LSO Discovery at 20

By | June 26, 2010 at 4:43 pm | No comments | LSO Discovery

In 1990, twenty three years ago, the London Symphony Orchestra began its education and community programme LSO Discovery. And twenty three years later it is still going strong, getting bigger every year, bringing the LSO and classical music into the lives of countless thousands.

This blog post features some of the best moments of LSO Discovery, as told by the participants themselves. They were originally published on a separate blog in June 2010 to celebrate the 20th birthday of LSO Discovery, but are such lovely stories that we thought it was well worth republishing them here on our current blog.


String Experience: Sarah Quinn, Sub-Principal Second Violin

I auditoned for the LSO string experience scheme in 1996 while I was a student at the Royal College of Music. Given my poor attempt to sight-read the finale of Brahms Second Symphony no one was more surprised than I was when my name appeared on the list of successful candidates.

Having always wanted to play in a professional orchestra, this was a dream come true but this feeling was quickly replaced by crippling anxiety. How on earth was I going to be able to perform on stage with LSO? What if I was hopeless and made a mess of it? I decided to go to a concert at the Barbican in the hope that this would calm my nerves.

So off I went to hear the LSO performing Bartok with Sir George Solti. Oh dear. This amazing concert did nothing to reassure me that this was all going to be wonderful. A bag of nerves, I hurried home to practice.

My first rehearsal was the following week. The programme of Benjamin Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations and Bartok The Miraculous Mandarin was a demanding one and I had been preparing for weeks. I was so worried about being late that I arrived three hours early for the rehearsal. I headed backstage to throw myself in at the deep end.

I needn’t have worried. I heard someone ask if I was “the student”. I am not sure what gave me away – my terrified expression or my ripped jeans and trainers. Everyone was so welcoming and once the rehearsal had started my nerves vanished and I was on cloud nine. The first concert went by in a blur to be honest but I couldn’t wait for my next patch of work – I wished that I could join the orchestra there and then. However … my final concert was playing Stravinsky Rite of Spring with Raphael Frubeck de Burgos. The performance was electrifying – orchestra and audience on the edge of their seats, and then disaster! I came crashing in on my own during a bar’s rest. My worst nightmare – strong and wrong. Everyone was very kind. They told me not to worry and that it happens to everyone at some point. This was no consolation – I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. However it may have been the best mistake that I ever made.

When I turned up to audition for a position in the orchestra a year later I was greeted with “oh it’s you! You are the student who came crashing in during the Rite of Spring!!!” Well at least they remembered me…

I have been a member of the LSO for almost twelve years now. I help to run the LSO string scheme and I have never forgotten the amazing experience that I had as a student. From the moment I sat down for that first rehearsal fourteen years ago I knew that I wanted to join the LSO. It is the best job in the world.

Animateurs: Rachel Leach

My first encounter with LSO Discovery was back in 1998 – I auditioned for the post of Assistant Animateur without, I can now admit, knowing anything about the role or the department. My audition day included helping out during a family workshop at the Barbican. I was assisting Mark Withers, collaborating with LSO players and helping children make music based around Copland’s Appalachian Spring – a piece I only vaguely remembered from my distant A levels. I blagged my way through the session pretty well and was putting on my coat to leave when another group of children arrived and I realised we had to do it all over again.

When that was done I exhaustedly put my coat on only to discover that I was expected to attend the concert – coat off again and an early lesson learned … they work you hard at the LSO.

The family concert that followed was amazing and within seconds I was hooked. I sat there as spellbound as an 8 year old watching Richard McNicol skillfully unpick several large and famous pieces based on the theme of America, and afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d do up there on that stage with that fantastic orchestra if I ever got the chance. Needless to say I got the job and several years later was asked to present my own Family Concert. Even though by that time I knew all the players well and had planned and planned and planned (no more blagging, this is the LSO!), that afternoon stepping on to the stage with them brought back the same sense of wonder I’d had back at my audition.

I’ve been working with the Orchestra now for 12 years and every time I step on stage with them, either here at the Barbican, at LSO St Luke’s or abroad I still get that same excited tingle. I love this orchestra, and I love my job. Each day is different and the experiences we’ve had in schools, community centres, in hospitals, at LSO St Luke’s and around the globe would fill books and books. I do always try to remember that first time I heard them play and was firmly bitten by the LSO bug and I try in my workshops to pass on that spark of excitement to everyone I meet.

LSO St Luke’s Academy: Philip Cobb, Principal Trumpet

LSO Discovery’s work has given me many special memories and opportunities. I was fortunate enough to participate in the LSO St Luke’s Brass Academy in 2008, which I am certain has played a massive part in me now being one of the Principal Trumpets in the LSO. I am so thankful for the opportunities that taking part gave me and feel privileged to have been part of such a fantastic scheme. Many of the friends I made on the Academy are now members and regular extras with both London and international orchestras.

When I joined the Orchestra I was overwhelmed by the number of events and projects that take place within the department and I now have the privilege of getting involved with some of these. Once again LSO Discovery has given me another fantastic opportunity, to play my first concerto with the Orchestra as part of the 20th Anniversary Concert on 28 June.

Lang Lang Piano Day: Susie Cassini (via Facebook)

The only LSO Discovery project I’ve been to was a wonderful piano workshop with Lang Lang at LSO St Luke’s. He was working with piano students from the Guildhall and it was very enlightening and inspiring. It’s a great venue.

Fusion Orchestra: Elaine Pang

As an active member of LSO Fusion Orchestra, I’ve enjoyed many LSO Discovery projects. The LSO Discovery team have offered me many opportunities to work with the LSO plus many famous composers and conductors; including Nitin Sawhney, James MacMillan and many more… Meeting these guys has been an awesome experience; the project involving James MacMillan’s ‘Into The Ferment’ piece for the LSO On Track Orchestra was fantastic! Getting to meet him and work with him was a super bonus! I absolutely loved every moment of it! Especially getting a chance to perform on the Barbican stage was extremely exciting!

I’ve been joined to the LSO Fusion Orchestra for quite a while now and I’ve enjoyed every session which is mainly held every term holiday, which is fantastic for keeping students busy and entertained over the holidays. I can never get bored of a LSO project, because I know it’ll involve meeting new people and learning new stuff. It’s great that we get to meet London Symphony Orchestra members through these projects, because they help inspire us to fulfil our musical talents. I think the LSO Discovery team is fantastic and should continue doing more projects like this in the future!

LSO St Luke’s Community Choir: Rosaline Ogunro

An elderly lady friend and neighbour Kitty Johnson recommended and introduced me to the LSO St. Luke’s Community Choir in 2003. She had been a member from when it was formed. I went along for a rehearsal at the stunning LSO St Luke’s Jerwood Hall situated at Old Street, enjoyed it thoroughly and decided to join immediately. Since joining in 2003 I have not looked back. It is a fun place to be, fantastic atmosphere, great for letting off steam after a hard Monday’s work and meeting with some really lovely people who all share the same passion for singing. What started with a handful of men, women and children has grown into a mass choir of about 120 adults and a separate Youth Choir comprising about 90 children. We have performed in concerts at the Jerwood Hall and the Barbican Hall and Foyer, and in an opera at the Hackney Empire.

Well done LSO Discovery for the opportunity to be part of a brilliant project and happy 20th anniversary.

The honour of being a member of the LSO Community Choir: Adrienne Banks, Alto in the London Symphony Orchestra Community Choir

Monday – the first day of the working week has never been the same for me since I joined LSOCC in 2006 – it has been an honour and a privilege to perform at LSO St Lukes and on the Barbican stage, to sing with the LSO and do a concert with the world-renowned South African jazz musician, Hugh Masekela. This has been a wonderful musical journey for me.

Musicians on Call: Matthew Gibson, Double Bass

I have worked with LSO Discovery for the last eighteen years and have had countless memorable and wonderful experiences. Musicians on Call has provided me with many of them.

Musicians on Call is a scheme which the LSO undertake on whilst in tour where a couple of players will pay a visit to a person’s home, usually someone who is a music enthusiast but for whatever reason is no longer able to attend live concerts.

It is a fantastic opportunity for players to break out of the usual framework of concert giving where the relationship is between 100 players on stage and 2000 listeners in the audience and take music into a much more intimate surroundings.

Of course the concert hall setting is a very special and valuable experience but does not give the players the same opportunity to meet and talk to the audience about the performance and their response to the music.

In the concert hall it is easy for players to become absorbed by concerns of the quality their own performance or how the performance was for the whole orchestra, when actually, the most important result is how the listener felt, responded to and appreciated the performance. To have the chance to play chamber music in the situation for which it was originally intended (i.e. in someone’s front room) and to talk about it’s impact on the listener immediately following the performance is an extremely rewarding way of working.

Over the period of time that I have been involved in MOC I can honestly say that every visit undertaken has in it’s own way been an emotionally satisfying and unique event.

My first visit in New York was to the late Maggie Carson who, as I discovered on entering her apartment, had been Leonard Bernstein’s PR lady from the beginning of his career in the 1940s to his death in 1990. It was Bernstein’s music that first got me interested in playing music and the sound of the orchestra in general and I became a great fan of his conducting style and recordings as a teenager, so to have the opportunity to meet someone who had spent their whole professional life with him was a treat beyond my wildest dreams. Maggie also worked for MTT who was, of course, the LSO’s Principal Conductor from 88–95, and she insisted on ringing him up there and then to let him know that his friends Belinda MacFarlane and Matthew Gibson were in her apartment. Michael was asleep in Miami, resting before a concert, but was happily surprised to talk to us none the less!

Belinda and I also paid a visit to a family in Ormand Beach, during our Daytona Beach residency as part of the Florida International Festival. The gentleman concerned was in his 90s, wheelchair-bound and on oxygen but had been a music lover and connoisseur all his life. He and his wife had been great dancers in their youth as well and once we had played our Duke Ellington arrangements, we discovered that they had danced to the Duke Ellington band, to the very piece of music we played, live in the 1950s!! They were so ecstatic to be given the chance to hear this music live once again (albeit on bass and violin, rather than big band!) it was really quite overwhelming to see the emotion that this stirred up. At the end of the visit, the gentleman, despite being unable to talk, was in tears and the family were so grateful to have been united with music once again.

What was extraordinary was that as we were leaving the property, the wife and son of the recipient followed us out and were at pains to tell us that this was the first time for a long while that the family had come together as a group, and, unbeknown to the man himself – the family had been told by the doctors that very morning that he was hours from death. This was to be their last experience of sharing live music together. While it was devastating to hear this – it dawned on me that somehow there couldn’t be a greater privilege for a musician to be able to provide that amount of pleasure, that channel for emotional expression in such a trying situation. It was the perfect proof of music’s ability to unite a family at the point of ultimate devastation. I will never forget the experience.

On visits with Noel Bradshaw in Chicago we played for an elderly German gentleman who had been Alfred Einstein’s doctor for a long while who revelled in telling us the story of when his daughter jumped up onto the bed of the ailing Einstein, she knocked all his papers onto the floor and in a wild attempt to rescue them, Einstein whipped over to grab them and in the process revealed his naked bottom to the gathered room full of well wishers!

We also met and played for the widow of the man who started up TV channel 32 – now Fox News! who, unbeknown to Noel and I had invited all her media friends – ie. Fox News tv cameras!!

We played for a lonely elderly lady and her friend in her very modest sitting room in a suburb of Chicago. It was her birthday so she phoned through to her son in Denver and left the phone on so that he could share the experience with her.

While Noel and I performed some very elegant JFC Bach, we were oblivious to the fact that our chauffeur, who had been waiting outside the house in his black, darkened windowed people carrier had been rapidly surrounded by no fewer than six Chicago Police Department vehicles. They were reacting to the concerns of an overly observant neighbour who thought it unusual for our audience to have such suspicious looking visitors!!

We attended the house of a blind Ukrainian lady, again in downtown Chicago. Her late husband had been a musician and the house had been filled with music for the whole of their time together. Friends in attendance included an ex-professional bass player from the Chicago Opera orchestra. On approaching the steps of the building we realised that tv cameras were again in attendance, not one but two different channels, a photographer from the Chicago Herald and Tribune, a reviewer from the local press and a journalist from the Ukrainian community of Chicago! None of this had been arranged by the LSO but by the recipient herself!! It was a wonderful experience, if not the most pressured performance either of us had ever been involved in!!

The most emotionally disturbing visit was to a young Romanian lady in her twenties who was suffering from terminal cancer. She had been a gifted amateur violinist and worked in a music library. A professional violinist friend of hers attended as well as her parents who had flown over from Bucharest. As we entered the apartment we were greeted by the lady’s father who warned us that her health had taken a sharp downturn in the last few days, to the extent that they thought that they may have to cancel the visit. He cautioned us that we should be wary of playing anything too loud for fear of distressing her.

The recipient lay in bed and barely had the strength to lift her hand in greeting. She was painfully thin and pale beyond words. Her mother sat at the end of the bed and stroked her daughter continuously and in silence throughout the whole visit. She propped her daughter’s head up so that she could view the proceedings more comfortably. We began cautiously with some baroque numbers, moving on to more extrovert repertoire as we went on. It was quite plain to see that as the performance progressed she became gradually more and more animated, more responsive and involved in the whole event and in the end many discussions ensued on the subject of performance styles, music editions and the lives of classical musicians in general. The frown of pain on her forehead gave way to occasional brilliant smiles and her eyes began to gleam from their sunken sockets.

It had been the most emotional of experiences…tears had rolled down my cheeks as we had played a version of ‘Sophisticated Lady’

As we drove away from the visit, Noel and I were silent. The obvious did not need to be spoken about…

LSO St Luke’s Community Choir: Jill Courtnell

When I moved to my flat in N. London 5 years ago I knew only one couple in a flat nearby, but saw the advert for the choir in Finsbury Library. I came with trepidation as I hadn’t sung since schooldays, and I was convinced my voice had sunk to Tenor. Gareth confirmed that, and I joined 3 other ladies in a small Tenor section (only 4 men). I have made many good friends, and taken part in lots of exciting events since then … God Bless LSO Outreach Programme and St Luke’s – I look forward to more years of fun and learning.

Open rehearsals: Sandrina Carosso

One Wednesday afternoon in June 2004, I had just left my 4 and a half year old at the toddlers’ music workshop led by Vanessa when, on my way out, I picked up a leaflet about a community choir. As I started to read it, I heard:’ it is a good choir, I am the choir director’. That was Gareth. That same evening, I came to my first rehearsal and I never looked back..

Among the most enjoyable offers of the Discovery scheme though, are the open rehearsals of the LSO at St Luke’s. Throughout the years, I have had the opportunity to attend the ones I could (in the evening – alas they are rare). It is a fascinating experience and a true privilege (it is the LSO!). I have been to (orchestra) rehearsals before, in venues like the Opera House in Covent Garden or Avery Fisher Hall in New York but nothing beats the intimacy (and the acoustics) of the Jerwood Hall. Being so close means you can really watch the musicians and the conductor (such grace! It is like watching ballet..), understand who does what and when, and the direct (and subsequenlty the reverberation) sound that comes out is so powerful. The brass section in particular. I have especially thoroughly enjoyed the rehearsals of new pieces sponsored by the Panufnik scheme. Listening to newly written music in the presence of the composer gives an appreciation of the piece, however ‘modern’ it may be. The repeats, the queries of the musicians, the indications of the composer and the input of the conductor mean that you get an understanding of the musical themes, of the harmonic structure, of the frame, of the language – everything that makes music which may sound atonal at first ( to the untrained ear) eventually familiar, enjoyable and exciting. In my view, a fabulous way to musically educate oneself.

A family experience of LSO Discovery: Joan Keating, Stratford, London E15

About five years ago I came across an article in a newspaper about the LSO family concerts. Having determined to make the most of living in a great capital city we thought we’d go along to one despite (as non concert goers) being slightly apprehensive about what to expect. We all (2 adults and 3 children) enjoyed it (the volume was a real surprise!) and started to become regular attenders. At about the same time I started to go to the Friday lunchtime Discovery concerts at St Luke’s. There have been many memorable moments from this over the years – most recently the performance of John Adams’ ‘Shaker Loops’ – and I love not only Rachel Leach’s humour and erudition but also the questions from the audience. It is especially good when someone (often elderly) gets very animated about something very detailed and specialised. There is some real passion on display. And it has a fantastically relaxed atmosphere – I never feel that someone is going to be scornful about my total lack of knowledge of the classical repertoire. If the Friday concert coincides with a school holiday I bring my children along too, knowing that a 45 minute concert is just the right length for someone under 10.

Attending lunchtime concerts at St Luke’s led to an even closer involvement for us as a family with LSO Discovery. Two summers ago we were at one of the outdoor lunchtime concerts and my eldest son Finnbar (then ten) picked up a leaflet about the LSO fusion orchestra. He was very keen to join despite having only been learning the tenor horn for about 10 months. His dad left him at St Luke’s with a degree of trepidation but he loved it and hasn’t missed a session since. He comes home tired but full of tales not just of music played but of friendships made, biscuits eaten and games won. As a nervous parent worried about leaving her boy with strangers in an unfamiliar part of town I have to say that the backroom organisation of Fusion is first rate – we’re always given lots of notice of workshops and the adults involved inspire great confidence. The first Fusion concert we attended (when Finnbar had only been to a few days of workshop) revealed the leader of Fusion, Paul Griffiths, and the professional players involved in it, to be alchemists. Surely this wasn’t the same boy playing as the one who appeared to mimic the QE2 docking (as one long suffering neighbour put it) when playing in his bedroom. He’s now switched to trombone and in addition to playing with Fusion plays with a full range of bands at our local music service provider – Newham Academy. I particularly enjoy it when a Fusion road show comes to Newham Academy as its good to see other children – whose parents might not have the confidence or time to get them up to St Luke’s – get a bit of the Fusion experience. Finnbar also got involved in the Pitch Perfect Lord Mayor’s Show event last year which was a real treat. Despite having grown up in Stepney – almost within walking distance of the city – I had never been to a Lord Mayor’s Show before.

So now we have a boy, nearing the end of his first year at secondary school who has discovered – through LSO Discovery – that he has a real interest in music. The days of family concerts have given way to his attending lots of LSO concerts – recent months have seen him in the audience for performances of pieces by Philip Glass, John Adams, Carl Nielsen, Thomas Adès and Mark-Anthony Turnage. He has benefited greatly from the cheap ticket schemes (£4 for a ticket is cheaper than a 3D movie ticket) and from the ‘Into the LSO’ pre-concert talks for teenagers. I think that we all need interests, things that get us away from the daily grind and the mundane and help us through what a poet termed ‘the long littleness of life’. LSO Discovery has given that to our family.

The Fusion Orchestra and Me: Finnbar Keating

Hello, I’m Finnbar. I’m aged 12 and I play the trombone. The thing I like best about my music is the fact you are free to do whatever you want with your instrument. For example, buzzing the mouthpiece (where you blow to create the sound) is one of my favorites. You can also make silly glissandos (slides).

One of my hobbies is playing in the Fusion Orchestra- a LSO created band for all types of music, all types of musicians and all with no written music! Rock, pop, classical, you name it, we do it! We even have special guests come in, like Nitin Sawhney, with their ideas to create an explosion of sound when a concert turns up. The Fusion Orchestra meets at half-terms, the odd weekend and holidays. I feel that it’s a real privilege to be in it, and if you’re reading this and thinking- “That sounds good…how do I join?” then you should grab a leaflet, contact LSO St Luke’s and come on the day. I’d recommend it to all music lovers.

Another LSO event I’ve been on is the Pitch Perfect workshop at the Lord Mayors Show. It was a useful experience of what it was like to play in the biggest brass band ever. We had to walk on, play our tunes and then take our balloons on the parade. It was different, and it gave you an experience of playing outside in a festival. Apart from the fact it was a bit chilly (I was playing the tenor horn at that point- my fingers felt like they were going to freeze off!), it was a seriously good experience.

Now that I’m older, I also enjoy the Into The LSO scheme. I get to go to great LSO concerts and the special talks for teenagers help me understand the composer’s life, and why they composed the pieces too.

My experiences with the LSO are definitely worth it!

So many hightlights: Robert Turner, viola

The LSO’s Discovery programme has been a source of great pleasure to me as a player. When I think back on the range of projects I have been involved in, it is really amazing, and so much more than I could have ever imagined when I joined the orchestra.

It is really hard to pick highlights, the pleasure of walking into a school playground and having a child come up to me and say “do you remember me? I was playing the triangle last year in our piece”; of playing the Elgar string quartet (I especially love playing string quartets) on a Discovery Day and having some saying that they had never heard a quartet before and didn’t know it could be so emotional; of collapsing with laughter with a group of adults from the First Monday Club; of seeing such concentration and pleasure on the faces of young string players in Take a Bow.

I have learned so much from working with the orchestra’s wonderful animateurs, Rachel Leach, Mark Withers, Gareth Malone, Paul Rissmann, Hannah Conway, Richard McNicol. Their huge expertise turns so many good projects into exceptional ones. I have also really appreciated the commitment, energy and hard work of so many of the staff in the Discovery department. The spirit that motivates the orchestra’s activity is something rare and I hope that it enriches the lives of those with whom we come into contact.

On tour: Phillip Anderson

I don’t know if it is an official “LSO Discovery” project or not, but I was a member of the Bell South Youth Ensemble, under the direction of Richard McNichol, back during the LSO’s 1995 Daytona Beach trip. I was then a counselor for the group in ’97 and ’99, as a student at Stetson University in Florida. I have *many* fond memories of the camp, the best of which being the ability to perform with the LSO in all three of the youth concerts! It was primarily because of the BSYE that I decided to pursue a career in music after I graduated high school. I majored in music education for my bachelor’s degree and then in violin performance for my master’s. I am now a high school orchestra teacher in the Dallas, TX area, and occasionally bring up my time with the LSO. Richard and the entire orchestra were a tremendous influence on me, and I will never forget how they passed around and signed a birthday card for me during the ’95 camp. The orchestra was so kind and welcoming to us and I wish you all the best as you continue to influence the future’s musicians and audiences! Happy 20th birthday!


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