Orchestra of the Swan season preview


by Christopher Morley
Though its home base remains in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Orchestra of the Swan this season is establishing residencies in various parts of the West Midlands region, each one with its own aims and character.
"We want to create an immersion in a mood for each residency," explains OOTS managing director Debbie Jagla. "We want to engage with each community and its characters, and we will have links with local partners in each residency,
"Hereford is rural, so we are linking ourselves with local schools in the countryside, involving assemblies, open rehearsals, appearing in village halls and doing workshops in schools for children with special educational needs.
"Our base will be the Courtyard Theatre in Edgar Street, and OOTS will be the only orchestra to appear there for the next three years.!
Orchestra of the Swan has had a long-established relationship with Birmingham, recently moving from the Town Hall to the new Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Eastside.
Picking up the educational environment here OOTS includes in every concert presented in the magnificent Bradshaw concert-hall the premiere of a new work by an RBC composition student, often introduced in pre-concert conversation with me. It also hosts a concerto competition, and has a side-by-side scheme in which students sit alongside OOTS members at their desks in rehearsal.
There is also "Burning Swan", eight workshops ranging from pop-up performances involving four OOTS players and five RBC students, and improvisatory sessions led by RBC head of composition Joe Cutler and OOTS artistic director David Le Page.
"These students aree so multi-talented!" says Debbie.
She goes on to tell me how back home in Stratford the community interaction with the Orchestra of the Swan has built over the years.
"It's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy that grows, everyone is so engaged."
There are also plans for a residency at Coventry University in 2020, "and then we'll stop!", Debbie declares.
With all these outreach schemes, it's hardly surprising that the Orchestra of the Swan is ticking so many of Arts Council England's continually shifting boxes (don't get me going on that), and is the only organisation in this region to receive an uplift in funding.
Part of OOTS' shrewd and accessible programming is the orchestra's references to other styles and contexts, such as the "Rebel Rebel -- Beethoven and Bowie" concert given at the Stratford PlayHouse on May 5 and repeated next evening at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Here Philip Sheppard interleaves his own new work based on songs by David Bowie with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. David Le Page, Orchestra of the Swan's energetic new artistic director, adds his own input to this fascinating programme.
Debbie Jagla tells me that there will be extra rehearsals for every group of concerts, to ensure the "quality of the end product. There are so many exciting possibilities!".
Though Stratford, Birmingham and Hereford are the three main bases for the forthcoming Orchestra of the Swan season, the orchestra is also appearing at other venues within our region.
Number 8 in Pershore, is an amazing performance space, with excellent catering, a spacious car park just around the corner, and comfortable seating. OOTS appears there on October 25 with an English programme bookended by two wonderful concerti by Bach, the Brandenburg Concerto no.3 and the Concerto for Violin and Oboe. Between these two gems come works by Thomas Ades, Vaughan Williams and Thea Musgrave -- an eloquent example of OOTS' adventurous programming, mixing the old and the new.
Lauren Zhang, winner of the BBC Young Musicians of the Year competition in 2018, joins the Orchestra of the Swan in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto for concerts in Stratford, Birmingham and Cheltenham Town Hall at the end of February.
And there is an amazing prospect on offer when OOTS performs "Umpteenth Violin Concerto" by Django Bates, Thomas Gould the soloist, and also tackling the world's greatest Violin Concerto (of course that by Beethoven), with cadenzas by Django Bates himself. These performances will take place in Stratford, Hereford and Kings Place in London at the end of March.
Details of all Orchestra of the Swan concerts in the West Midlands and beyond are available on www.orchestraoftheswan.org

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