On the 23rd November, 21016, composer Nigel Clarke and I took the short trip along the Docklands Light Railway for a first day working with the only full time professional string orchestra in the UK, the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra. This is the string orchestra of the British Army, which is based and rehearses at the historic Woolwich Barracks. Our host for the day was Staff Sergeant Claire Lawrence. We were joined by Marius Skaerved, who took the pictures.
SSgt Claire Lawrence | Bandmaster | The Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra, writes: ‘What a hugely inspirational day. An absolute pleasure to hear you play and see such crazy technique up close, and fascinating to hear how you deal with new scores and how pieces evolve over time, with differing personnel or environments.
The afternoon session was unlike any we have had at the CWSO, as our work dictates playing from written music and rehearsing from what we see. I think in this way, what we hear is governed so much by what we are seeing. The listening is almost pre-decided. To make sounds away from music with no convention to adhere to was a very creative experience, if not a little daunting at first./Another great thing was that throughout this process you reminded us of technical aspects that we can transfer to our usual rehearsal days and engagements. Experimenting with point of contact and types of vibrato, and really noticing how it changed the sound, was a very valuable exercise that we are continuing to consider./We also loved the insight we had into how Nigel writes. I enjoyed watching him listening and suggesting things, and I was I interested in his observing how we behave as an group, really fascinating that all this research is done before considering notes on a page. One of the CWSO violinists commented afterwards that it is very exciting to think we can have a work written specifically for our sound, a new sound that we can create and that will be unlike anything else that we do./So I guess in conclusion we all had a fantastic day. It was a real privilege to welcome you and Nigel to Woolwich. This was very much a development day in all ways, not just music, in broadening our minds and in pushing ourselves to stretch outside the environment in which we usually exist.’
The day was in two halves, and all took place in the orchestra’s immaculate rehearsal facilities. I can’t think of a chamber orchestra that has a better dedicated rehearsal room than this! In the morning I played and talked about, solo works from the 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries, with a real focus on colour and notation .
Nigel took a very active part in this session, which naturally swung towards the question of collaboration. One might say that our entire friendship is an exploration of the the how and way of collaboration, observed and enjoyed.
After lunch in the Officer’s mess, we got down to the real work: experimentation. What happens when we listen to what we are doing, really listen?