A year in the life of a modern Harmonie

August might seem like an odd time for an end-of-year roundup. But for musicians, the sight of September looming on the horizon always has the whiff of 'back to school' about it. Partly literally: most of the B&B musicians are involved in university, college and school teaching, a couple are students themselves (on doctoral courses), and of course some of us have young families. The musical year also shares this rhythm, with concert seasons typically running September to June, followed by the summer festival season.

We've been a bit quiet on the blog over the past few months, doing all of these things, and now we're starting to get into gear for 17/18, it's a good time to take stock. So here's B&B's season roundup!

Benslow, Balls and Bouquets

Evening Krommerthon at Benslow 2016

Evening Krommerthon at Benslow 2016

Autumn '16 started with a bang, with a launch concert for our debut CD Music for a Prussian Salon, at the beautiful St Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square in London. It was the culmination of a lot of work: the CD was self-produced, right from the recording through the editing to the writing of liner notes and collaborating on sleeve design, so it was a sigh of relief to get it finished! 

We also held our second annual weekend course at Benslow Music Trust in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, where we welcomed 19 wonderful amateur players for three days of Harmoniemusik. 

Our first 'first' of the season was one of our highlights of the year: a Georgian-period ball at Brackley Town Hall, part of the public engagement programme surrounding the redevelopment of this beautiful 18th-century building. We were joined there by the wonderful Stuart Marsden, dancing master and historical dance expert, who taught us all a thing or two...

In October our CD was formally released, and we've been delighted to track the reviews as they've come out: thankfully, all bouquets and no brickbats! You can read, and listen, more here.


Big Beethoven Bonanza

The leaves were barely turning when we started preparations for our next project: The Harmonie in Beethoven's Vienna. We had arranged a series of concerts in February 2017 for a programme featuring the Mount Everest of Harmoniemusik, Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (arr. 1816). We decided to make this the focus of our first major funding bid to Arts Council England. After several months of budgeting, drafting and re-submitting, and with help from a lot of friends, we got the best christmas present ever: a grant to support our tour! 

This meant that, as well as being able to pay rehearsal and management fees to the team and increase our marketing and publicity budget, we were able to bring Claire Holden from Oxford University in to workshop some radical performance practice ideas. We also took new publicity photos (with the wonderful Tom Bowles) and made a documentary video and instrument demo videos with Angie Guyton (you can see them all on our YouTube page).

The tour itself was wonderful and exhausting in equal measure – five nationwide venues in six days, and certainly the most challenging programme we've ever played. We came out of it feeling we'd matured as an ensemble, and hopefully created some new Harmoniemusik fans. One of our audience feedback forms also summed up our feeling: "Fabulous – Different – Again, please!" We're delighted that we'll be able to re-visit some of this music in programmes in 2018.

Planning for the future

Most concert promoters and venues make their bookings around 12-18 months in advance, so for us spring is usually also the time we spend finalising our following year's season. The Beethoven tour raised our profile and allowed us to make some great new relationships, and as a result we've got some very exciting concerts planned for 2017–18. The other exciting news that the spring brought was that we have chosen to appear in Making Music England's 'Selected Artists' brochure for 17/18. This means that we'll be advertised to their member organisations - a huge number of music clubs and promoters around England – who can access discounts and financial support to book us for their concert series. 

Rehearsal fun

Rehearsal fun

Our final project of the 16/17 season was also about looking forward to the future. In April, we got together for a few days to do some development work: trying new repertoire, workshopping Robert's arrangements, and having an AGM. We finished the concert with an invitation-only performance at the beautiful church of St Clement Danes, on the Strand in central London. The guests were a mixture of concert promoters, and people who regularly attend our concerts, and we used the occasion to launch our supporters' scheme, Friends of Harmoniemusik. The scheme will go towards securing the ensemble's future by helping us pay for rehearsal venues, marketing, and - most importantly, we've realised - someone to help us manage our projects!

So there we are: a year in the life of a Harmonie. Many things here would have been familiar to our counterparts in the early 19th century - not least, the wide range of skills needed to manage and promote your own concerts, as well as playing in them! Others are peculiar to the 21st century: we're fairly sure, for instance, that Triebensee didn't have to worry about how to engage his Twitter audience with interesting facts about the contrabassoon. But looking back, we're proud (and even a little baffled) by all we've managed to do in the last year, and feel like we've just about recovered enough to face the next cycle! So, we hope to see you soon, friends...

B&B's Top 5 Harmoniemusik CDs

Stuck for last-minute gift ideas? Give the gift of Harmoniemusik for Christmas! We've pulled together our personal top 5 CDs from some of the big names in Harmoniemusik. Being Boxwood & Brass, however, we've combined our favourite ensembles with a bit of a 'repertoire explorer': so, no Mozart serenades here (much though we love them), but plenty of new sounds for curious ears... 

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Five go mad in Ludlow

Whilst it may appear to have been quiet lately on the B&B blog, it certainly hasn't been quiet with B&B in general!

We spent the first week of April in the Shropshire town of Ludlow. Renowned today as a destination for foodies, Ludlow is the perfect place for B&B history geeks...

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Circles and Lines

As we prepared for our recent concert for Music-at-Hill, we started musing about ensemble disposition. Normally, we follow the convention of standing in a horseshoe-shape, deep or shallow depending on the space and acoustic of the venue. But recently Robert our bassoonist discovered several references to bands playing in a closed circle...

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Why do concerts always start with the 'little' pieces and end with the 'big' ones?

Why do concerts always start with the 'little' pieces and end with the 'big' ones? That's what we've been wondering this week as we plan programmes for next season. What if we put the biggest piece at the start of the programme? That way, it comes when we and the audience are at our freshest, with the added advantage that we get a nice substantial piece to settle us into the programme. Then, after the interval, the audience can settle down with a glass of wine and enjoy some lighter fare! Think of is as a 'front-loaded' programme, rather than one 'based fundamentally on the idea of crescendo' (to misquote Tony Pay)

The idea isn't new, by the way: in the 19th century, it was common to have the substantial music in the first half. This Proms programme from 1896 features the Wieniawski Violin Concerto AND Dvorak Symphon No. 9 (or No. 5 in the old numbering) in the first half, followed by a second half of fantasias and songs. Maybe they recognised something obvious: no-one's concentration gets better as the evening wears on!