Robert Simmons (pictured left) plays Second Violin for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet. In this, his 10th anniversary season with the Company, he kindly answered a few questions about himself…

Robert Simmons (left)

How old were you when you first started playing?
Seven. With the amazing Kent Music School. I was on a waiting list to learn violin and couldn’t wait to start. Many of my family had played in the Hoo (Rochester) Silver Band under conductors such as Eric Ball so a string instrument was an unusual choice!

What did you want to be when you were a child, or did you always want to be a musician?
A journalist.

How long have you been in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia?
Since October 2004 (It’s my 10th anniversary year, though I’m still waiting for my birthday cake!)

What’s your favourite ballet music?
Apollo (Stravinsky). It’s incredibly moving music and I first played it on trial so it has good memories for me. It gives me goose bumps. We play it really well!

What is your favourite pop song?
Sit Down, by James (Not their best song – but the first single I bought with my own money and my introduction to a great band).

What instrument would you choose other than your own?
Trumpet.

Favourite pit, and favourite concert hall?
Sunderland Empire – a wonderful open pit, great to be on show for once! Bridgewater Hall for concerts.

What’s your favourite touring meal?
Anything from The Peach Garden in Chinatown. My home from home in Birmingham.

How do you relax away from music?
I’m a coffee snob! I love discovering coffees and brewing techniques from roasters like @hasbean and @squaremile. Premium coffee is an affordable luxury. I also love holidays with my family, mid century furniture and watching Mad Men.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia are currently touring with Birmingham Royal Ballet, performing Coppélia throughout the UK. Click here for details.

Meet Mike Allen, Principal Trumpet player with our orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

Mike

How old were you when you first started playing?
When I was 7 years old I found my dad’s trumpet in the loft and used to sit in front of the TV, honking along to whatever music was playing on the BBC2 test card

What did you want to be when you were a child, or did you always want to be a musician?
I guess I always wanted to be some sort of sports person… a tennis player during Wimbledon, a sprinter during the Olympics and a footballer for the rest of the year.

How long have you been in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia?
I’ve been a member for 14 years, but worked regularly with the orchestra for 10 years before that.

What’s your favourite ballet music?
Hard one that. I love the Prokofiev ballets, especially Cinderella as it has the most scrummy trumpet tune at the end. But my Desert Island ballet piece would have to be Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloë.

What is your favourite pop song?
I was never into pop music as a kid, but used to listen to big band music all the time, especially trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. However, when I was 30, a colleague of mine got me hooked on the music of rock guitarist Joe Satriani and I have that on in the car most of the time.

What instrument would you choose other than your own?
Electric guitar. I have already mastered the ‘air’ guitar!

Favourite pit, and favourite concert hall?
The Coliseum in London is the best pit for brass and I think the Symphony Hall in Birmingham is a fantastic concert hall.

What’s your favourite touring meal?
When we’re in Birmingham, we’re spoiled with a choice of loads of Chinese restaurants right outside The Hippodrome. But in Plymouth, there’s Captain Jasper’s Burger Bar.

How do you relax away from music?
Holidays in Florida! We’ve been going as a family for more than 15 years and I love it :-)

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia will be performing at all forthcoming Birmingham Royal Ballet shows, as well as rising up out of the orchestra pit for an Evening of Music and Dance at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall this month.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia are the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet, and it is their fantastic performance of Tchaikovsky’s fabulous score that delighted attendees of our recent Nutcracker season. With the show now over, Cellist Jane Rainey kindly answered some of our questions…

Jane Rainey

How old were you when you first started playing?
I started the recorder about aged 6 and the cello aged 8. I was tall for my age and was offered a cello to try rather than a violin.

What did you want to be when you were a child, or did you always want to be a musician?
I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to play the cello professionally. It was my little piece of autonomy and I loved it.

How long have you been in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia?
22 years, I joined in March 1992.

What’s your favourite ballet music?
I love Manon by Massenet, it is tremendously moving and challenging to play. I also love Slaughter on Tenth Avenue which is jazzy and vibrant.

Favourite pop song?
Eva Cassidy’s version of “Over The Rainbow”; hauntingly beautiful and very spiritual.

What instrument would you choose other than your own?
I think the timpani must be very satisfying to play and adds a wonderful depth and timbre to the orchestra. I can’t imagine playing anything other than the cello really.

Favourite pit, and favourite concert hall?
Sunderland’s Empire Theatre is a beautiful traditional old theatre whilst The Royal Opera House Covent Garden has a special ambience and good facilities. I have fond memories of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall.

What’s your favourite touring meal?
Usually somewhere with a voucher, preferably 40% off food! I don’t eat meat so somewhere with a more enlightened vegetarian option!

How do you relax away from music?
My husband Alaster Bentley (oboe) and I have five cats and they are a huge part of our lives. I am also a Reiki Practitioner and believe in a holistic and balanced approach to life, so I meditate every day and practice Yoga. I also have a rather obsessive love of horse racing! In the photo above, you can see me with” Irving” at a visit to champion trainer Paul Nicholl’s yard. My cello is made by Colin Irving and it was a great joy to meet his namesake!

Jane and her fellow players will be rising up out of the orchestra pit in January, to take centre stage for An Evening of Music and Dance at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Book now to avoid missing out!

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet, and perform at all of our shows. Andrew Littlemore is the Principal Horn player, and ahead of the Christmas break, took time out to introduce himself…

Andrew Littlemore

How old were you when you first started playing?
I started on the piano when I was 6 and at 7 became a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral and began learning the horn when I was 8.

What did you want to be when you were a child, or did you always want to be a musician?
I always wanted to do something either with music or the outdoors. I remember conversations with my parents insisting I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day!

How long have you been in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia?
15 months.

What’s your favourite ballet music?
I have not had a huge amount of time to play much of it but it would probably be Romeo and Juliet.

Favourite pop song?
Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits. This was the first non classical cd I was ever given.

What instrument would you choose other than your own?
I’d choose the cello as it makes a similarly rich sound to the horn and has lots of great tunes to play.

Favourite pit, and favourite concert hall?
My favourite pit is at the Coliseum in London. There are lots of fabulous concert halls all over the world but one of the best has to be the Musikverein in Vienna.

What’s your favourite touring meal?
I eat anything so wherever we are there’s not usually a problem!

How do you relax away from music?
I love the outdoors especially being in the mountains.

You can hear (and see!) Andrew performing with the rest of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia this January at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, as part of An Evening of Music and Dance 2015. Click here for details.

A huge thank you to everyone who donated to The Big Give 2014!

David Bintley creating The King Dances

An overwhelming show of generosity has meant that we’ve reached our target of £80,000 in just two days – a wonderful achievement for which everyone at Birmingham Royal Ballet is truly grateful.

This year, donations made through The Big Give are contributing to The King Dances, David Bintley’s new ballet that will celebrate his 20th anniversary as Artistic Director of the Company. Thanks to our fantastic donors, we’re much closer to fully funding this new piece through philanthropic support, much like The Prince of the Pagodas in 2013.

“It’s thrilling to see how much Birmingham Royal Ballet’s audiences care about seeing new ballets and dancers performing at the top of their game”, said Geoff Sweeney, Director of Development.

“The first week of December is always an exciting time for the Company as The Nutcracker gets everyone in the Christmas spirit and we really appreciate the generosity The Big Give inspires in our audiences. I can’t wait to see The King Dances when it makes its premiere in June 2015.”

Sadly there’s no matched funding left for Saturday 6th December (and we double checked!), but if you’d like to make a donation towards The King Dances please click here. Any donation you can make will be a big help.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet, and perform at all of our shows. Max Spiers plays the Cor Anglais, a member of the oboe family known to most from the iconic, sepia-tinged Hovis advert.

Max took time out from a busy Nutcracker season to answer a few questions about himself…

Max Spiers, pictured on tour in Hong Kong with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Max Spiers, pictured on tour in Hong Kong with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

What did you want to be when you were a child, or did you always want to be a musician?
I always had to be a musician. I’m rubbish at every thing else!

How old were you when you first started playing?
5 years old on the piano, but 14 on the oboe.

How long have you been in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia?
14 years.

What’s your favourite piece of ballet music?
The Three Cornered Hat by Manuel De Falla. I love it because it is so brilliantly orchestrated, with gorgeous orchestral colours, and has one of the most outrageous cor anglais solos in the repertoire. It’s VERY loud and satisfying to play.

What is your favourite pop song?
Together In Electric Dreams by Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder (I was a child of the eighties…)

What instrument would you choose other than your own?
The harp has always been my favourite orchestral instrument. As a child I was intrigued by the juxtaposition between the complexity of the mechanism and the simplicity and elegance of the sound that it produces. It’s the closest we get to heaven on earth.

What is your favourite pit, and favourite concert hall?
The Coliseum on St. Martin’s Lane in London & The Concertgebouw Amsterdam. The pit at the Coliseum is probably the best venue we visit acoustically. It’s resonant and reflects the sound back so that you can hear yourself and the rest of the orchestra clearly. It’s also very beautifully Victorian and a great central London location.

What’s your favourite touring meal?
Tapas is tasty AND social. Being part of a sharing team is as important in a restaurant as it is in the pit!

And finally, how do you relax away from music?
I’m never away from music!

You can hear the Royal Ballet Sinfonia at all performances of The Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome until 13 December. Audiences in Birmingham can also see the orchestra perform at a special one-night only event at Symphony Hall next month, for an Evening of Music and Dance. Click here to find out more.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.