Anything which encourages music education and high standards in performance gets my vote, especially if the emphasis is classical because it’s something few children will discover unless enthusiasts fling open the doors and push the kids through. So three cheers for Orchestra Europa, a musical organisation whose focus is education. It has two aims: to top up the UK’s flagging mainstream music education and to offer performance opportunities to young music college students, just embarking on their performance careers.
Orchestra Europa was established in 2006 by British conductor Scott Ellaway, still only 27 years old. He’d seen a similar scheme in action in 2005 with Miami’s New World Symphony, the brainchild of conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. This orchestral academy boasts 600 alumni in professional orchestras in the US and around the world.
OE’s members are mentored by established orchestral musicians, and in turn, they visit schools on a regular basis to enhance the children’s musical experiences. OE has a partnership with the King Solomon Academy in Marylebone.
King Solomon Academy is a non-denominational, non-selective community school. Its pupils are from multiple ethnic backgrounds and for many English is a second or third language. In addition to running workshops in the school (approximately three per term), musicians from OE visit fortnightly to help the classroom teachers to teach the music curriculum to their students. The regular, sustained contact means that the children are getting to know the musicians and their instruments. Crucially, it also means that music is starting infuse their lives - properly.
The children from the academy can also attend rehearsals and spend time sitting in amongst the players in the orchestra. In sessions before the rehearsals the teenagers will have been prepared to listen out for various distinctive moments in the music. The hope is that this sort of hands-on experience will inspire a passion for classical music in these children. “Yes, yes YES!” say I, punching the air.
Long-term, the OE plans to stay with these children right from 4 to 18 and to see them through to the point where they might decide to become professional musicians themselves. The OE also hopes that this idea might be catching - and that other professional and amateur orchestras will embark upon similar projects.
This seems a wonderful programme and, as far I know it’s unique in the UK. Want to hear OE in action? Well March 11 at Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH) on the South Bank is your chance. Now in its second full performing season, and just a year after its first London concert, this pioneering ensemble of conservatoire students will play Smetana, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, conducted by Ellaway. Sounds pretty unmissable to me.
The orchestra makes a point of programming mainstream repertoire - “the kind of music that orchestral musicians in a top orchestra are typically expected to play with very little rehearsal,” said Ellaway. The QEH programme opens with Smetana’s athletic overture to The Bartered Bride and closes with excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. “The Prokofiev has a special place in my heart from the time I spent with Michael Tilson Thomas in his capacity as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony,” says Ellaway. “These much-loved works by three Slavic composers will display the versatility of Orchestra Europa’s young orchestral players - and the music will sound as fresh and exciting as the day it was first performed.”
Alexander Melnikov is the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto no 1 at QEH on 11 March. The orchestra has also performed with violinist Nicola Benedetti, counter tenor James Bowman and violinist Tasmin Little will play with them in June.
I don’t hear of many education projects which reach so many people at so many different levels. So do get in touch if you know of some which have passed me by. Every such initiative deserves to be trumpeted from the roof tops.