Saturday, November 05, 2016

A pencil, peripheral vision and a smile … 15 rules for surviving in an amateur orchestra

Paul Daniel and Chi-chi Nwanoku from the BBC’s Great Orchestra Challenge offer their tips for getting the most out of life in an amateur ensemble. To read the full article, please visit

1. Turn up early. Music, and your part in it, needs time – to get your brain ready, as much as your reeds or strings.

2. Be prepared. Look at your part (many can be found on the public domain music site IMSLP) and listen to the pieces (try YouTube or Spotify) beforehand.

3. Never be without a pencil to take notes during rehearsals. There’s too much going on to trust to memory.

4. Practise breathing together with others in your section to begin shared phrases. Strings included.

5. Develop peripheral awareness: you can hear and experience every note being played in the room if you put your mind to it. The orchestra then becomes one single wonderful instrument.

6. Develop peripheral vision: keep an eye not only on the conductor, but on section leaders and the leader. Avoid playing before them. There are no prizes for who gets there first.

7. Try memorising a little more of every phrase each time you repeat it in rehearsal. Music made without reading takes on a entirely new dimension: orchestral musicians need their printed parts far less than they might think. It’s great for members of the audience, too, if they can see your face.

8. When the conductor stops, stop playing. Immediately.

9. Listen to what else is going on in the orchestra – it gives more relevance and dimension to your own line. Have a full score to hand, to check and refer to. The different instructions (particularly dynamics and phrasing marks) across the other parts will be revelatory.

10. Help your partner or neighbour count rests. Even in the strings, where life is far busier, you can always help your partner by pointing out where you’re starting.

11. In the wind and brass sections, work out a routine between yourselves for tuning. Trust others to hear tuning difficulties that you may not hear while making your own (musical) noise!

12. In the strings, act like a top-drawer orchestra by learning how to transfer new bowings down the line from the front desk without speaking.

13. When in doubt, leave it out. Go through the motions, but avoid losing pace because you’ll get behind the rest of the musicians.

14. Get page corners ready to turn in advance.

15. And finally … Smile! You cannot overestimate the impact of a joyful performance on your audience.

Written by Paul Daniel and Chi-chi Nwanoku, published in The Guardian on Thursday 1 September 2016 11.55 BST.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Upcoming Concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic

The Berlin Philharmonic is coming to Toronto on November 15 and 16. These performances at Roy Thomson Hall will be one of conductor Sir Simon Rattle's final appearances with the orchestra before his tenure ends in 2018. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 8 pm
Boulez: Éclat 
Mahler: Symphony No. 7
Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 8 pm
Webern: Six Pieces for Orchestra (Sechs Stücke)
Schoenberg: Five Pieces for Orchestra
Berg: Three Pieces for Orchestra (Drei Orchesterstücke)
Brahms: Symphony No. 2

Click here for more information and to buy tickets.