools such as the Purcell School and Menuhin School.


Since 2011 the Fund has funded 28 projects across 29 boroughs, working with over 8,500 young musicians. Three additional projects have been approved for 2016/17, reaching a further 1,000 young musicians.

In total, the Mayor’s Music Fund has awarded over £1.5million directly to support music education in London!

The future…

A meeting of the Government’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee last week heard about the challenges facing regional arts organisations following local authority cuts. Arts Professional reported that Mark Pemberton, Director of the Association of British Orchestras said he was “disturbed” by the lack of diversity of young people entering employment as musicians.

At the Mayor’s Music Fund we are passionate about empowering and enabling young people from all backgrounds to fulfil their potential. Over sixty percent of Mayor’s Music Scholars are from BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) backgrounds, and 100% are from low-income families.

It is no surprise that just fifteen percent of state school children learn a musical instrument, as opposed to fifty percent of independent school children. We are committed and dedicated to ensuring that all children who show potential and commitment to learning are given the chance to continue.

We are delighted to welcome a new patron to the Fund in 2016, the recently elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. We look forward to working with his administration to further develop our programmes to ensure all Londoners are given the opportunity to develop their full potential.”

This video gives an introduction to the work of the Fund from the perspective of the students.

For more information about the Mayor’s Music Fund, please contact Chrissy Kinsella, Chief Executive on 020 7983 4258



The Concerto: Developing the Soloist

Today the word concerto is typically used to describe a piece of music that features a particular instrument or instruments as a soloist, accompanied by an orchestra. Soloists are the most glamorous, highly paid classical musicians and their concerto performances demonstrate the pinnacle of their skill. However, the concerto was originally a composition where people played together in concert/consort, making a ‘concerted effort’.

The Baroque Concerto

The Concerto first became a key part of the repertoire in the Baroque era. It was used at the end of the 17th Century by violinists such as Corelli. Corelli is known for his Concerto Grossi which feature a small group of soloists accompanied by a larger orchestra, referred to in the score as ‘ripieno,’ a word that literally means stuffing or padding.

Archangel Corelli leading an orchestra on the Spanish Steps in Rome, 1687

Archangel Corelli leading an orchestra on the Spanish Steps in Rome, 1687

Other composers associated with the Concerto who were writing in Italy in this period include Vivaldi and Albinoni. Albinoni was one of the first composers to write concerti for the oboe, an instrument that was then fairly new to Italian ensemble music. Vivaldi is perhaps one of the best known composers of concerti, his most famous works being his Op. 4 “Le Quattro Stagioni” or “The Four Seasons” for solo violin. Unusually for the period, when Vivaldi published the concerti he included accompanying poems (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) that introduced the ideas illustrated in the music.

The Concerto was also a popular form in Germany with composers such as Telemann and J. S. Bach. Perhaps the most famous of J. S. Bach’s Concerti are the six Brandeburg Concerti, BWV 1046–1051. The Concerti have different soloists:

  • Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 – two corni da caccia (natural horns), three oboes, bassoon, violino piccolo, two violins, viola, cello, basso continuo
  • No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 – 1 Tromba (trumpet), 1 Flauto (recorder), 1 Hautbois (oboe), 1 Violino, concertati, è 2 Violini, 1 Viola è Violone in Ripieno col Violoncello è Basso per il Cembalo
  • No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 – tre Violini, tre Viole, è tre Violoncelli col Basso per il Cembalo
  • No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 – à Violino Principale, due Fiauti d’Echo (recorders), due Violini, una Viola è Violone in Ripieno, Violoncello è Continuo
  • No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 – une Traversiere (flute), une Violino principale, une Violino è una Viola in ripieno, Violoncello, Violone è Cembalo concertato

The Concerto in England was developed by musicians from the continent, particularly the Italian composer Lully and George Fridrich Handel, from Germany.

Photograph of the original manuscript of Handel's concerto grosso Op.6 No.4, 1739 (from Page 345 of P.H.Lang's Handel)

Photograph of the original manuscript of Handel’s concerto grosso Op.6 No.4, 1739 (from Page 345 of P.H.Lang’s Handel)

Key terms from this period include:

  • Concerto da Chiesa – Church Sonata which usually had abstract movements
  • Concerto da Camera – Chamber sonatas with dance style movements
  • Concertino – was used for the group of soloists
  • Ripieno – which means “full”. This term was used to refer to the accompanying orchestra

The Classical Concerto

Many of the most famous concerti from the Classical period were composed by W.A. Mozart. Mozart’s contribution to the Concerto form was extensive and included 21 works for solo piano, one for 2 pianos, one for 3 pianos, five for violin, concertos for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn as well as a Sinfonia Concertante for solo violin and viola and a Concerto for flute and harp. In Mozart’s concerti the soloist often alternates with the main ensemble, almost setting the soloist against the accompanying musicians.

Beethoven developed the Concerto form from Mozart’s compositions utilising the interplay of soloist and orchestra in a different way, some suggest in a more collaborative way. Beethoven wrote 5 piano concerti, a violin concerto and a triple concerto for piano, violin and cello.

The Romantic Concerto

During the Romantic Period, several virtuosi utilised solo works including the form of the concerto to demonstrate their abilities. Paganini, an accomplished violinist wrote 6 violin concerti which allowed him to show off his skills. Liszt, an outstanding pianist, wrote 2 piano concerti.

Other key composers of concerti in the Romantic period include Schumann who wrote concerti for piano, cello and violin which are all still popular works today. Dvorak wrote 4 concerti, 1 for piano, 2 for violin and 2 for cello, the more famous of which is the Concerto in B minor, Op 104. Brahms wrote 4 concerti, 2 for piano, one for violin and one for violin and cello. A concerto was often written with a particular player in mind. The Brahms Violin Concerto was written for the violinist Joseph Joachim.

Here are some useful links with more information about the history, form and relevance of the concerto…

Concerto form:


The Baroque Concerto:


Modern Ideas:


The Threat to EUYO – A European Tragedy

The musical community reacted with dismay and disbelief last month at the news that the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) was to close in September 2016 following a loss of funding from the EU.

Immediately, huge numbers of supporters from across the globe joined the campaign to #SaveEUYO.

Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians expressed the feelings of music lovers and musicians, saying,

This news is devastating and we urge the Commissioner to reverse this decision and find ways to continue to support this ensemble. The European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) is a unique ensemble, bringing together the promising young musicians from 28 countries; it has produced some of the most celebrated top musicians of our generation. The fact that this ensemble cannot be recognised as the asset that it is, is nothing short of a tragedy.

The EUYO, originally called the European Community Youth Orchestra, has existed since 1976. Founded by Lionel and Joy Bryer, respectively the Chairman and Secretary General of the International Youth Foundation of Great Britain, the plan was to create an orchestra that would represent the European ideal of a community working together to achieve peace and social understanding.

After nearly 40 years successfully fulfilling this role, the announcement came that the orchestra was to close because of a policy change. The news was not the result of a targeted funding cut, but the result of a decision that there should be no cultural funding for individual organisations. The idea behind this policy, which actually involves a 7% increase in overall funding, was to encourage national organisations to become more ‘European’ and, in a move described by arts writers and musicians as “ignorant,” overlooked the pan-European nature of the EUYO.

[Image: Peter Adamik]

[Image: Peter Adamik]

As arts journalist and former arts correspondant for the Times, Simon Tait, explained in his column, Taitmail,

It is not because of some artistic judgement by the funding authorities; it isn’t that the orchestra has had a dip in form, or that audiences have stopped coming to hear it; there is no funding crisis that makes the EUYO an intolerable luxury. It is being killed because it doesn’t fit a new policy: it isn’t a national body seeking to become more European by forging partnerships with other national bodies in other European countries in the current imperative; it is an existing pan-European organisation, and they are no longer to be funded. The EUYO was the result of a European Parliament resolution of 1976 and until 2013 was supported as a cultural ambassador for the EU. It has players from all 28 member states and its quality is such that it has been conducted by Bernstein, Karajan, Barenboim and Rostropovich, and its music directors have even the likes of Abbado, Ashkenazy, Haitink and currently Petrenko. It has performed in all the great concert halls of the world in four continents, 43 countries and 177 cities, and its 3,000 alumni now populate the orchestras of the world.

In a time when politics is raw with arguments over Brexit and peace is regularly shattered by news of conflict, terrorist attacks, immigration and division amongst communities, the EUYO is a strong symbol of unity and the power of music. Bernard Haitink Conductor Laureate European Union Youth Orchestra says,

For 40 years the European Union Youth Orchestra has been the very definition of excellence and commitment, consistently proving the value of bringing together young people from diverse European cultures. At a moment of such challenge for Europe, it is simply unthinkable that this beacon could be destroyed by lack of support and nurturing from the EU. Simply unthinkable.

[Image: Peter Adamik]

[Image: Peter Adamik]

The orchestra also provides an essential professional development experience for young orchestral musicians. Direction from experienced, acclaimed conductors, who over the years have included Claudio Abado, Sir Colin Davis, Leonard Bernstein, Daniel Barenboim, Herbert von Karajan and Vladimir Ashkenazy, allows players to develop their knowledge of key repertoire, experience the joys and challenges of touring and develop a network of peers across the EU. Working with top musicians on a range of repertoire in top concert halls across the world is an important experience for those about to start their professional performing careers. As a result of this work, the World’s orchestras are full of EUYO alumni.

In order to provide this resource, the EUYO requires funding from a range of sources. The orchestra is active in raising funds through corporate partners, charitable trusts and foundations and individuals, but funding from the EU is vital to its future.

As of 31st May 2016, an official EU Commission press briefing included the announcement that President Juncker, EU Commission President, had ordered a group of three Commissioners to find funding for the EUYO. This led to an announcement on June 1st of proposals to enable the European Union to return to core funding the EUYO.

However, the future of the orchestra is still not assured until the precise details of these proposals are confirmed; a matter that requires urgency and speed if the EUYO is to be able to plan future concert tours. The musical community continues to call for the issue to be resolved and for the future of the EUYO to be secured.

We call upon the many professional orchestras, festivals and concert halls that have, for decades, been profiting from and enriched by the continuous work of youth orchestras like the EUYO to show their strongest support in this difficult situation. Cutting off the financial support for young musicians and those few truly non-profit organisations which strive to give them better chances in their future professional lives is a fatal signal and should not be taken as just another cultural policy decision. It means cutting of the very foundation of our cultural education and endangers the European cultural heritage we pretend to be so proud of – Alexander Meraviglia-Crivelli, Secretary General, Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra

To join the campaign to #SaveEUYO, visit http://www.euyo.eu/about/saveeuyo/

“That’s a Funny Oboe” The Bassoon Fights Back

One of the least assuming instruments of the orchestra has been forefront in the press recently, as virtuoso Dutch bassoonist Bram van Sambeek is featured promoting a dramatic campaign to save the bassoon.

jazz bassoonThe initiative began in January 2015, when the Artistic Director of the Holland Festival, Ruth Mackenzie announced a new scheme to bring attention to instruments under threat. The campaign started with seven short bassoon commissions and the launch of a new website for the Dutch programme, since when #savethebassoon has gone viral.

Media attention in the UK has focused on Sambeek. He is an attractive ambassador for the bassoon: A top-flight soloist and the first bassoonist ever to have received the Dutch Music Prize. Conductor Valery Gergiev described him as,

All in all a combination of being artistically involved, motivated and being gifted, being a very nice person, and also being a little bit unusual!

But the issue runs deeper than a viral campaign and a charismatic soloist. The bassoon, a double reed instrument and the larger relative of the oboe, is one of the more difficult instruments to learn, and student bassoons are more expensive than many other starter instruments. To put it in perspective, a beginner ‘mini-bassoon’ can cost about £2000, where a reasonable quality violin outfit could be bought for around £150. Student numbers are low, with fewer applicants for music colleges and orchestral places, and the knock-on effect of cuts to music education mean that there is now a shortage of bassoon students at specialist music schools such as Chethams. The ABRSM statistics for numbers of graded music exams taken worldwide in 2013 show the bassoon second lowest, with only 1009 applicants. The only instrument with fewer exam entries was the tuba.


The bassoon has also never been seen as a solo instrument. The repertoire and available styles of music are perceived as more limited than the guitar or clarinet, which are widely used in pop and jazz music.

Bassoonist Tom Hardy who spoke on BBC Radio 4 about #savethebassoon says,

There is no question that we need more young players taking up the bassoon as patterns in schools and music centres around the country have shifted drastically. In some areas the local music service has no instruments or teachers, and funding opportunities are much harder to create. In other places the bassoon is thriving thanks to the dedicated and hard work of individuals and music hubs.

Tom had over 70 emails from bassoonists and bassoon teachers in the run-up to his BBC interview.

I heard from one young professional from Salford who had been able to learn on an instrument provided by the music service, with free lessons. In the last few years Salford had their funding cut and those opportunities are no longer there.

There is also an issue of awareness of the instrument. Sambeek is quoted as saying that he wants to promote the bassoon because only 1% of people on the street actually know what it is.

It starts in the primary schools with children being made aware of all the instruments and what they sound like.

Says Tom

This is often where you capture their imagination. The bassoon has an incredible range and beauty. The use of the bassoon for expressive melodies fills the repertoire!

The bassoon has always been less popular than some other instruments, but according to the emails from Tom Hardy’s list of bassoon colleagues, recent funding cuts in some areas have meant that instruments are being sold off to buy more ‘popular’ alternatives such as saxophones.

Bassoon Reeds

UK bassoon player Laurence Perkins has responded to this with his International Bassoon Day Project, which starts on 11th October and extends to a three-month campaign to encourage young people to take up the instrument.

There’s also the Big Double Reed Day on November 29th, an annual event to inspire and encourage bassoonists and oboists of any age or playing level.

The bassoon has also always been a minority instrument, and bassoonists have always had to work to promote it, whilst simultaneously putting up with people asking how their oboe playing is going. Tom explains,

When children hear the bassoon and like it, they are our future bassoonists.

But with the climate of cuts, the lack of confidence in classical music teaching and the perception of orchestral instruments in comparison to the lure of the pop-band, raising the profile of the instrument can be a challenge: A challenge that is being met by passionate musicians and inspired teachers.

The UK press coos over Sambeek’s introduction to the instrument by his mother – he heard it before he saw it, and fell in love with the sound. Reporters focus awkwardly on the quirkiness of the bassoon, identifying it with the Grandfather in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and making schoolboy jokes about flatulence.

But bassoonist Jackie Hayter says,

I love the bassoon because it’s a bit different. You wouldn’t play the bassoon at school if you wanted to blend in with the crowd. Saying that, I didn’t exactly shout about it! I loved the sound, the wood, the way it looked. To me, seeing someone play it in the school wind band was like Christmas. I never found it ‘funny’. Some people hear the bassoon and snigger, which I always find peculiar. I don’t think anyone who plays the bassoon would have ever cracked up at the sound.

She puts the lack of engagement from students down to practicality and image.

I generally find that kids don’t want to carry it, or they don’t want to be the kid on the bus with the box. I never thought about these things but I guess times have changed.

It’s not easy to start off on the bassoon. I think that you have to try that bit harder to make the bassoon cool. It’s not mainstream. But I guess the point is that can be cooler than a lot of other instruments.

Maria Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director of the Music Workshop Company, knows a bit about the unique experience of learning a double-reed instrument.

I took up the oboe at the age of 9 and one of the defining experiences is the frustration of trying to find the ‘right’ reed. Luckily my Dad is an oboist too, so I had lots of support and help. Good oboe reeds cost between £15 and £20 and can last for months or for one concert. They are made of thin bamboo. They can be damaged very easily and can be affected by the weather, by damp or overly dry conditions. A familiar sight in any orchestra is that of the oboist fiddling with reeds, surrounded by specialist tools such as reed knives, plaques and mandrels. The oboist’s paranoia over the state of their reed is almost as big a source of orchestral humour as the perceived incompetence of the viola players!

There are great benefits to playing a double-reed instrument, not least in the form of many wonderful pieces of orchestral music; soaring oboe solos such as the slow movement from Brahms Violin Concerto, the slow movement from Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4, Prokofiev Classical Symphony, and on cor anglais the Franck Symphony. And there’s chamber music including the Mozart Oboe Quartet, Malcolm Arnold’s Three Sea Shanties for Wind Quintet and Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid. The bassoon deserves its place amongst the stars of the woodwind, as demonstrated in the opening solo of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Maria remembers a similar initiative to promote the bassoon when she was at school, when the structure of music education allowed for more opportunity to explore orchestral instruments. She hopes that children will, like bassoonist Bram van Sambeek, have a chance to choose their instrument based on its sound, and is making sure MWC plays its part.

Our new Orchestral Workshop, which we premiered at Rushey Mead School in July, was really encouraging. Four MWC musicians spent the day introducing children to the instruments of the orchestra. The workshop culminated with the children making their own cardboard instruments, which included violins, trombones and bassoons, before joining a mime-orchestra. This gave them a tiny taste of the experience of playing in a big group of musicians.


There are lots of great schemes nationwide to introduce children and young people to classical music, some of which we discussed in our blog A Focus on Listening.

And the unusual #savethebassoon currently trending on Twitter will at least encourage more people to appreciate and enjoy the beautiful sound of the instrument.

The bassoon is one of my favourite instruments. It has the medieval aroma, like the days when everything used to sound like that. Some people crave baseball… I find this unfathomable, but I can easily understand why a person could get excited about playing a bassoon. It’s a great noise – nothing else makes that noise – Frank Zappa

If you would like to ask The Music Workshop Company team about our Orchestral Workshops or have questions about any aspect of instrumental learning, please drop us an email, we’d love to hear from you.

Inspiring With Opera

Last month we looked at the relevance of classical music in education, following violinist, Nicola Benedetti’s comments about the value of introducing young people to subjects that they may at first find difficult. This month we look at the world of opera – a sticking point even for some music lovers.

Maria_Thomas-300x247Maria Thomas, Founder and Artistic director of the Music Workshop Company, is passionate about opera but is also aware that it has a particular reputation within the classical genre for being inaccessible. She tells us about her recent experiences as an opera lover, discusses the role of opera within the Arts and asks whether opera companies are heading in the right direction to encourage new, young fans…

My first experience of professional opera was at the age of four – Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. By the age of 10 I was a regular opera goer. I suppose it was inevitable that I would love or hate opera following that early exposure.

Opera is something that some people find challenging. I’ve heard people say that they don’t like it when they’ve never experienced a live performance. The most common barrier in this respect is the perception of high prices, but many opera tickets are cheaper than those for football matches or musical theatre shows.


There’s also the worry about ‘opera etiquette.’ What should you wear, when should you clap; things that can cause stress to what should be an enjoyable experience. Opera companies have addressed these concerns in various ways.

The Royal Opera House website has helpful advice on what to expect when attending a performance, Seattle Opera has a great first timers’ guide covering questions about dress code and what happens on stage, and the Welsh National Opera encourage new audience members with their New to Opera page.

Театр_оперы_и_балета._ЗалThere’s also this guide from the Telegraph, so there’s plenty of encouraging information out there.

I really feel many people would be more open minded about opera if they had enjoyed an opera performance when they were young.

Most opera companies have school matinees which give young people a chance to experience live opera, often supplying support materials for teachers and offering in school projects such as Opera Holland Park’s Inspire Project, Opera North’s Education and Engagement projects, and Scottish Opera’s schools touring programme.

Is opera relevant today or is it an outdated form of entertainment?

One of the challenges for performers and producers is how to set the opera. Should the production be staged in a traditional setting as stated by the composer and librettist, or should it be updated? Some operas have worked extremely well in modern settings, for example Jonathan Miller’s production of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutti at the Royal Opera House incorporated strong use of modern staging and props, including mobile phones, but not all updates are so successful.

In working to appeal to a modern audience, and to challenge ideas outside of music, some productions are perhaps moving even further away from increased inclusivity.

The Royal Opera House’s current production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (William Tell) by Damiano Michieletto, is one of the biggest stories in opera at the moment, and brings this question of relevance strongly to the forefront. The production sets the story in war-torn Bosnia. The aim is to bring home the horrors of war, moving away from the traditional storybook image of William Tell, whilst still representing this aspect of the character. However, there’s a feeling that the production goes too far.

I was in the audience on the first night of the show. The singers and orchestra were outstanding, but I found myself not enjoying the production. The sense of dismay became real during a rewrite of the traditional ballet scene in the third act. The scene was interpreted with a graphic, violent scene, which was very distressing to watch. No warning was given of the graphic scene (an issue which has now been rectified by the ROH). Many in the audience reacted with loud booing, which was repeated when the production team took their curtain calls at the end.

It has been reported that this is the first time anyone can remember such a strong response from the audience at the Royal Opera House, certainly during a performance.

The response in the press and on social media about this production has raised questions in the opera world.

Should opera be used to raise social issues or challenge audience perceptions?

Opera, unlike live theatre, film and video games, is not subject to age classification. In encouraging young audiences, should all productions be suitable for all ages?

Some operas are clearly not appropriate for young people. For example, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Weil’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny both tackle graphic topics which are not suitable for children. But William Tell is often told as a children’s story, much like Robin Hood. Although the story is about the challenges of war, the heroic personal story of William Tell is usually a bigger feature both in storybooks and at the opera.


It is clearly an important role of the Arts to challenge social issues, but it should not be gratuitous or self-indulgent. Often a powerful message can be felt by more subtle means. I feel that by performing explicit productions, opera companies (the current English National Opera performance of Carmen includes nudity) are creating a further barrier for future audiences. Most people have their first and most formative classical music, theatre or opera experiences at a young age – being taken to see a production by friends, family or school. If productions are not suitable for young people, families feel discouraged from attending? As opera is becoming more available through the big screen and cinema showings, producers must consider their audience. Not every production should be a children’s show, but difficult topics can be dealt with sensitively.

During my time working at the Royal Opera House, one of my most vivid memories was being back stage as the cast of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman took a curtain call at the end of the schools matinee. The clapping and cheering of the audience was phenomenal, showing that young people can really enjoy opera. I feel very strongly that they should be given the chance to make up their own minds as to whether this is an Art form for them.


If you would like to know more about introducing young people to opera or are interested in an opera workshop for your school or business, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.

Stories and Symphonies in Stevenage

SSO image1The Music Workshop Company (MWC) joined forces with Stevenage Symphony Orchestra last month for an exciting composition project with three Hertfordshire primary schools. The orchestra, which is for amateur musicians in and around Hertfordshire, won a grant last year from the BBC Performing Arts Fund to commission the work, Legends of the Tor, from composer Alison Wrenn, and to fund workshops in local schools. Goddesses

The MWC team had a great time working with Alison and the orchestra to develop workshops especially for the project.  Along with Alison and Pam Davies, the leader of the orchestra, we then visited Lodge Farm Primary School, Knebworth Primary School and Fairlands Primary School to run the workshops.

The project was unusual for the Stevenage orchestra, because although they regularly work with children who have musical instrument lessons through the Wider Opportunities scheme, this project was the first to also involve children who have never had an instrumental lesson.

Dragon and Hobbit

In each school the children were introduced to Alison’s symphonic piece, Legends of the Tor which is based on the many myths surrounding the Glastonbury Tor.

Dog who ate marshmallowsThey then had the chance to make up their own myth and compose a piece of music that described the story that they had created. After the wJack and the Dragonorkshop they drew pictures to illustrate the stories. The children performed the pieces they created during the workshops at the Stevenage Festival, in a concert with the Stevenage Symphony Orchestra in which Alison’s piece was also premiered.

For many of the children it was the first time they had been to a concert and certainly the first time they had performed at one.

The children’s compositions included:

The Crazy Highwayman and the Unicorn

The Hobbit and the Dragon

The Dog Who Wanted Marshmallows

The King in the Dungeon

The Legend of Jack, the Dragon and the Purple Dog

Goddesses – Battle on the Tor

Highway manKing Arthur

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