Birmingham Royal Ballet’s orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, will this year be performing a broad range of musical styles as part of the 2013-14 season.

Here are a few places where you can hear sneak previews of the types of music they’ll be playing:

1. The Penguin Café Orchestra/Simon Jeffes – ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café

You know the music of the Penguin Café Orchestra, even if you don’t think you do – just type ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ into YouTube to hear the most famous of their instantly recognisable instrumentals, commonly used on television adverts in the UK.

Founded in 1972 by classically trained British guitarist, composer and arranger Simon Jeffes, the band featured a rolling roster of musicians. They played together in one form or another for nearly a quarter of a century, recording and performing their trademark cyclical, often hypnotic pieces that fused folk and world music.

For David Bintley’s ballet ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, Jeffes created new arrangements of a number of his pieces, utilising a full classical orchestra.

Their music is still played regularly on the radio, and you can hear some of their pieces here on the BBC website.

2. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker

One of the most beloved scores in classical ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score has long been plundered for adverts, films and television.

The most famous use outside of the ballet is probably a toss-up between Disney’s Fantasia and an advert for a particular brand of fruit and nut chocolate bar, but the melodies are so prevalent throughout winter that they have arguably become the soundtrack to Christmas itself.

Click here to listen to a portion of the score in this trailer for our winter performances of The Nutcracker:

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia will be performing another of Tchaikovsky’s scores, for The Sleeping Beauty, this autumn. Click here for details.

3. Matthew Hindson – E=mc²

2009’s E=mc² marked the first collaboration between David Bintley and Australian composer Matthew Hindson, who returned in 2012 for the Olympics-inspired Faster.

“The key to this investigation of Einstein’s equation is Matthew Hindson’s brilliant orchestral score, to which Bintley responds with force fields of gleaming, pared-back dance”, said The Observer at the time, while The Times called it “a tremendously invigorating score”, and fittingly so, for such a vibrant and energetic ballet!


You can hear samples of his work here on Matthew Hindson’s website.

4. Benjamin Britten – The Prince of the Pagodas

David Bintley, choreographer of The Prince of the Pagodas, had been listening to Benjamin Britten’s score for pleasure for over thirty years before he made it into a ballet.

Influenced heavily by Balinese gamelan music, and with a heavily expanded percussion section, the score was commissioned by the Royal Ballet in 1957.

The resulting ballet, choreographed by John Cranko, was followed by another by Kenneth MacMillan in 1989, but neither received particularly positive responses from audiences and critics. David was adamant that the plot was the problem, not the music, and so made changes to the story for his 2011 version, which appears in the UK for the first time next Spring.

Some of the music is available to listen to in the media player here on the Britten 100 website.

5. Scott Joplin – Elite Syncopations

Having written some of the world’s most famous ragtime pieces (Maple Leaf Rag, The Entertainer) Scott Joplin’s toe-tapping music is instantly recognisable and, even if you don’t know the tunes, it is a style that you are guaranteed to be familiar with.

Nearly 100 years after the composer’s death, the music has endured through milestone movie movements (The Sting, 1973) and more recently a string of cat food adverts on British television.

For their use in Elite Syncopations, a ballet which depicts a music-hall dance competition, the arrangements are kept simple, with 12 members of the orchestra performing on stage alongside the dancers.

You can hear a solo piano arrangement of one of the Joplin rags used in Elite Syncopations in this studio rehearsal video: