Orchestra Tea Bar – Podcast

March 5, 2010 at 3:15 pm (Music, Podcasts) (, , , , )

Susan Hall, Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra sub-leader, took over the Orchestra tea bar a year ago and has used the profits to support a charity helping people in South America. In this podcast she explains more…

Right click here to download the Orchestra Tea Bar podcast.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Sir John Dankworth

March 3, 2010 at 9:01 am (General Information, Music) (, )

Barry Collarbone, NBT’s Orchestra and Concerts Manager was a friend and colleague of the late Sir John Dankworth who sadly passed away on 6 February. Barry has been invited to a celebration of John’s life on Monday 1 March and wanted to share his memories of John with you.

When I received the invitation I immediately relapsed into a collection of memories of John during my tenure as General Manager at the Stables Theatre, a post I held between 1988 and 1992.

I had a circuitous route to that position having started life as a trumpet player initially with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, various freelance engagements and then a long stay in Scotland, 1974 to 1985, as a founder member of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. During my time in Scotland I became involved in orchestral management. My wife, Freddie, was a cellist in the orchestra and, having started a family, we came to the conclusion that the life of a musician in an international touring orchestra (which the SCO had become) was not a great environment in which to bring up children.

I decided then to ‘jump the fence’ into full-time management and spent a number of years in the Midlands as administrator with the Birmingham based ‘Orchestra da Camera’. I, subsequently, applied for the post of General Manager at The Stables Theatre, (Wavendon AllMusic Plan) and moved to Milton Keynes.

This was my first experience outside of orchestral life and, as I had to programme this ‘AllMusic’ venue, mixed regularly with musicians from the worlds of Jazz, Pop Music, Country, Folk, Wold Music, etc., in addition to Classical Music Ensembles of all types. As John and Cleo were also regular performers at the venue I had a lot of interaction with them. Although I worked closely with them I was still somewhat in awe of their stature in the music/entertainment/show business world.

Every Christmas John would organise a week of ‘John & Cleo’s Family and Friends Christmas’ shows. As the title indicates various members of the Dankworth family, and friends, were pressed into performing on The Stables stage along with John & Cleo.

Knowing that I had been a trumpet player John decided, one year, that I should be involved in this, and ‘volunteered’ me. I pointed out that I had given up playing many years before and, indeed, my instruments were gathering dust in my loft at home. This conversation took place during the Summer months and he insisted I had plenty of time to ‘dust the instruments down’ and to be ready by Christmas.

I hoped he would forget this, as he and Cleo were going back to the USA to carry on their work there before returning for the Christmas Season. The thought of trying to play again, and in particular share a stage with The Dankworths was daunting, to say the least. However, I rescued my instruments from the loft and took them with me to work and, during evening shows, once they were up and running, I got into the habit of practising, with a practise mute in so as not to be heard by others, upstairs in the offices.

John & Cleo came home, as expected, prior to the Christmas period and, much to my relief, no mention was made of my proposed involvement in the ‘John and Cleo’s Family & Friends Christmas’ shows. My relief was short-lived, however, when John reminded me I had volunteered to take part in the shows. I pointed out I hadn’t volunteered but, rather, had been told by him I was taking part. He informed this was the same thing!! I asked John what musical items I’d be playing in and was told ‘I don’t know yet, but will decide on the day’. I explained that, unlike him & Cleo, I needed to know, in advance, what ‘rep’ I was going to be involved in as I was totally at a loss when it came to do ‘jamming’!! I was met with a shrug!

I then suggested that we perform ‘Let the Bright Seraphim’ by Handel, for soprano and trumpet, with Cleo singing the solo and me, playing the trumpet obligato. This was agreed and I felt a little less nervous about the upcoming experience!! I duly supplied the music for John & Cleo to study.

The day of the first show arrived, and I was called from the office for a rehearsal/sound check. Cleo told me, at that time, she wouldn’t be singing the piece as she was already doing a lot more in the programme. This was news that was ‘music to my ears’ as this let me off the hook. However, John had other ideas as he had written me into a couple of other numbers. He also asked me to go to his and Cleo’s house during the tea break, prior to the show, for a private rehearsal with him and his sister, the pianist, Avril Dankworth.

I made my way to the house, with trepidation, at the appointed time for this rehearsal to find that John had decided he would sing the soprano line in falsetto!! He proved to be very adept but decided we should present the piece as a ‘send-up’. I admit to feeling a great sense of relief, as this would mean I wouldn’t have to try and prove myself as a musician of the same stature!!

This, indeed, proved to be the case as the audience fell about at the sound of John’s falsetto and my pathetic attempts to treat the piece with the gravity the music was intended. Having initially been filled nervousness about appearing on stage with John & Cleo, I was able to relax and enjoy the evenings.

On a subsequent occasion, John again decreed I should be involved musically with him and Cleo, and at impossibly short notice, but I’ll save that for another occasion…

Suffice to say I enjoyed my time working with the Dankworths and John proved to be a real gentleman as well as a great musician. His passing has left a large void and he will be sadly missed by all those whose lives he touched.

Barry Collarbone
Orchestra & Concerts Manager
Northern Ballet Theatre

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Fantasia At The Abbey

August 6, 2009 at 8:30 am (Events, Music)

Tickets for Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra’s annual Classical Fantasia concert will be available on Sunday 9 August when 9,000 tickets will be given away free.

Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra at the 2004 Classical Fantasia

Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra at the 2004 Classical Fantasia

The Classical Fantasia concert takes place on Saturday 12 September in the grounds of the beautiful Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds. The fantasy-inspired music and breathtaking firework displays against the gothic setting of the Abbey always make for an awe-inspiring evening.

The annual event, organised by Leeds City Council, is now in it’s 14th year and is one of the most popular events outdoor events in the City’s calendar.

The free tickets will be available to collect in person with a maximum of two per person from 10am at the front of Leeds Town Hall on Sunday. Tickets will be allocated on a first come first serve basis so get there early to avoid disappointment!

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David Sumbler’s Weblog [2]

April 28, 2009 at 8:57 am (David Sumbler's Weblog, Music) (, , , , , , , , )

John Hull as Solor & Keiko Amemori as Nikiya in La Bayadére (Photo: Bill Cooper)

John Hull as Solor & Keiko Amemori as Nikiya in La Bayadére (Photo: Bill Cooper)

Last time I wrote we had not yet started the spring tour.  Now we have already done five weeks touring, performing the Mixed Programme and Swan Lake.

The Mixed Programme really was mixed for the orchestra.  One of the pieces, A Simple Man, was an old favourite for some of us who have been in the orchestra for a number of years – four of us actually took part in the first performances as well as the recent ones.  Copland‘s wonderful Appalachian Spring (the music for Angels in the Architecture) was new for us as an orchestra, although almost everyone knew it and had

Keiko Amemori in Angels in the Architecture (Photo: Bill Cooper)

Keiko Amemori in Angels in the Architecture (Photo: Bill Cooper)

played it before elsewhere.  La Bayadère, on the other hand, despite being the oldest of the three pieces by far, was known to hardly any of the orchestra members.  The style of the music, though, was immediately familiar to those of us who can recall performing NBT’s production of Don Quixote.  Both pieces were written by the 19th century Russian composer, Minkus.

Mention of A Simple Man reminds me of something that happened when the show was still fairly new, in the late 1980’s.  Princess Margaret was Patron of NBT at the time, and sometimes used to come to performances at the Theatre Royal in Bath.  She would stay with her friend Jeremy Fry, who lived at a nearby village – in a converted brewery!  Usually there would be a party at his place after one of the evening performances.

Workers - A Simple Man (Photo: Bill Cooper)

It was in the early stages of one of these parties, when many of the guests had still to arrive, that I noticed a lady standing on her own at the opposite end of the room from where most of us were gathered in a huddle.  Being a sociable sort of person I decided to go and talk to her.  She had her back to me as I approached so I did not immediately recognize who she was.  It was only after a few moments of conversation that I realized I was talking to Princess Margaret.  I asked her if she had enjoyed A Simple Man.  In true diplomatic fashion she did not give me an answer, but asked what my opinion was.  I told her that I thought that the music was very good, but that I had not yet been able to see what was happening on stage.  She suggested that this must make it difficult to play, since I would not know exactly what mood we were trying to convey when I have a solo.  (I thought this was extremely perceptive of her.)

The funny thing was that nobody else would come near us, probably doubtful whether it was right just to come up and talk to her, even at an informal party.  Equally, I hardly felt I could abandon her to go and talk to somebody else, so our conversation went on for a very long time, before I (or she) was rescued by her friend asking her to come and take her place in the kitchen for the meal.  Even then, she refused to go the first time she was asked, and he had to come back and ask her a second time!

Back to the present.  After five performances in Leeds of the Mixed Programme, we had Swan Lake to prepare.  This was a revival of a show that we last performed just a few years ago.  We had six hours rehearsal for the orchestra, followed by two dress rehearsals with the whole company.

Scene From Swan Lake (Photo: Bill Cooper)

This production of Swan Lake (the fourth that NBT has done in the years that I have been in the orchestra) is somewhat unusual, not just in some of the details of the scenario, but also in the selection of music.  All of the music is by Tchaikovsky, but as well as a lot of the original music for Swan Lake, we also include parts of his 3rd orchestral suite and one movement of the 5th symphony.  The latter starts with a massive horn solo.  When we did the show a few years ago our principal horn player was John Thornton, who always played the solo beautifully.  Soon after we had stopped touring Swan Lake John left to go to the Hallé Orchestra.  He spent a few years there, but recently decided that he would like to rejoin the NBT Orchestra – just in time, as it happens, for the revival of Swan Lake.

Swans - Swan Lake (Photo: Bill Cooper)In a symphony orchestra the principal horn would only have to play that solo for one performance, or possibly two or three concerts in a week.  Few could do it flawlessly seven or eight times a week, week after week, but John can manage it!  We really are very lucky to have him.

Musicians in ballet orchestras have mixed feelings about Swan Lake.  On the one hand, we all recognize that it is one of the finest ballet scores ever written, with probably the most brilliant musical ending of any.  The reason for the mixed feelings is that it is also just about the most exhausting piece to play of any – particularly the last few pages, where everybody is playing high and loud for ages.  This is doubly, or perhaps quadruply true for us, because we are such a small orchestra (only a couple of dozen of us).  Swan Lake ideally needs an orchestra three or four times as big.  But we are used to trying to make ourselves sound several times our true size: most people, even colleagues from other orchestras, who have heard the NBT orchestra without knowing its size are astonished when they find out how few of us there actually are.

Now we are about to revive Wuthering Heights, followed a couple of weeks later by Romeo & Juliet.  Next time I write, I’ll let you know a bit about how it is going from the orchestra’s point of view.

Juliet and Paris from Romeo & Juliet (Photo: Merlin Hendy)

Juliet and Paris from Romeo & Juliet (Photo: Merlin Hendy)

Juliet Wuthering Heights (Photo: HANSON)

Wuthering Heights (Photo: HANSON)

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NBT Easter Course

March 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm (Events, General Information, Learning & Access, Music) ()

Spaces are filling up quickly for Northern Ballet Theatre’s 2009 FootNotes Easter Course.

Open to all young people aged 11 – 19 this course will give you the chance to work with the professionals to develop either your dance or music skills and create some original pieces.

So do something different this Easter holiday and book your place before the closing date next week.  Call Jo Dean on 0113 274 5355  for more information.

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David Sumbler’s Weblog

February 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm (Artist's News, General Information, Music, Tour News) (, , , , , , , , , )

David Sumbler, principal flute player

David Sumbler, principal flute player

David Sumbler, principal flute player, has performed with the Northern Ballet Theatre Orchestra for over 20 years. In his new blog David gives an insight into the life and work of the Orchestra, both on and off tour.


I’m sure most of you have been following the fascinating blogs written by Hannah and Rym. Well, now you are going to have the chance to find out what the Orchestra has been up to as well.


As the Company is not yet on tour, I thought I would begin by telling you a little bit about how the Orchestra works, and what the musicians’ lives are like.


At the moment the dancers are, I am sure, working very hard to learn the productions for the forthcoming tour. But the Orchestra only starts rehearsing for the Mixed Programme on Monday 23 February, just 3 days before opening night!


On Monday we will have 6 hours rehearsal in a church in Brighouse, just for the Orchestra, and 9 hours the following day. The first time that dancers and Orchestra try things over together is at the dress rehearsal at Leeds Grand Theatre on Wednesday afternoon. Up until then, the dancers will only have heard the music played on the piano, or perhaps on a recording. We have a second dress rehearsal in the evening, and then we open the show on the Thursday afternoon. Now you know why people talk about first night nerves!


As I said, the dancers don’t get to hear the music live until a day or so before the opening night. We, on the other hand, sometimes never see the dancing at all (although the conductor will have been to some of the rehearsals). This is because being in the Orchestra pit it is difficult or impossible for us to see the stage, especially for the brass and percussion who are sometimes actually underneath the stage. It all depends on the theatre and where you are sitting in the pit.


We don’t work full time for NBT: we are freelance musicians. It would not make much sense for NBT to put us on full-time salaries, when they only need us for about half the year. At the same time, they don’t want to have a rag-bag of musicians sight-reading the show at every new venue. So we have a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement: the Company agrees who it wants in the Orchestra and offers the work to us; we accept as much of the work as we can, although there may be occasions when particular players are not available. In this way, NBT gets the players it wants most of the time without the expense of paying retaining fees, and the musicians have about six months work in the year which they can fairly count on, but can still keep up other professional connections so that they are not out of work for the rest of the year.


So, if you have ever looked into the pit and noticed that, for instance, a bassoonist called Paul looks suspiciously like a woman, it is most likely that Paul was not available and a “dep” (deputy) has been booked instead. All of our deps are excellent players who work with us frequently and are as much part of the team as those of us who are there the rest of the time.


You might be wondering what sort of work the musicians do when they are not working for NBT. Mostly it is freelance work with other Orchestras: various NBT Orchestra members work regularly for the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and other such orchestras. There are also TV and film sessions. Most also do some individual teaching of their instrument, either privately or in a music college or school. People also do concerts of chamber music, solo recitals and suchlike.


Personally, I used to do all of the above, as well as working as a music examiner, adjudicator, composer, arranger, editor, accompanist and repetiteur. I have even played the piano for rehearsals and ballet class for NBT in the dim, distant past. Now, from choice, I do little paid work other than working for NBT. This is because, as the oldest member of the Orchestra (although not the longest serving) I decided that it was time I just did the things I really enjoy doing, and so far as work was concerned, that meant playing for NBT.


And why do I enjoy working for the Company so much? Certainly because of the music and the dance (even though I often can’t see it!) but it is also because of the people I work with. This is even more important than it would be in a normal job, because since we are staying away from home for a week at a time, we tend to spend much of our free time with our colleagues, so they need to be good friends too.


So that’s a little bit about the background of the Orchestra and the way we work. Next time I write we shall have begun the spring tour, so I shall tell you something about life when we are actually working for NBT!

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NBT Orchestra Leader remembers celebrated Leeds-born composer, Angela Morley

January 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm (Artist's News, Music)

Celebrated Leeds-born composer Angela Morley died on 15 January in Arizona where she lived.

Angela was one of the top composers and arrangers of film and light music in the world.
Born in Leeds (as Wally Stott) Angela grew up on Kirkstall Road (not far from NBT’s West Park base), where her father had a jeweller’s shop. Her early musical activities were as a saxophonist, becoming a member of Geraldo’s Band in 1944. However, she soon decided to concentrate on composition and arranging and became Musical Director of Phillips Records, writing and conducting for albums by many famous UK singers, as well as American artists including Rosemary Clooney and Mel Tormé. She also wrote the theme and incidental music for the BBC comedy series Hancock’s Half Hour and for The Goon Show.

During the 60s she wrote the scores for a number of films, including Watership Down, When Eight Bells Toll and The Slipper and the Rose (the last of which was nominated for an Academy Award). On moving to California in the 70s she wrote music for many TV series including Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Cagney and Lacey. A close relationship with famous film composer John Williams developed, with Angela working on the scores for many of his blockbuster movies such as Star Wars, Superman, ET and Schindler’s List.

Geoff Allan, NBT’s Orchestra Leader, was recently particularly honoured to be the dedicatee of her recent piece for violin and orchestra, “Rêverie”.

Geoff said: “I first contacted Angela Morley about 5 years ago, when I wrote her a fan letter. I had admired her music for so long that I wanted to tell her how I felt. We struck up a correspondence and I was soon encouraging her to write something for me to play. We met the following year, and I found her to be as delightful and interesting a person as her music suggests.

“Recently she composed a piece called “Rêverie” for violin and string orchestra. She asked me to record it for her with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. It is a really beautiful piece and I am truly honoured that she dedicated it to me.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of Angela’s death. This is a great loss to the world of light music. Angela was without question one of the supreme practitioners of that art, alongside Robert Farnon, and will be greatly missed.”

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