A groundbreaking orchestral initiative was announced in the last few days. The Guildhall School of Music & Drama, partnered with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Barbican Centre, launched the Centre for Orchestra. This is a unique educational scheme involving three world-leading musical institutions based in London – Guildhall, the LSO, and the Barbican – with the purpose of creating a forum for orchestral development. The core of this project is the collaboration between young professionals and international music specialists, in order to train future world-class artists.
Underlying this initiative is the understanding of a strong European tradition in classical music education, together with the awareness of rapid technological changes in performing, recording and listening. These dynamics are fundamental in the training of young musicians as well as in the challenge of attracting new audiences for orchestral music.
These are some of the issues inherent to the Centre for Orchestra's conception. That's also why its proponents stress particularly the Centre's didactic methods, which are essential in the education of future performers.
A pilot year of activities is already under way. Its core will revolve around works performed within the LSO/Barbican season. According to the provisional programme, the Centre's didactics will involve numerous projects at a postgraduate level. Among these, the following are particularly significant for future professionals: regular coaching and sectional work with LSO players; participation in string ensembles directed by Gordan Nikolitch; masterclasses in conducting skills with eminent conductors; a mentoring programme for every student with a professional player; courses in holistic techniques (such as the Alexander technique); and the possibility to attend orchestra rehearsals and free concerts.
Practising activities are especially emphasised. Rehearsals will be led by some of the most acclaimed conductors; and the result of the collaboration between students and the LSO musicians is a Discovery Concert by a Guildhall School postgraduate orchestra at LSO St Luke's in advance of the LSO/Barbican performance. Conductors involved in this scheme are Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, Daniel Harding, Pierre Boulez, James MacMillan, among many others.
Further educational activities involve extensive collaboration with the Guildhall School, with the institutional and artistic support of the Barbican. For instance, key artists from the LSO and Barbican seasons will share their musical views during video conferences, talks and masterclasses; Professor Julian Anderson will give classes on orchestration and composition; and historical performance specialists will lead practical workshops aimed at analysing practices and the meaning of such a discipline within the current and future musical landscape. In addition, activities will also concentrate on new musical media: original commissions and collaborations with performers of different art forms will be the basis for reflection on alternative orchestral models.
These varied activities will allow future performers to explore the existing orchestral repertoire and to acquire advanced skills in order to be able to be competitive as professional musicians. Moreover, the Centre's students will become familiar with several approaches to maintain their well-being. They will also acquire basic skills in order to find themselves at ease within the administrative, promotional and entrepreneurial environment.
The multiple educative aims of this project are ambitious and unprecedented. In the words of Professor Barry Ife, Guildhall Principal, the Centre 'will provide an unparalleled opportunity for the training and development of young orchestral players while keeping a focus on the evolution of the professional orchestra of the future.'
Responses to these plans are enthusiastic. Kathryn McDowell, LSO Managing Director, believes that the Centre's work is a promise of extraordinary achievements. As she remarks, 'this could transform the orchestral profession in the UK and Europe, bringing a focus on orchestral studies and on the research and development of the orchestra of the future'.
The Centre for Orchestra is an ambitious project that can exploit the potential of young artists combined with material support from some of the finest musical institutions. We could say, in LSO President Sir Colin Davis' words, that 'This is what the musical world has been needing.'
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