Written by: Colin Anderson

Three distinguished music academies come together to form the European Academies’ Symphony Orchestra. Sir Colin Davis conducts it in London on 14 April and then in Lahti and Vienna. Bernard Lanskey from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama explains the background…

It is said that things come in three, which is certainly true when considering the European Academies’ Symphony Orchestra. Here are the finest musicians currently studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Sibelius Academy Finland, and the University of Music & Performing Arts Vienna. Sir Colin Davis will conduct this august formation in London, Lahti and Vienna. Bernard Lanskey, Assistant Director of Music at the Guildhall School, says “it was our initiative in the sense that we have done some big projects with Colin Davis before; the last was with the Paris Conservatoire for the Proms. Given Sir Colin’s reputation and his enthusiasm for Mozart, Sibelius and Elgar, we thought we could plan a programme like this and bring together players from each of the three countries. We already had good relationships with Helsinki and Vienna, and Sir Colin had worked with the Sibelius Academy.”

The three concerts consist of three masterpieces: Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and the Symphony No.7 of Sibelius. “It’s a funny programme. Here the works are very well-known, but in Vienna it’s a pretty avant-garde collection!” How are the orchestra members chosen? “It’s the same orchestra for all three pieces and all three places; roughly it’s a third from each of the institutions, we’re slightly more than a third and Vienna slightly less, and its been auditioned in all three places: the best gets in.”

Behind the scenes activity includes “each place doing the preparation of their own strings. The winds will arrive a few days early so that they can blend; the auditions were held with the heads of the wind departments of the three places going to all three institutions. There’ll then come under one roof and link to the LSO for tuition, and the string bowings are from the LSO too, which Sir Colin is used to.” Davis and young musicians: this is always a memorable coming together. “A project like this becomes a once in a lifetime memory; there’s a buzz that comes from the musicians that is sure to be inspiring, and he always catches things. The players will be as prepared and as fresh as possible so he can really take them forward; that’s what’s really exciting.”

The three music academies all have students from beyond their own countries, a chance to interact. “I was talking to my equivalent in Helsinki; he described this as a benchmark opportunity. A generation ago there were strong national traditions, whereas now, a symptom of globalisation, there’s a little bit of each in each other’s conservatoires.” This mix of nationalities reflects who is studying at these three institutions: “we’re 25 nationalities out of 35 players.” More a World Symphony Orchestra, then. “We try to make sure that people know about traditions. From our perspective we’ve made no conscious effort to go as international as we have; the students have found us and we’re just auditioning for the best, but there’s no doubt that it energises the culture of the place to have that variety.”

The strings alone denote such cultural mix. “We’ve decided that each of the countries will lead their respective piece.” Thus for the Elgar “we have an Estonian Russian, whose lived most of her life in Finland before studying here, leading, a Canadian second violin, a Swedish viola player, an Italian cellist and an English double bassist. To have Sir Colin coming is always fantastic. It’ll give the students something they’ll never forget. It should be a great week.”

  • Barbican concert on 14 April at 7.30
  • GSMD
  • Barbican
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 6 April 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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