The Redhill Sinfonia, founded in 1891, is one of the country's longest established amateur orchestras. It has had its highs and lows over the years, but it has been rehearsing and giving concerts in Redhill and Reigate every year for nearly 130 years, including through both World Wars. Although rehearsals had to be suspended in March and both its March and June concerts had to be cancelled, it is determined not to let a global pandemic prevent it from continuing to make music. On 24 June, it held a Zoom string sectional rehearsal on parts of Beethoven's Symphony No 6 (Pastoral) which it would have been performing at the cancelled June concert. Violinist and Honorary Librarian Jo Anderson took part and says it worked surprisingly well.
The first ever Redhill Sinfonia string sectional via Zoom was held earlier this month. Not of course how we would choose for it to be held, as nothing could and should replace live music making, but a positive of the current situation is that it does foster adaptability.
The Orchestra is very fortunate in having David Burton, a very experienced violinist and tutor, as its Leader. String sectionals, led by David, normally take place once a term - a time to focus on particularly tricky or awkward passages, and to pick up tips on technique. They are always enjoyable and players come out feeling that an awful lot has been learnt and achieved.
That was also the case this week. A good proportion of the string section joined the Zoom meeting, plus our conductor John Beswick, our President, Maureen Lovell and even a couple of our wind section, who were able to come and play along. String parts had been bowed by David in advance and scans distributed. David was joined by members of his musical family, wife Jane Tyler on viola and son Tim Burton on cello, and so a string trio could be seen and heard playing sections of the first and third movements of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony. All other participants were put on mute (an impossible time delay of up to 3 seconds making simultaneous playing impossible) and were therefore able to play their own part along with David and his family. Technical tips were discussed and participants were able to unmute themselves to ask questions. It was great to be reunited with desk partners and other orchestral colleagues, to be playing orchestral music once again and to feel a sense of purpose and optimism by working on a piece for our next concert. A further sectional is planned for a fortnight’s time.
Many of our regular audience are members or former members of choirs, orchestras and ensembles which use SPAL's loan service and some are in playreading, drama and musicals societies too. Plus, our churches are the rehearsal venues for Leatherhead Choral Society, barbershop group The Downsmen, and the Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra. Although Leatherhead Concert & Arts Society is not a SPAL user the collection is close to our hearts.
This would have been our 9th year of lunchtime concerts in Leatherhead's churches. With their closure we have had to adapt. We are a fairly mature bunch, so we are going to be careful well after lockdown ends.
Instead of live concerts we have gone online. We put up a selection of YouTube video links to performances that fit our usual concert profile. We are also taking advantage of the opportunity to listen to larger forces than would fit in the churches. We can hear part of a concerto with full orchestra rather than a piano reduction. We can listen to bigger organs than are found in Leatherhead. A brass band instead of a quartet.
Each Tuesday we email our 400 followers to tell them what we are preparing, and then, early on Thursday morning off goes the email with the link to the day's concert webpage.
We have been adding video links to our concert webpages since 2014. Back then one of our staunchest supporters became unwell and told us she was missing the concerts. At first we sent her links to videos and then realised more people might enjoy a YouTube concert, especially if illness, caring commitments, or work, prevented them from coming along at lunchtime. Now we always put videolinks on our webpages.
With regulars (that we know about) in Nottingham, Blackburn, and the Netherlands, Leatherhead's Lunchtime Concerts are likely to run both live and video even after we have all had COVID vaccinations. Right now, we are planning how we will take part in October's Mole Valley Arts e-Live Festival.
Listening alone is never the same as attending a live concert. We are doing what we can until it is safe to get together again. Imagine the happy faces when that happens!
List of weekly video concerts: musicinsurrey.co.uk
Written by Peter Steadman
Like many other theatres, professional and amateur, The Archway Theatre in Horley, The Miller Centre in Caterham and the Courtyard Theatre in Chipstead (all Surrey members of the prestigious Little Theatre Guild) have been closed because of the social distancing requirements of the pandemic.
All these theatres are suffering financially. With no income, there are still outgoings - light, heating, equipment maintenance and insurances - that have to be paid. The Archway Theatre is even harder hit, as rent for the Arches still needs to be found. The Archway Theatre has lost at least three production slots:
The York Realist by Peter Gill, set during the rehearsal period for the York Mystery Plays in rural Yorkshire in the 1960s, was due to open on the very same day that theatres were closed by the Government. Quite apart from all the work that had gone into this by the cast, director, technical and backstage crew, there was a considerable task to be faced in contacting members who had booked tickets to offer refunds. We understand that several people waived their refund, for which the theatre is deeply grateful.
This was to be followed by Hangmen by Martin McDonagh - a savagely black comedy about the end of judicial hanging in 1965. This play was already well into the rehearsal phase. Lines had been learnt, and many tickets already sold. The same process for refunding tickets was also required.
The third production to be impacted by the shutdown is Sunset at Villa Thalia by Alexi Kaye Campbell, a fascinating play set on the Greek island of Skiathos where an English couple are manipulated by a married duo they meet on holiday, but which has a deeper agenda - the exploration of America’s propensity to impose its will on individuals and whole societies. The play had been cast, and the first rehearsal held.
Of course, the knock-on effect is far greater than simply ‘losing’ three plays, especially as, at the time of writing, we have no idea when restrictions will end. Decisions will have to be made about how to put these plays back in the programme and how the balance of the year will be affected. The morale of the players is also a key element, although the Archway Council of Management has been doing sterling work, with films (some made by the theatre itself), online quizzes, information updates and posts on social media including WhatsApp and Facebook.
The planned programme will still go ahead, maybe later than envisaged, maybe in a different order. It’s an exciting mix, which includes, as well as the three plays detailed above, The Wind in the Willows, adapted from the Kenneth Grahame novel, A Comedy of Tenors, a hilarious sequel to the sell-out Lend Me a Tenor we put on in 2016, the highly acclaimed Pressure by David Haig, The Father by Florian Zeller, a profoundly moving play about dementia, Jeeves and Wooster (from the P G Wodehouse novels) and the Youth Workshop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, of course, the Studio Theatre, which has a wide range of entertainment lined up and ready for the moment when lock-down rules are lifted.
For more information, and entertainment visit: www.archwaytheatre.com
Written by Carol Hall
From the Chairman: Mark Welling
At a time of great anxiety when the lives of so many people are being hugely disrupted, we at NewSPAL want to send a message of solidarity and sympathy to all our volunteers, donors and supporters. Because each of us is involved, in some way, with performing arts groups we are acutely aware of the particular challenges facing such groups, with the consequential impact on the lives and livelihoods of the many freelance professionals (conductors, leaders, instrumentalists, music directors, accompanists, teachers etc) who work with those groups.
Our first priority has been to take steps to follow Government guidance. Even before Surrey Libraries closed their doors, we suspended the cataloguing work at Ewell Library which was being done by our small army of wonderful volunteers. Our Transition Project Manager, Victoria Taylor, will be working from home (there are many strands of the project which can continue to be worked on “virtually”). Our trustees will be meeting “virtually” for the time-being. It is too soon to know what the wider implications will be for the NewSPAL project but the trustees will be keeping that under careful review and updating regularly through the NewSPAL e-newsletter and website.
Before the COVID-19 emergency broke over us all, we had prepared an Annual Review to let you know what we had achieved in the first year since Surrey County Council’s momentous decision to allow us to proceed with the NewSPAL project. For reasons of accountability and transparency, we think it is still important to circulate the Annual Review. For the reasons given, it does not make reference to the effects of the COVID-19 emergency.
To read the Annual Review please click here.
M. R. Welling