Memorised symphonies in 2017

20th April 2017

Performing from memory at the PromsAurora is delighted to announce full details of three major projects in 2017 based around symphonies performed entirely from memory. Staged within a single four-month period, they underscore Aurora’s belief in the musical benefits of performance without sheet music, and a long-term commitment to embrace memorised performance as a key part of the orchestra’s distinctive artistic practice.

Aurora launched its ‘By Heart’ strand in 2014 with a memorised performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 for the BBC Proms – thought to be first performance of an orchestral symphony without sheet music in the modern era. Under the direction of Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon the orchestra has since performed a further three classical symphonies from memory, including Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony and Beethoven’s fifth and sixth symphonies. These projects have garnered critical plaudits for outstanding musical quality and heightened sense of communication, both on stage between players and with audiences in attendance. 

“Marvellous… Playing the Beethoven from memory, Aurora created an organic sense of community, dynamism and inspiration.” (David Allen, The New York Times).

2017 sees Aurora fully embrace memorised performance as a core part of its regular output, with back-to-back projects placing memorised symphonies into different performing contexts. 

Aurora In the Alps

In The Alps (3/4 June 2017) uses the ‘alphorn’ theme from Brahms’ first symphony as the starting point for an Alpine journey which also features Richard Ayres’ No. 42: In the Alps. Mary Bevan appears as soloist for this playful, beautiful and zany piece which tells the story of a young girl stranded on an unclimbable mountain, who learns to sing from the mountain animals around her and falls in love with the distant trumpet-playing of a boy in the valley far below.  Featuring elements of theatre and projected film, the programme will be performed at St John’s Smith Square (3 June, as part of Aurora’s ‘Orchestral Theatre’ series at Southbank Centre) and Symphony Hall, Birmingham (4 June).  The Brahms will also be performed with an introduction from Tom Service at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds (24 May) and Colyer-Fergusson Hall, Canterbury (26 May).

The following month, Aurora will perform Beethoven’s ‘Eroica from memory for this year’s BBC Proms (22 July). Tom Service joins Nicholas Collon to present a concert which harnesses the full potential of memorised performance to get under the skin of Beethoven’s revolutionary masterpiece and illuminate more fully the composer’s genius.  The symphony will also be performed at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (21 July), Amsterdam Concertgebouw (4 August), and Festival Berlioz in Isère (22 August).

A third memorised project in 2017 pairs Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony with works by Messiaen and Brett Dean for a Royal Festival Hall programme staged as part of The Orchestral Theatre series at Southbank Centre (24 September).  Inspired by birdsong and featuring elements of staging, set design and specially-commissioned lighting, the programme will feature Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist for Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques, as well as Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony.  The ‘Pastoral’ will also be performed as part of linked performances in Canterbury (22 September), Cologne (1 October) and Ascona (6 October).

Chief Executive John Harte said: “When Aurora first started performing from memory in 2014, some commentators made the assumption that it was a publicity stunt or marketing gimmick.  In fact for us the interest in memorised performance has always been less to do with the supposed ‘feat’ of performing by heart (which after all is common practice amongst instrumental soloists and singers) and much more to do with the extraordinary musical benefits of working collectively in this way. Because of the intensive private preparation and longer rehearsal process which these projects entail, memorising allows players to develop a richer shared understanding of the music than might ordinarily be possible. For our musicians, this has meant nothing less than the discovery of a new kind of shared performance practice, and players consistently cite these projects as being amongst their most intensely rewarding professional experience.”

Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon said:  “Memorising deepens and enriches our relationship with the music in every way and takes communication to a new level. Whilst it feels naked at first on stage without a stand and music to hide behind, it intensifies the levels of trust between players. My hope and belief is that it also communicates in a new way with the audience: not so much that it should feel surprising or dangerous to watch but more that we are all – players and audience alike – unshackled from the physical and metaphorical confines of the printed notes.”