I feel about Aurora what audiences in the early 1960s must have sensed about the Academy of St Martin in the Fields: that this is an ensemble talented and ambitious enough to wrench the initiative from more established chamber orchestras. It’s a generational turnover, and very healthy for musical life.
(Richard Morrison, The Times)
Since its creation in 2005, Aurora Orchestra has rapidly established itself as the most significant new British chamber orchestra in a generation. Under the artistic direction of Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon, Aurora has developed flourishing London residencies at LSO St Luke’s and Kings Place, and also enjoys an increasingly busy touring calendar both in the UK and internationally. It has worked with a roster of world-class artists including Ian Bostridge, Gerald Finley, Rosemary Joshua, Angelika Kirchschlager, Kate Royal, Maxim Rysanov and Robin Ticciati.
Current and recent season highlights include the release of a debut disc on the Decca Classics label, televised concerts for the BBC Proms, a Christmas Day special on BBC 2, and the ongoing success with critics and audiences of its two self-promoted concert series. Aurora recently became the youngest group ever to win the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Ensemble Award – the UK’s most prestigious for live classical music. The award citation read as follows:
From a South American capoeira group to Central St Martins College of Art and Design, the range of Aurora’s artistic collaboration is staggering. They convey joy and freshness at the highest standard of musical excellence. And in just five short years they’ve carved out a niche in the country’s musical life which is unique.
2012 again saw Aurora shortlisted for an RPS Award, this time for its collaboration with the CBBC TV series Horrible Histories for the 2011 BBC Proms. The project has been nominated in the ‘Audiences and Engagement’ category, which recognises ‘imaginative initiatives designed to inspire and develop audiences for live classical music-making’.
From an early stage in its development, Aurora attracted a particularly strong reputation for innovative and inspiring cross-arts programming, with initial milestones including an appearance alongside the Michael Clark Dance Company as part of the Barbican’s Young Genius series (2005), a staged performance of Birtwistle’s Secret Theatre (2007), a major film commission from Bristol School of Animation and composer Chris Willis (2007), and a project pairing Brazilian capoeira with music by Lully and James MacMillan (2008).
Building on this particular developing strength in cross-arts work, in spring 2010 Aurora launched its flagship New Moves series, a residency at LSO St Luke’s showcasing experimental collaborations with artists or ensembles operating beyond the usual confines of the ‘classical music’ sphere. The series has combined music ranging from Rameau to Berio and Beethoven to John Lennon, and produced a range of cross-art form collaborations encompassing visual art, experimental theatre, tango dancers, film and literature. New Moves has attracted a thriving and unusually young audience, many of whom are not regular classical concert attendees. The season has recently expanded beyond LSO St Luke’s, with appearances in several regional touring venues in 2011 and a debut project at the Roundhouse in March 2012.
Alongside this outward-looking and versatile approach to music-making, Aurora has been defined by its focus on learning and participation, which permeates all aspects of its work. The orchestra has developed a wide range of programmes in schools, including Listen Up! (projects which build musical skills in primary school children, launched in 2008), Listen Live! (a cross-arts programme targeting secondary school pupils linked to New Moves, launched in 2010), Little Big Concerts (chamber programmes for audiences with limited access to the concert hall), and Re-Imagined projects (piloted in 2011), which enable primary and secondary school pupils to work together to explore orchestral repertoire and share creative responses. Aurora also regularly presents concerts for families and schools at Wigmore Hall, Aldeburgh Festival, Little Angel Theatre and Kings Place. Aurora’s programme of learning and participation work reached a total of over 12,000 young people in the 2011/12 season alone.
The orchestra has commissioned widely, with highlights including Nico Muhly’s Seeing is Believing Concerto (2008), Julian Philips’ Maxamorphosis (2012), works by Chris Willis (2010) and Iain Farrington (2012) for the BBC Proms, and Tobias Broström’s Crimson Skies (2005). Substantial new works for children have also been commissioned from Chris Willis (2008), John Thomas (2010) and Peter Furniss (2010). Aurora has performed the winning entries in the BBC Proms ‘Inspire’ Young Composers’ competition in each of the past four Proms seasons.
Aurora has been commissioned to deliver major projects for the BBC Proms, Wigmore Hall, Aldeburgh Music, and a number of other UK festivals; it has also increasingly featured on BBC radio and television broadcasts, including a special BBC 2 broadcast on Christmas Day in 2011 with Gerald Finley. Other recent highlights have included a premiere touring production of Alexander Goehr’s opera Promised End with English Touring Opera, a critically-acclaimed series of Mozart concerts for the Kings Place Mozart Unwrapped series, a debut disc for Decca Classics featuring the music of the young American composer Nico Muhly, and a series of concerts streamed through the Guardian website as part of an ACE-funded Digital Innovation initiative.
2012 highlights include concerts as part of the Kings Place Brahms Unwrapped series (alongside guest artists including Maxim Rysanov, Anthony Marwood and Christoph Richter); an appearance at the Wigmore Hall alongside Ian Bostridge and Angelika Kirchschlager; and debut concerts at the Camden Roundhouse and Southbank Centre. The orchestra will also tour operas by Britten, Ullmann and Maxwell Davis with English Touring Opera to venues around the UK, and returns to the BBC Proms for two concerts including a programme devised in collaboration with Aardman Animation featuring legendary animated characters Wallace and Gromit.
The strength and unique character of Aurora’s artistic offering has been formally recognised by Arts Council England with the award of regular funding to the orchestra from April 2012 as part of its new National Portfolio, making Aurora one of just a handful of arts organisations to have been awarded core funding for the first time as part of ACE’s recent restructuring.