Sinfonia Viva's players can't have heard themselves described as 'the finest musical superglue in the land' very often, but that was workshop leader James Redwood's accolade as he dished out the credits at the end of the orchestra's latest schools' project - Derby Theatre, Derby, UK, 25 February 2020.
'Energy' was the subject this year - where it comes from, what we do with it, the problems we've been storing up for ourselves, and what we can do about that. As in previous years, workshop leaders and players from the orchestra worked with students and pupils from Derby College, Bemrose School, and Beckett and Firs Primary Schools, as they wrote their own material, and learned songs specially written by Redwood and his lyricist partner Hazel Gould.
With presenter Emma Murphy, suitably dressed in a white lab coat, as our guide, and with plenty of visual images to back up the message, we began by surveying the various brave new worlds of new technology, with the fifth movement of Tippett's Divertimento on Sellinger's Round as a vigorous opening, and two of Redwood and Gould's songs: 'A Spark', suitably funky - apology to German speakers for that pun - and the more laid-back 'Turn on the Lights'. The video images started to face us with some of the downsides - including deforestation and factory farms - as Derby College's 'Can't Quit You' confronted our addiction to fossil fuels, before everyone combined in 'The World Turned Electric', which eventually collapsed in chaos, with a brief solo cello pay-off pointing forward to an item in the second half.
This was 'Sarabande', the plangent fourth movement (of six) from Katharsis, a concerto for cello and ensemble by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, who contributed a short message to the printed programme. Viva principal cellist Deirdre Bencsik was the eloquent soloist. Its elegiac nature was aptly underpinned by images of melting ice, rising sea-levels, drought and forest fires.
But we weren't going to be left in a negative frame of mind. Images of renewable energy sources accompanied the third of Beethoven's 6 Bagatelles, Op 126, sensitively orchestrated by Dani Howard - both calm after the turmoil, and a springboard into the future and the final songs, with some audience participation, to send us home on a high.
On paper, and projected on the back of the stage, some of the words of the songs could come across as preachy. But the enthusiasm and commitment of everyone involved blew all such considerations away.
Shout-outs are also due to the other workshop leaders, clarinettist Jessie Grimes and singing leader Rachel Wilkes, of Derbyshire Music Education Hub, and conductor Frank Zielhorst, who always enters into the spirit of these occasions with panache.
Copyright © 3 March 2020