Grace Notes: A Skeleton BBC Orchestra in a Halloween Spooktacular

Every couple of years the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales take part in a collaboration. This involves students  getting to play alongside BBC NOW players and get a taste of what it’s like to work in a professional orchestra. The last project like this  was a part of the 2012 BBC Proms series, where the two combined orchestras performed Bernstein’s mass in the Royal Albert Hall. I wrote a blog post about that,  so it you’re interested, you can read about it here.

Last weekend, we got the opportunity to perform in a ‘Halloween Spooktacular’ in St David’s Hall, Cardiff. We arrived in Hoddinott Hall (part of Wales Millennium Centre where the BBC NOW rehearse) on Friday 24th October and were introduced to our BBC desk partners. Grant Llewellyn was conducting and it was great for the NYOW to be reunited with him, after he took us on a tour of Germany in 2013. The first day of rehearsal consisted of tutti (the full orchestra) until the last session. We got a chance to read through all the pieces (there were lots of shorter works, as it was a children’s concert) which included Harry Potter, Danse Macabre, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dr Who Theme and The Addams Family.  This gave us an overview of the concert and got us used to the massive sound and energy the BBC NOW produces. The last 2 hours of the day were sectional rehearsals. We were split up into our sections and tutored on some of the more tricky bits by the section principals. This was really helpful as we got a chance to go over things slowly and were given fingerings and other ideas to help us play. Harry Potter is surprisingly difficult (there must be thousands of notes in the string parts) so that took up a lot of our time.

On the Saturday morning, we started out with sectionals again. We covered some more of the tricky passages, but also focused on style and really working together as a section to blend and make a unified sound. For the rest of the day we had tutti, and made sure that all the difficult sections were fixed and any cuts in the music were sorted. It was interesting working in this way, because we covered a lot of music in a very short space of time. It helped me to learn how to manage my time better and will hopefully help me to practice more efficiently  in the future.


Rehearsing at St David’s Hall in Cardiff (I do not own this photo)

Sunday was the day of the concert. We arrived at St David’s Hall at 11am and had a few hours to rehearse before the concert at 3pm. The rehearsal was mainly taken up with getting cues of when to start the pieces right, reacting to the lights (and the members of staff who were dressed up for some of the pieces!), covering a couple of the messy entries, and getting used to the acoustic in the hall. We then all donned our glow-in-the-dark skeleton tops and got ready for the concert.

The audience all entered in their fancy dress (both adults and children) and we were ready to begin. As the hall was full of children under 5, there was a lot of background noise (which is unusual as at classical concerts it’s normally a cardinal sin to make noise of any sort during a piece) but it added to the atmosphere  as you could tell they were enjoying it. In between the pieces, Grant was telling the audience about the different sections of the orchestra, the stories of the pieces and how we can use our instruments in different ways to make the ‘spooky’ sounds.

The kids seemed to react really well to the concert. They were dancing in the aisles (after Grant had encouraged them in Funeral March of a Marrionette) and singing along (the Harry Potter  and the Addams Family). A particular hit was the Stevie Wonder song Superstition performed by the principal flautist! However one of my friends in the audience did say that a little girl next to her got a bit scared by some of the monsters especially the devil in Danse Macabre! All of my ‘adult’ friends loved it too as it was such a feel-good concert.


The end of the concert. (I do not own this photo)

I feel incredibly privileged to be able to take part in concerts like this as I gain so much experience and orchestral etiquette  from the other players. They are always fun events and both the BBC and NYOW players alike enjoy the concerts.

Next Monday I’ll be telling you about a quartet concert that I am taking part in next Friday in the Old Royal Naval Chapel. We’ll be playing Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet and Barber’s  Adagio. It’s at 13.05 if anyone is in the Greenwich area and free to come. Would be lovely to see some friendly faces!