Benedetti Sessions in Saffron Walden.
Angela Dixon, the Chief Executive of Saffron Hall, a brand new concert hall in the Essex town of Saffron Walden, invited me to spend Monday working with as many children as possible from the local and surrounding primary and secondary schools following our trio performance the previous evening. The morning session was held in a communal area in RA Butler Primary school, who hosted children from 9 other schools. Our combined forces of over 70 children and supporting teachers rehearsed a special arrangement by Simon Brown called “Saffron Suite” which brilliantly incorporated themes from Purcell’s “Rigadoon”, Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and Dvorak’s ” New World Symphony”. The children – aged from about 7 to 11 – were prepared and focused and were very receptive to both what I and our wonderful conductor, Ben Gernon, had to say. The vast majority of the children had never played together in an orchestra before, so I was even more amazed at how disciplined they were. At the end of a very enjoyable rehearsal, we played the Saffron Suite to Year 2 pupils, all of whom listened intently and seemed to love the fruits of our labour!
In the afternoon, we moved to Saffron Hall, an 740-seat venue attached to Saffron Walden County High School. This concert hall regularly hosts internationally renowned orchestras and musicians, but, equally school productions and concerts are performed here, The multifaceted nature of the hall is greatly inspiring to me – a place where inclusive music making can sit comfortably alongside the most specialised and refined.
The BBC 10 Pieces Project, created to encourage all schools up and down the country to engage with classical music, is now in its second year and the repertoire for this year includes Shostakovich’s “10th Symphony” and Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending”. We rehearsed sections from both pieces with an orchestra of 90 drawn from 5 local secondary schools, with extra help from their peripatetic teachers and 3 students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
I have enormous admiration for Angela Dixon and Natalie Ellis, her Learning and Participation Director, and the rest of the team at Saffron Hall. Not only are they dedicated to bringing great orchestras, ensembles and soloists to Saffron Hall, but they have spent so much time and energy researching music provision in local schools. I have full confidence that their continued work will have an enormous impact on music making in this part of the country, and greatly look forward to working closely with them into the future.