photo: Roy Smiljanic

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia will be performing a concert at Birmingham’s St. Philip’s Cathedral on the evening of Thursday 21 November, giving them a rare opportunity to get up out of the orchestra pit and take centre stage themselves.

The topic of leaving the pit came up in a recent interview with Music Director Koen Kessels and Principal Conductor Paul Murphy, who spoke to Christopher Morley. Koen explained:

‘The dynamic is completely different. In the pit, we don’t get to rehearse that much, and we play a lot. For a concert, we rehearse more, and we play only once! Playing on the concert platform gives the musicians a different focus.

‘Whereas the orchestra have to perform in the pit with three conductors, suddenly for a concert they rehearse with one conductor only, and they have to make decisions: do we play here, or do we play there?’ Koen demonstrates the various points of the conductor’s beat where the orchestra actually attacks its entries.

‘It comes down to these basic decisions and listening more to each other. And that’s the same with every orchestra that plays too much in the pit – they need to get out!’

Paul Murphy chips in, talking about the Sinfonia’s annual sellout concerts at Symphony Hall, which also involve some Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers, and how the orchestra feels coming up from underground, almost like liberated pit-ponies.

‘There’s a tremendous buzz about the Symphony Hall concert because it’s a magnificent venue. Even walking into it lifts your spirits – it’s a thrilling place to be in. As soon as the orchestra sits on the platform before the rehearsal, starts warming-up and tuning, even playing a few notes, there’s this tremendous ambience, and you can feel the excitement.

‘So it’s a great honour to have that venue though, sadly, only once a year, when the orchestra feels it’s riding the crest of a wave. As with the concerts at the Cathedral, their game is lifted tremendously.’

For details of this week’s Cathedral concert (Thursday 21 November, 7.30pm), click here.

The full version of this interview appeared in Entrechat, the magazine of the BRB Friends. Christopher Morley is a freelance writer on music and the Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Mail.