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!

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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.

A ‘lost’ ballet featured in a recent BBC documentary is being re-created from memory for a return to the stage as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s 2014-15 season.

Director David Bintley, who presented the acclaimed Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 Made British Ballet, said ‘We enjoyed a fantastic response to the programme, a response that is especially exciting given that we are currently working on bringing Miracle in the Gorbals back to the stage for the first time in half a century’.

With no archive recordings of the ballet, all that survives are a handful of designs and photos, the sheet music for Arthur Bliss’s score, and the memories of those involved in performances. One of these artists is Gillian Lynne, who is now working with the Company to re-create Robert Helpmann’s choreography, and last weekend tweeted to voice her excitement at the project.

Miracle in the Gorbals will be danced in autumn 2014, in Birmingham and on tour, and is one of the first pieces in the 2014-15 season so far revealed. To be among the first to hear about next year’s repertory, click here to subscribe to our monthly e-bulletins.

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.