Rachmaninoff Symphonic dances: Inspired mentoring, fantastic students and why no dancing?? / by Joe Townsend

On Friday evening I was moved by the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances played by Trinity Laban Orchestra at Blackheath Halls.

What followed was a 35-minute performance of vibrant and delightful music under the assured, sensitive and bouncy leadership of Jonathan Tilbrook. The symphony orchestra was made up of students and supported by around ten professional players and teachers from the music faculty. The students took us on an edge-of-the-seat ride with great energy, enthusiasm and artistry.

The staff and professional players were leading the way by example.  These included the poetic violin playing of John Crawford and much inspired leadership from Joely Koos, and Sam Burstin and Leon Bosch. John Anderson demonstrated some amazing leadership from second oboe, and Gabriella was great on harp.
A student said after the gig, that playing alongside pros in a pro situation was really exhilarating and quite scary, it meant that they had to raise their game to a new level because they had only one sectional and then a 3-hour rehearsal (a luxury for a 35 minute piece of music) as opposed to days of work on a symphony orchestra programme.

Humans have a natural disposition to learn; and through observation and patterning role models, learning can be accelerated in a way that we don’t see in a more didactic approach to instrumental craft. There are numerous skills to acquire on the road to becoming an orchestral musician. The model of mentor used on Friday was collaborative and profound…and the music sounded fresh and exhilarating, so whoever put the idea forward was a genius (probably a student).

OK - I have always found the rituals and protocols of classical music concerts a bit irritating. For example, why can’t we make a noise between movements? Why do we have to sit in rows?  I think that it would be great if people could move around to the music. Well, they’re dances after all.
I don’t think people should call music a dance unless people actually dance to it. I know that Rachmaninoff wanted to use the piece with Fokine for a ballet and that they were later choreographed in the 80s, but what I’m talking about is some kind of expressive dancing, spontaneous group urge to move. I find the whole sitting in rows thing quite hard work.

I am seriously thinking about putting together a programme of Symphonic music that people can groove around to…it might need a steady beat - suggestions please. Or something expressive. A kind of Symphonic, Body Jam. I would space the band out a bit and have dancing in the rows of the orchestra. There would be a conducted piece where the dancers lead an improvisation where choreographer is conductor creating movement and music in response at the same time. The music would be a series of pre-organised harmonic and rhythmic patterns.

It could well be a Prom. Watch this space! Non-classical is good but we do need to bring the canon, which after all is the justification for the symphony orchestra, into contemporary society. Whilst I love Gabriel Prokofiev and non-classical, I do think that we need to get some of the great old stuff away from the great stuffiness.