Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Current Distractions

Fri 10 Jul 2015

Our increasingly irregular arts blog, Current Distractions, is back. This week I’m looking at expressing disapproval, arts and politics in the news, classical CD Sales (or lack of), movers and shakers and lastly, graffiti wars.

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Current Distractions

Thu 7 May 2015

Well our arts blog, Current Distractions, has taken a little break of late but it’s back today in a bumper classical music edition, dealing with awards, boycotts and much more besides – including a little smudge of visual art.


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Hot, sweaty and boozy. What happened when the OAE went clubbing?

Fri 19 Dec 2014


A month or so ago we took our late night series, The Night Shift, out clubbing, with a visit to the Vauxhall institution that is Duckie

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Syringes, air lute, candles and slapstick – Charpentier’s Le Malade Imaginaire

Tue 28 Oct 2014

Orchestral planning is a long-range business. Right now we’re planning projects in 2017 and 2018. So when a project that’s been in the diary a while actually comes around to happening it’s always exciting. Our collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe is actually a relative baby in the diary – we started talking about it a mere 14 months ago, but it’s still thrilling to be so close to it happening, especially with the project evolving so much in the last few months.

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Our 2014-2015 Brochure revealed

Thu 11 Sep 2014

Well, it’s been a little (actually quite a lot) later in arriving than usual, but we’d like to think it’s been worth the wait. Today we can reveal our brand new brochure for 2014-2015 – with all the details of our season at London’s Southbank Centre and, of course, a fresh new look for the year ahead.

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Current Distractions

Fri 15 Aug 2014

I’m taking over the reins of Current Distractions for one week only and this week we look at classical music past, present and future. Oh, and wifi.

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What’s the perfect mood for enjoying a concert?

Fri 11 Apr 2014

stressed audience

Does the mood you’re in affect the way you enjoy (or don’t) a concert? This was what I was pondering at times during Tuesday’s concert.

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Current Distractions

Thu 3 Oct 2013

I’ve decided to theme this week’s Current Distractions arts blog around that old journalistic favourite: Going Up / Going Down.

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Fri 20 Sep 2013

Until now, OAE tours to the USA have always been virtual for me, experienced through reviews, player blogs and the accounts of staff and players. However last week I was fortunate enough to hear the OAE in New York first hand.

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Letter from America: an orchestra against all odds

Sun 17 Mar 2013

Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste

Most conferences I go to don’t elicit a state of high emotion. But back in January, I found myself in a room of delegates ecstatically applauding after a presentation, everyone on their feet, and I shed a tear.

This had not been a presentation about audience segmentation, marketing strategies, impact studies or benchmarking (some of which have indeed brought me close to tears but not for good reasons) but instead this session at the ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts) conference in New York was the story of an Orchestra thriving in the most unlikely of conditions.

The presenter was Armand Diangienda, the conductor and founder of Central Africa’s only Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste. His journey alone is a tale worth telling. The son of one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s most famous preachers, he was initially an airline pilot. Made redundant when the airline went out of business, he searched for a new occupation, and took up the piano, amongst other instruments. He’d had no musical training previously, and even now was self-taught. He decided he wanted to do something to bring people together and to give them some purpose – given the DRC’s high unemployment rate (90%) and war-torn history.

That ‘thing’ turned out to be an Orchestra, with himself the conductor. His house rapidly turned into a mini conservatoire, with musicians practicing in every single corner. The Orchestra battled obstacles such as power cuts and a lack of instruments and accessories. Instruments were brought back to life from often parlous states and ingenious solutions were found to a lack of strings for violins – bicycle brake cables – and bells – car hub caps.

Music was also a problem. Sheet music was a rarity. Much of it was copied by hand. Pretty much all of the infrastructure we take for granted in the west was absent.

Watch the Orchestra perform Handel’s Messiah

But against the odds, the Orchestra thrived, and now its members number well into the hundreds. International media attention from Germany and the US brought interest and donations from far afield, and the Orchestra now has grand plans to expand its teachings to neighbouring cities and to open a fully fledged school.

But for me the most striking part of all of this was two things. First the sheer passion and love of music that was evident – that people would walk hours to attend rehearsal, practice for hours in noisy hot conditions, to play music that was, by Armand Diangienda’s own admission, “alien” to them. Some children would even sleep overnight at the rehearsal venue to be there for the next day’s rehearsals.

Secondly the way the Orchestra operated as a family of all ages (from as young as 5), bringing a community together. Armand also talked about the effect being in the Orchestra had for its participants, particularly children – they were now more disciplined, responsible and organized. As Armande says “We’re all musicians and we are so used to each other that we live like a family,” he adds. “We even call the orchestra the ‘big symphonic family.’”

But really it was the sense of joy that emanated from Armande and his orchestra that was the most special thing for me – something that we seem to have […]

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Current Distractions (AKA a letter from America)

Fri 14 Dec 2012

So I’ve been charged with writing the latest edition of Current Distractions from across the pond (where I’m currently based, being on sabbatical from the OAE). I had thought that this would be a very USA specific list of distractions…but the world is an ever smaller place, thanks to the internet and social media, so this list is perhaps more global than local…

What do cheerleaders, the US army, Sesame Street and an orchestra have in common?
First up is a pop artist who seems to be everywhere at the moment. Carly Rae Jepson. Her insanely catchy “Call Me Maybe” is an earworm of a song that refuses to leave your head. Perhaps this explains the plethora of versions and rip-offs of her song that exist on youtube. I’m fascinated by what it is exactly that has caught people’s imagination with this song and just why it’s spawned so many imitations – is it simply because it’s catchy? And if so, what makes it so memorable?

Anyway, here are a few of those imitations. First up an insanely camp version by the US military, which was inspired by the Miami Dolphin’s cheerleaders version. Then there’s the cookie monster version. Obviously. But my favourite, and most relevant to this blog, is the version for choir and orchestra. It’s actually rather good and I love seeing how much fun all the performers  are having.

Continuing the theme

Psy’s Gangam Style has been one of the biggest global pop phenomenons of recent years, the result of a catchy song combined with a rather silly dance and a psychedelic video. The original is the most watched video of all time over on youtube and yesterday I found it had inspired a slightly unusual version in which Psy’s video is set to…Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring. It works oddly well…

Worst review ever?

This caused a stir over here last month, a rather unusual and (for those sat underneath) unpleasant night out at the theatre…

Click through to the Huffington Post for some other unusual arts and theatre happenings…

Does baby love Mozart? (or Metallica?)
A report from the UK side of the pond now. We all like to think we ‘know’ what ‘good’ music is, and often like to pass that very good taste onto our children. But is that really possible? The BBC investigates.

A dance show in your front room?

It can be a hassle going to the theatre. The tickets are expensive, you have to find someone for a rushed dinner first, then you sit in an uncomfortable chair (maybe behind a pillar) for two hours and then battle the transport system in the rain to get home afterwards. However Philadelphia based Headlong Dance Company have a solution – they’ll come to you. (As long as you open up your house to your neighbours). The project is neatly summed up on the companies website. Why? “Because every household is a universe/Because breaking bread with someone annihilates stereotypes/Because being the show is better than watching the show”.
Read more over on the Huffington Post

Now, who is up for some OAE concerts in their house while you do the washing up?

William Norris, Communications Director.


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A temporary farewell…

Fri 31 Aug 2012

I hope it’s not too self-indulgent to write this…after all I am but a small cog in the amazing machine that is the OAE, and a behind-the-scenes cog at that.

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Previewing the Oguike Four Seasons

Mon 30 Apr 2012

Henri Oguike Four Seasons

One of my personal highlights of the forthcoming 2012-2013 season of concerts is our collaboration with choreographer Henri Oguike. He’ll be working with OAE leader (and soloist for this concert) Kati Debretzeni, on a very special presentation of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in which we’ll be adding new, contemporary choreography to Vivaldi’s masterpiece.

The idea was Kati’s, who had wanted to add a dance element to Vivaldi’s piece, but crucially wanted herself and the Orchestra to be a bit more than a backing band for the dancers – the idea is to have at least some of the musicians take a more active role in the dance.

Anyway, the actual performances are quite a while away, on 8 February of next year, but Henri has already been busy, and a few weeks ago I was excited to be asked to a special showing of some of the early dance ‘sketches’.

We saw elements of each season, and I can honestly say it was thrilling; both a real privilege to see something in such an early stage of development, and also to see such incredible dancers really up close, in the confines of a studio. I think we’ll be in for a real treat come next February, and it’ll be great to see a piece of music which is sometimes as regarded as perhaps a little ‘naff’ (of course, it shouldn’t be) re-imagined in this way.

My colleague Megan also came along to the showing, and as a budding amateur photographer, she took some great pictures of the event, so you can get at least some flavour of what went on.

Performances are on 8 Feb 2013 at 6.30pm and 8.30pm in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and tickets are already on sale.

We will of course be posting further updates as the project develops – so watch this space!

William Norris
Communications Director


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