A look back at Attune 2023

Autumn 2023 saw the return of our long-running chamber music project Attune! Funded by Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and run in partnership in London with the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) and City of London Sinfonia (CLS), Attune is an opportunity for AYM supported young musicians to work as a chamber ensemble with professional coaching.  

Attune is led artistically by double bassist Paul Sherman, with support from students from RAM Open Academy and professional musicians from CLS. Participants explore selected chamber music repertoire in depth and develop their ensemble skills, communication and programme presentation.  

Every Attune project is unique and carefully curated to challenge the musicians and explore their musicianship in an immersive and enjoyable environment. For some this is their first time playing chamber music in an ensemble, for others an introduction to new approaches.  

This year’s project featured six musicians on our Awards programme; Jaime (17, piano), Naomi (15, double bass), Dorothy (12, cello), Shia (12, clarinet), Julia (14, flute) and Alfred (13, viola) and the repertoire was Cipriani Potter’s Sextet in Eb major, which, to our knowledge, hasn’t been performed since 1836.  

A little known artist 

Born in the 1790’s, Cipriani Potter was a composer, pianist and conductor, and later a teacher at the Royal Academy, serving as its principal from 1832 to 1859, so this was an appropriate location to breathe new life into this little-known musical work. Potter is virtually unknown today, but in his day was quite an eminent musician in London. His musical works show influences of Mozart and Beethoven and comparable to the music of Mendelssohn.  He studied with composer Thomas Atwood, who had been a pupil of Mozart’s, travelling to Vienna, where he met and spent some time playing music with Beethoven. Back in London, Potter was a leading member of the Philharmonic Society and gave the first English performances of Beethoven’s third and fourth piano concertos. 

A lesser-known piece 

The piece of music chosen, Sextet in Eb major, is for flute, clarinet, viola, cello, double bass and piano. First performed on the 13th of June, 1836, it was written for the leading chamber musicians of the time, teachers at the academy, players in the philharmonic society and principle players in the London orchestras. The first performance featured Charles Nicholson (flute), Thomas Lindsay Willman (clarinet), Johann Wilhelm Maelzel (viola) Robert Lindley (cello) Domenico Dragonetti (double bass) with Potter himself on the piano. And as far as Paul could tell, hasn’t been played since.  

Paul had to transcribe it from an illegible, pencil autograph score which had been scanned and made available by the British Library. This was then cross-referenced with a set of parts that were handwritten at the time to ensure it was as close to Potter’s original as possible. The piece is in four movements and full of twists and turns, ranging from conventional sonata to stormy scherzo.  

 Of the process Paul says:  

“Putting the whole thing together has been a little bit of a labour of love and has taken quite a few months. I was quite nervous to see what the young players would make of it. We put the music in front of them and during the course of the day we worked through the whole piece. And what was amazing was that they absolutely loved it. 

“I had no idea what they would make of it. There was no way that they could listen to a recording of it. It’s never been recorded and it hasn’t been played since 1836. So just to see what they made of a piece of music that was just totally unknown to them was interesting in itself. It’s a major piece for a large chamber music ensemble, and I’m quite delighted how it’s turning out.” 

Professional advice 

At the core of Attune is the opportunity to learn from professional musicians. Throughout the project, the participants were supported by Paul, members of CLS and Open Academy students. They were able to offer valuable tips and suggestions whilst allowing the musicians the freedom to explore and retain ownership of their performance. Chris Rawley, bassoonist with CLS reflects on his formative experiences whilst assisting with the sessions: 

“I remember when I was a student, hearing tutors say the same thing over and over again and not really getting it. What’s great is about this is we can explain things in different ways, so each person will respond to something differently. So they can understand their point and not everyone understands the same way. Playing chamber music is difficult because no one’s conducting, no one is leading, everybody has to play their part, bringing the whole thing alive.” 

It also serves as an opportunity for musicians from across the UK to meet and play together and establish friendships. Over the course of four sessions they progress both musically and personally.  Chris says:

“I enjoy getting to know the musicians, and seeing how they develop. At the start there’s often a lot of nervousness and a bit of uncertainty. You see over the course of the rehearsals that people get more and more confident. You can see them listening to the tutors but also working things out for themselves and I find that a really enjoyable process to go through”  

Open Academy Fellow Hugo, who was on hand to support the participants. He says:

It’s been an eye opening experience, the participants are all very talented. It’s such a great way to introduce them to chamber music and the different approaches to looking at scores. During the project, I’ve been leading small activities and sharing musical knowledge and ideas in various ways as well as working with CLS musicians. But, to me, the most important part is that everyone feels comfortable and enjoys playing chamber music.

Final performance  

The project came to a close with a performance for friends and family, the first audience to hear it performed since 1836! It was an opportunity to share the progress they had made over the past four sessions. Of the final performance, Paul writes 

“The ensemble’s collective musical comprehension of the Sextet was tangible from the first note to the last. The players were able to trust each other to keep going during the inevitable slip ups that occur in the heat of a performance and gave a convincing, flowing interpretation of the work. What was evidently clear was that they had absorbed the stylistic requirements of the work, understood its structure and had embraced many of the technical hurdles faced by each instrument. There was universal agreement that a forgotten gem of the chamber music repertoire had been bought back to life.” 

Following the performance the young musicians reflected on the experience.  

“It was a great project! I liked the fact that the piece was so special and had not been performed before. I really enjoyed the warm up activities – they made me feel energised and ready! Also, I found the support of the tutors and the academy students really good and professional. I felt like a part of a big musician family!”
Julia, 14

“It was a really fun experience to play and work with other extremely talented musicians. I thought the choice of music was also very good: the piece allows everyone to have their own moment to shine!” Dorothy, 12

Attune 2024

This was the second Attune project in 2023, with our first happening back in January. This was run in partnership with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (RBC) and the first time the project has happened in the West Midlands. Attune returns this January with RBC and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG)  to offer another diverse and creative exploration of chamber music.

The project would not be possible without the long-term support of the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation.  Thanks to ALW, Paul Sherman, the Royal Academy of Music and its students, City of London Sinfonia musicians and the young musicians for their commitment to the project! Make sure you’re following us on social media over the coming weeks to see the activity happening in Birmingham.

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