London streets to Romanian mountains

BA Music finalist Kath Roberts tells about her summer of music activities:

Approaching what I called my ‘last summer as a proper student’, I was lucky enough to take part in a number of musical projects!

The first was playing in the debut tour of the ‘Street Orchestra of London’, also known as SOL. Modelled on the Ricciotti ensemble in Holland, the orchestra was founded with the belief that “every human being has an equal right to enjoy quality live music. Symphonic music should sound everywhere and anyone should be able to come into contact with it.” I originally heard about it through a few leaflets tactically scattered around the music department and, on a complete whim, booked a coach to London to audition for it at the Royal Academy of Music. To my shock (and excitement!) I was offered a place in the orchestra, and as June came around travelled to the centre of the capital to begin three intensive days of rehearsals, equipped with my violin 2 parts of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, the Wallace and Gromit theme tune, and Snoop Dogg’s ‘Who Am I?’. The concept of a street orchestra was completely new to me and seemingly a lot of the other players I met when I first arrived, so there was a lovely, yet bewildering, sense of nobody having the foggiest clue whatsoever of what was going on. We rehearsed all day (10am-9pm) for three days in a church about 100m from Kings Cross Station, and then finally set off on our tour!


Nothing in the world could have prepared me for the next four days. We first tested our repertoire on a refugee centre very close to where we had been rehearsing, and got two very mixed reactions. A group of people continued to play snooker very loudly at the back of the room (not something I’m used to whilst playing Puccini), whilst another handful of people stared at us looking confused as to why 30 musicians had just poured into their centre. It took an attitude adjustment on both the orchestra and audience’s behalf to get into the swing of it, but in what seemed like no time whatsoever we had a lovely lady from the centre conducting us through Wallace and Gromit.

kathrobertssol4After this first ‘trial run’ of how the orchestra would work (including setting up and packing up ourselves), we then went on to play in all sorts of venues. My personal favourites had to be Kings Cross Station during rush hour, London Fields, Southbank, North Greenwich tube station, and our finale concert in Leicester square. Averaging at least six concerts a day during this tour, I had used up every single ounce of energy and any overdraft adrenaline I had in my body by the end of our tour. It’s always so easy to say a blasé comment like “but it was all worth it in the end!” or “it changed my life!” after such a bizarre experience, but both of these definitely apply. Having been brought up from a musical family and given the opportunity to play my instrument from such a young age, and study music at university, orchestras have always been a very common occurrence through my life. The Street Orchestra of London aims to make this the same for those who are far less privileged than myself – and by breaking down the elitist social and financial boundaries that obstruct so many people from experiencing an orchestra, I would like to think the Street Orchestra of London does, and will continue to, play a big part in making orchestral music for everybody.


After this week of madness, I was shocked to find myself in the concert hall, not on a street corner or in a prison. This time I was playing with són, Southampton’s new professional orchestra conducted by Robin Browning, as a part of their masterclass scheme. The concert was a multi-media experience for the audience, with the artist James Mayhew painting scenes from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by the orchestra performing Mendelssohn’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Being placed amongst professional players was absolutely terrifying at first, but they were all so kind and understanding, and the experience was extremely enjoyable.


The third and final ‘big musical experience’ of my summer was a trip to the ‘Sinaia Summer Music Academy’, located amongst the mountains in Romania. This was a completely new environment to me, and I was surrounded by young musicians from all over the world. The academy was two weeks of music making and masterclasses from incredibly well-renowned musicians. The violin tutors were Remus Azoitei, professor at the Royal Academy of Music and internationally renowned soloist- famous for his Enescu; and Charles Sewart, head of strings at the Purcell school and previous member of the Chilingirian String Quartet. I both received lessons and sat in on masterclasses of the other students. The academy gave each of us the chance to give a recital as a part of the EuropaFest concert series, and I performed the Elgar violin sonata. The high-pressure environment terrified me at first, but it turns out early morning scales are a bit less painful when you’ve got a view of the Sinaia mountains to go with them!