Building an orchestra
Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Building an Orchestra – 10 Years of NEW Sinfonia
On Monday 29th March I was invited by Natalja Slobodyreva of Meta Artists International to present a lecture as part of their ‘Success Generation’ online lecture series. The title I gave my presentation was ‘Building an Orchestra – 10 Years of NEW Sinfonia’.
Later this year, it will be 10 years since NEW Sinfonia’s first concert at St Giles Parish Church in Wrexham. Looking back to our early days felt like a trip down memory lane and I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved over the past decade. I am grateful to Natalja who gave me a platform to talk to an international audience about my work as Co-Artistic Director & Principal Conductor to NEW Sinfonia. In the Q&A at the end of the sessions, there were brilliant questions from friends and colleagues from around the world: California, Cape Town, Sofia and Milan which gave me the inspiration for this post. This month I thought it would be good to give a short summary of our journey with a tick list of points I feel are a must when starting out your own group. Natalja is going to send me a recording of my lecture in full and I will upload that to my YouTube channel. Message me if you would like notice when this goes live and you can hear the full story in your own time!
I grew up in Wrexham, journeyed through the North Wales youth music scene with my brother Jon and a great group of friends. Eventually Jon and I ended up playing clarinet and viola respectively in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. My first experience of conducting was with the Wrexham Youth Orchestra. Conductor Ian Morgan Williams (he is also a composer, so check him out here) made playing in a youth orchestra great fun and gave me the opportunity to stand up and wave my arms. He really encouraged and inspired me to keep waving! Thanks Ian! (or please blame Ian!) 😂 Wales has a proud music tradition and I felt part of a community in North Wales. That sense of community is something I will come back to.
I completed my BMus at the University of Manchester and then MMus in solo performance at the Royal Northern College of Music. I was taught conducting by Mark Heron and viola by Dr. Louise Lansdown. I loved playing professionally for a few years sat in the middle of great orchestras and chamber ensembles, and learnt so much rep and about how the industry works.
1- Primarily, everyone saw me as a viola player and I wanted to be a conductor – so I needed to do something about that.
2- My brother Jonathan (and co-founder) wanted to be playing clarinet with a great orchestra.
3- A core group of friends who came through the youth orchestras together and were dreaming of becoming professional musicians wanted to keep playing together at home in North Wales. Playing in our community in North Wales was important – so many people move away to build careers as professional musicians and we wanted to bring people back. So Jon and I thought ‘why don’t we just do it’? That was the spark – don’t wait – just make it happen.
The rest as they say is history! But that history has a lot of hard work, meetings, journey across Wales, ups and downs, lessons learnt, partnerships and amazing music with incredible colleagues.
Whistle stop tour
2011 - 2014
In the early years our main focus was on simply making music and we did not really have a long term plan. We played in venues across North Wales and this allowed us to grow a loyal audience. We were noticed by the North Wales International Music Festival who invited us to take part in a few projects and received incredible sponsorship and help from John Allen at the Belmont Hotel, Cantorion Rhos, the Carne Trust and our family. If you want to start your own ensemble I believe having a team of people who can help is essential! Look after your players and say thanks to people who do believe in you.
2014 – 2019
We were introduced to Paula Jewson, award winning business entrepreneur, through the Arts & Business Cymru business mentor scheme. She loved our vision but it came as no surprise that we needed helped with the business side – the who/what/where/why/how. The ‘how’ part being ‘how is it paid?!’ J So we started developing a plan and off we went (with constant mentoring from Paula). Thank you Paula, we could not have done this without you. In 2014 we set up as a CIC – Community Interest Company – with a board of three directors. This opened up the possibility to apply for funding and the Arts Council of Wales funded two projects! In the recording you can hear more about our partnership with Welsh National Opera and our growing relationship with the North Wales International Music Festival. Tips: think about why you do what you do, develop your USP and find your voice.
2019 – 2021
We have world premieres under our belt now, our musicians also play with the UK’s finest orchestras and NEW Sinfonia has grown to be a regular gig for a team of brilliant professional freelance musicians. We have converted to a CIO – Charitable Incorporated Organisation – with a board of trustees. The pandemic has changed everything and we have adapted. We want to give a blend of online and in person events when possible. You can watch NEW Sinfonia online later this month for a digital concert we are recording from St Asaph, we have three RNCM workshop days for their student conductors working with Mark Heron over the coming months and we are looking to hire an administrator and marketing manager to join the team!
I think there is a world of opportunity to celebrate community and bringing people together once it is safe to mix again. We want to be ready to go!
People don’t fund what you do – they fund WHY you do it.
Find your USP – find your voice.
Create a plan and look after your relationships.
Life is all about partnerships and working together. Have people around you who you trust and believe in you. These people are your rock and can be 100% honest with you.