Last Friday I took part on the “Side by Side” Symphony Orchestra at Blackheath Halls. The side by side is a relatively new project that involves students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance playing with staff members in a Symphony Orchestra. Its aim is to give students the chance to experience what it feels like to sit next to an experienced professional. It also simulates the fast pace in which top British orchestras rehearse their repertoire before the performance. We only had one day of intense rehearsal followed by an evening concert.
The programme: Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. The composer called it “a Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism”, after his Fourth Symphony had been banned by Stalin’s regime for being “formalistic”. However, it is possible that Shostakovich couldn’t help but to show his aversion to the dictatorship between the lines. It is a fascinating work where grandiosity contrasts with moments of utmost suffering.
I was very pleased with the result! The orchestra sounded really well at the concert. Being surrounded by all these senior musicians encouraged me to concentrate through the rehearsal and to perform as well as I could.
The rehearsal wasn’t an ordinary one. At the beginning the conductor, Jonathan Tilbrook, encouraged all the staff members of the orchestra to speak up. “I don’t want just my voice to be heard”, he said. And that is what happened. Throughout the day the senior members shared their experience with us. Jonathan found the right balance in which he was able to stay in control of the rehearsal but at the same time allowing his colleagues to express their concerns and make suggestions.
Since it started a year ago, there have been three “Side by Side” projects organised by Trinity Laban: Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, “The Planets” by Holst and now Shostakovich’s 5th. This is the first time I have been involved in one, but I attended the two previous performances. One thing these three concerts had in common is how popular they were for the audience. Blackheath Halls was crowded every time!
There was a really good atmosphere during the day, and a great experience overall. I’m happy to have been a part of it.