Christopher Morley meets members of the CBSO Youth Orchestra
As part of a series looking at young people and classical music, Christopher Morley meets members of the CBSO Youth Orchestra
Though barely three years into its existence, the CBSO Youth Orchestra has rapidly established an enviable name for itself.
That reputation was in fact made right at its opening concert in 2004, when this ensemble, born partly from members of the Midland Youth Orchestra which had ceased operations just short of its half-century, performed a programme of Khachaturian, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius at Birmingham Conservatoire's Adrian Boult Hall at the end of the autumn half-term.
Half-terms are important times for the orchestra, because that is when their hand-picked members get together for a week's intensive rehearsals before the public concert.
Conductors have included Sakari Oramo, Paul Daniel, Garry Walker, Michael Seal and Anthony Bradbury, and the orchestra has performed with international soloists such as the trumpeter Alison Balsom, violinist Tasmin Little, pianists Peter Donohoe, Alexander Melnikov and Joanna MacGregor, and cellist Eduardo Vassallo.
As well as at the ABH, the orchestra has given concerts at such major venues as Symphony Hall and the Butterworth Hall at Warwick Arts Centre. The enthusiasm and commitment of the youthful musicians is undeniable, as I found out when I spoke to some of them.
One of the youngest members is Sarah Watts-Tibbatts, a 14-year-old first violinist already into her third year with the orchestra after auditioning at the age of 12.
Now in her fourth year at Edgbaston's King Edward VI High School for Girls, the Solihull teenager explains how lucky she is to be exposed to a wealth of musical opportunities in Birmingham.
"I'm a member of the Birmingham Conservatoire Junior Department and of the King Edward School Symphony Orchestra," she tells me. "It was through these organisations and attending concerts that I became aware of the CBSO Youth Orchestra. I'm glad my audition was successful, as I've been able to further my ability and play some more advanced and challenging music."
And she pays tribute to the experience that playing in the orchestra has given her. "I've gained professional tuition from tutors and conductors, and performed at Symphony Hall! It's given me the opportunity to play with professional soloists such as Tasmin Little."
Sarah continues by describing the insights the experience has given her into the demands and discipline of a professional orchestra, and the development of her technique and confidence "to rise to the challenge whilst performing".
As a result of the experiences she has already gained, Sarah has successfully auditioned for membership of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, which she will join immediately after Christmas. She and schoolmate Suzie Quirke, a violinist one year above her, are the first pupils of King Edward's High School to be selected for this prestigious ensemble in 28 years.
But with this exciting development, will Sarah remain with the CBSO Youth Orchestra?
"Absolutely! Being a member of the CBSO Youth has been such a fantastic experience... my playing has developed immensely and I have made great friends. I will stay as long as they will have me!"
At the other end of the age range is Ella Morgan, a 21-year-old clarinettist in her third year as an undergraduate of Birmingham Conservatoire. Her musical grounding came with the Northamptonshire Youth Orchestra, before a move to Hereford for sixth-form studies, "though my family is in fact Welsh - it's all a bit of a mess," she laughs.
"This is my first year in the CBSO Youth Orchestra, and it's fantastic! Everyone is so enthusiastic and committed. They're all great musicians, and it's helping me so much."
There seem to be no conflict of interest between the Conservatoire and the CBSOYO, as Ella explains.
"The Conservatoire is very helpful. They know when the orchestra's rehearsal weeks are coming up, and they let us off lectures and cancel rehearsals and things."
Seventeen-year-old Joe Snape is a student at King Edward VI Camp Hill School in Kings Heath, where he is working for A-levels in English, German and music.
"I've been playing percussion for roughly six years, and have played with the Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra since a concert tour of Italy, about three years ago.
"This is my second year with the CBSO Youth Orchestra. The course in February half-term will be my fifth."
Out of many special moments Joe has experienced with the Youth Orchestra, "the most memorable was the concert at Symphony Hall last year, the first performance of Tansy Davies's Streamlines.
"At the very end of the piece, the percussion section plays alone, each part locking into the others. A few bars in, there was a unison note so completely together that I felt it shoot right to the highest, furthest point of the hall - you could almost see it go. It might sound silly, but I still get excited now when I talk about it."
Joe has firm plans to launch himself into a musical career.
"I don't think I could possibly do anything else," he says. "I've applied to study music at a number of universities, so if everything goes to plan, that's what I'll be doing next year. After that? I'm not totally sure yet - I'll cross that bridge when I get there."
Finally, I speak to Sabrina Pullen, a 20-year-old French horn player in her final year in the music department at Birmingham University, now in her second year with the orchestra. How did she hear about the organisation?
"Basically, when I was in the sixth-form at school I found it on the internet, but as the courses are non-residential, it was too far for me to travel up every day from my home in Buckinghamshire.
"But when I came up to the university here I went to one of their concerts in Symphony Hall, and it was amazing, and I thought, 'yeah, I'd like to be in that!' There's good tutoring and good conducting, and I'm really passionate about the orchestra. You can ask me for an enthusiastic quote about them any time!"
* Martyn Brabbins conducts the CBSO Youth Orchestra in music by Britten, Shostakovich and Bartok at Symphony Hall on February 17. Box office: 0121 780 3333