For over a decade, the undoubted highlight of the year for the National Symphony Orchestra (UK) has been the transatlantic crossing on Cunard’s magnificent flagship, the ocean liner Queen Mary 2.
Though the crossing can be scheduled from New York to Southampton or vice versa, the 7-day voyage in 2021, 12-19 September, starts in the Big Apple. A buzz of excitement can palpably be felt by all the orchestra as they assemble in the early hours at Heathrow airport, even though they are all well-seasoned, international travellers. Musicians love humour and storytelling. NSO’s relationship with maestro Anthony Inglis is close, they have been on the road together for twenty years. Their rapport is both tangible and affectionate. Whilst boarding the aircraft, conductor Inglis turns left to first class and NSO musicians pull his leg. When Inglis carries glasses of champagne down to musicians in economy class during the flight, it’s all respect and gratitude, and they laugh together. NSO is known as an orchestra that knows how to enjoy itself, communicating that sense of fun and passion during performance.
Settling in on QM2 is easy for musicians, they know the ropes. Many of the heavier musical instruments such as timpani, percussion and double bass have been loaded on the ship a week in advance, having been transported to New York on a previous crossing. Cellos and violins, flutes and oboes are carried by hand and the players organise rehearsal rooms behind the Royal Court Theatre for their individual practice. Some of the musicians will have solo or chamber concerts to perform when this voyage is finished and they need to keep their music-making in top order.
The concert schedule for the voyage features two evening programmes which are repeated twice. In addition, an afternoon concert is performed which features the string players of the orchestra. Past performances have included Vivaldi’s masterpiece The Four Seasons, Barber’s Adagio, Dvorak, Elgar and Tchaikowsky serenades for strings. For 2021’s crossing, maestro Inglis has come up with a novel idea: many musicians on board QM2, including members of the brilliant dance bands and the resident string group, will join NSO to perform Ravel’s Bolero. Ravel’s music features all the instruments of the orchestra heard in turn, over the unchanging, incessant, rhythm of a side drum. Music grows in intensity and volume over twenty minutes, ending with a rousing finale which is guaranteed to bring the audience to its feet – Cunard guests are always genuinely generous in their appreciation.
The first performance by NSO is a concert of all-American music. The highlight is invariably Gershwin’s enduringly popular Rhapsody in Blue. The piece starts with a two-and-a-half octave glissando on clarinet and is probably the best-known clarinet solo of all time, explains Inglis.
Rhapsody was first premiered in an ‘experimental concert’ by Paul Whiteman and his jazz orchestra, with the composer playing the virtuoso piano role. It was not until rehearsal began that the clarinettist’s glissando unintentionally came into being. As a joke on Gershwin, Gorman, Whiteman’s player, started the opening bars with a noticeable slide, adding what he considered a humorous touch to the passage. Reacting favourably to Gorman’s interpretation, Gershwin asked him to perform the opening that way at the concert and to add as much of a ‘wail’ as possible. At its première on February 12, 1924, at New York’s Aeolian Hall, “Ross Gorman began his glissando and electrified the house”. This performing tradition has continued ever since to delight audiences, including those attending in QM2 Royal Court Theatre. The solo pianist with NSO, Katherine Rockhill became an overnight sensation on board the ship after her recent performances. Diminutive, hands as nimble as a speed typist, she dispatches the challenges of Rhapsody with deceptive ease and panache.
It is reckoned there is no featured artist who has appeared more often at London’s Royal Albert Hall than Anthony Inglis. He is Music Director for Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins and Music Supervisor and Consultant to the London production of Phantom of the Opera, as well as conductor of orchestras worldwide. In his early career he worked with comic geniuses such as Michael Crawford and the The Two Ronnies, Barker and Corbett. This experience shows, as from his podium, baton in hand, he introduces musical selections for the orchestra with a charismatic blend of wisdom and humour.
The final evening’s concert is entitled The Last of the Cunard Proms. After listening to NSO performing works close to the soul of the British nation such as an overture by Gilbert and Sullivan and Elgar’s moving Nimrod, both orchestra and audience participate in a rousing finale complete with a guest soprano soloist.
Away from rehearsing and performing, members of the orchestra can occasionally be found on the lower decks performing chamber music in small groups for their own pleasure. It is not often NSO’s musicians have an opportunity to socialise, spending evenings together away from the concert stage. Dressing up for dinner, enjoying leisurely, gregarious meals, attending lectures, are a welcome privilege.
Perhaps it just because QM2 does not stop at ports on the transatlantic crossing, the liner being out of sight of land for almost a week, that gives a special sense of a community, shared experienced, which grows inexorably for all on board.
Standing on deck, feeling the salty wind sting my face, watching a pod of dolphins racing alongside the liner, cruising majestically past the Statue of Liberty leaving New York as a band plays on deck, is life-affirming.
Cunard and NSO are masters at orchestral manoeuvres, moving in harmony. Long may they sail together.
To find out more about NSO’s 2021 Transatlantic crossing, please visit:
The internationally-acclaimed violinist Rimma Sushanskaya was the last pupil of David Oistrakh, with whom she studied at Moscow Conservatoire, and under whose tutelage she won many prestigious awards. Upon leaving the Soviet Union she rapidly established a glowing reputation in the west; the Washington Post, described her as “one of the greatest violinists alive today,” and commented on her “extraordinary intensity and brilliant virtuosity.”
Rimma Sushanskaya has embarked on a successful career in conducting. In recent years she has performed as a conductor in concert halls of an ever growing list of countries including Germany, Russia, Israel, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, China and the United Kingdom. She has been enjoying successful performances and re-engagements in prestigious venues such as: Gewandhaus, Leipzig, Germany, Philharmonic Hall and Konzerthaus Berlin, Germany, Philharmonic Hall. Kharkov Ukraine, Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland.
Among the list of orchestras conducted by Rimma Sushanskaya includes: Berlin Sinfonetta, Neues Sinfonia Orchestra, Berlin, Leipzig Chamber Orchestra, Germany, Kharkov Philharmonic, Ukraine, St. Petersberg State Orchestra, Russia State Philharmonic of Satu-Mare, Romania, Orchestra of the Swan, UK.
She made her highly acclaimed London Debut with the National Symphony Orchestra at Cadogan Hall in 2017 conducting Pictures at an exhibition and La Valse. Among the many important orchestral works in Dr Sushanskaya’s repertoire, the following are to be noted: Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, “Choral”, Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2. E minor, Mozart Requiem D minor, Mahler Symphony No 4 G Major and Orff Carmina Burana.
Following in the traditions of her own legendary teacher, Rimma is equally anxious to pass on her knowledge and experience to young people. She is sough-after professor at Birmingham Conservatoire, and her Virtuoso Violin Festival every summer in Stratford-upon-Avon (Her home in England) attracts string students of the highest calibre from the UK and abroad.
The NSO continues to perform live with the hugely charismatic and personable Alfie Boe and has toured with him extensively in recent years.
As a young boy, Lancashire-born Alfie Boe (from the fishing port of Fleetwood) dreamed of a career as a singer. Having conquered the world’s most prestigious opera stages, led the cast of Les Miserables for nearly a year, and stolen the show at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace, he has certainly succeeded. Always striving to bring good music to different audiences, after three sold-out UK Tours (including the Royal Festival Hall and the Royal Albert Hall), Boe has hundreds of thousands of fans, having achieved Platinum album sales in the UK, and four top ten album placings.
Alfie continues to impress, even outside the concert hall and recording studio. Earlier this year he appeared on our small screens, starring in ITV’s biggest programme of the winter, Mr Selfridge, as music-hall singer Richard Chapman, and last year saw the release of his best-selling autobiography, My Story. Yet amid his ever increasing celebrity status, Alfie will always be part of the classical world.
“The National Symphony Orchestra and I always look forward to performing on board a Queen Mary 2 Crossing, and this year was no exception.
This time it was to be an 8 day crossing, which allowed us more time for rehearsals and also to perform on the penultimate night when everyone was dressed up rather than the very last night of the voyage. We signed up the passenger choir on the 2nd morning at sea and everyone was looking forward to performing on stage for the (almost) Last Night of The Cunard Proms.
We never know how many people are going to participate, but we needn’t have worried as no fewer than 160 guests volunteered to perform in two choirs, singing the well-loved favourites Rule Britannia, Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory in the big concert at the end of the crossing. In addition there was to be a choir-and-orchestra-only rendition of Amazing Grace – this arrangement was performed at the Naming Ceremony of Queen Mary 2 in 2004 and is now an established favourite of Cunarders.
First, though, the NSO performed at the American Evening, where and we played Rhapsody in Blue, which always goes down well, plus some Sousa marches and Broadway show tunes. This was well received, particularly by our US friends who waved their American flags with enthusiasm.
Then it was the turn of the British… We had heard on the way down to Southampton the sad news of Sir David Frost’s passing and we were glad to be able to pay our own tribute to him during the concert. We dedicated the Dambusters March to him, as on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs he had chosen it as his favourite piece of music. We also played Crown Imperial as a tribute to HM The Queen in her Diamond Jubilee Coronation Year.
Then it was the turn of the choirs, both of whom performed magnificently. All the rehearsing certainly paid off – the audience loved them!
As well as the choirs, there are always fun and games at a Last Night and this year didn’t disappoint. At the first of the evening’s two performances, Captain Oprey stepped onto the stage and he and I swapped jackets so that he could conduct the orchestra for the encore of the Hornpipe. Then, as I was contemplating, in my Captain’s hat and jacket, ordering a slight adjustment to the ship’s course to visit the Caribbean(!), Captain Oprey had me ‘arrested’ for impersonating an officer and taken off stage in handcuffs! In my absence, he conducted my orchestra through the music for Top Gun which he and they had ably rehearsed on the quiet! The resulting gale of laughter from the audience was in wonderful contrast to the crossing which was one of the smoothest I’ve been on.
For the second performance of the evening, we had another distinguished guest conductor – Lord King of Lothbury, the recently retired Governor of the Bank of England who was on his way to New York after steering the economy safely through some troubled waters. He was already singing in the choir (Tenor – or should that be tenner – of course!) and proved himself very adept at conducting the orchestra and very amusing into the bargain. I gave him a £20 note for his conducting which, I explained, started out as only £10 but with quantative easing and allowing for inflation, had increased to the higher amount. He took the £20 note with a smile and put it in his pocket (though he did gamely give it back later!).
The National Symphony Orchestra and I loved every minute of the crossing and we can’t wait until next year when we look forward to doing it again, with more volunteer passenger choirs bringing the house down.
Thanks to Anthony Inglis for his blog on the Last Night of the Cunard Proms.
The National Symphony Orchestra has worked with City Music Services on several inspiring projects that have ranged from performing all Beethoven’s nine symphonies in one day, under the baton of John Andrews, to a recent Legal Gala with Lesley Garrett, featuring a choir of 200 solicitors taken from legal firms in the City.
City Music Services inspires others through the therapeutic, relaxing, rejuvenating and confidence boosting powers of musical performance. CMS specialise in the promotion of work-life balance through musical performance and dance opportunities within City firms and also at our own premises based at Billingsgate Market. Additionally, they are the current market leaders for facilitating and producing fundraising musical performances, bringing together employees from City firms, school children and professional musicians, affording them all the opportunity to perform at some of the UK’s most prestigious venues.
CMS offer the opportunity to be directed by professionals and perform in world famous venues whilst at the same time generating funds for very worthy charitable causes.
Additionally, CMS Entertainment Solutions has been created to offer clients the very best original entertainment ideas for every occasion.
The National Symphony Orchestra is delighted to have such a close working relationship with Debbie Wiseman, one of the UK’s most successful female music ambassadors. Debbie is composer-in-residence for classic fm, in demand not only as a composer, but also as a conductor and presenter. Recent recorded releases include the music performed at Windsor Castle for Her Majesty’s 90th birthday celebrations.
In September 2016 Debbie’s recording “The Musical Zodiac” will be released, again recorded with the national Symphony Orchestra, featuring many of its members in solo roles.
Throughout the past 20 years, there are probably few people in the UK who have not heard a theme from one of Debbie’s films or shows. Whether it is watching Stephen Fry bring to life Oscar Wilde for the big screen, hearing the latest political commentary on a Sunday morning with Andrew Marr, or poring over T.S.Eliot’s love story in the Oscar nominated “Tom & Viv”, Wiseman has gifted us iconic themes of beauty and passion, love and laughter.
Her credits, over 200 of them, for the big and small screen include WOLF HALL, THE CORONER, FATHER BROWN, THE WHALE, FRY’S PLANET WORD, JUDGE JOHN DEED, WILDE, OTHELLO, LAND GIRLS, TOM & VIV, JEKYLL, THE PASSION, TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN and WPC 56.
Debbie has been nominated for two Ivor Novello Awards for WILDE and DEATH OF YUGOSLAVIA, and has won a TRIC Award for THE GOOD GUYS and an RTS Award for WARRIORS. In 2007 she was awarded the Gold Badge of Merit by the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters.
Debbie is a Visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music, and regularly gives lectures to schools and colleges about the art of composing music for picture. In 2008 she composed a new “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” called “Different Voices” which was premiered by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as part of their 60th birthday celebrations, and the work is now frequently performed by school and youth orchestras across the country. Her album of music to accompany the fairy stories of Oscar Wilde – WILDE STORIES – on the Warner Classics and Jazz label, was nominated for a Grammy Award and was then made into a trilogy of animated films for Channel 4.
As well as her composing work, Debbie appears in concert halls across the country conducting her film scores, and also appears as an expert guest on the BBC TV broadcasts of The Proms. In 2011 Debbie presented a Radio 4 programme on the composer, Joseph Horovitz, and appeared on the panel of Your Desert Island Discs at Christmas with Bill Bailey and Jo Whiley, presented by Kirsty Young. Debbie presented Scoring Father Brown for Radio 4, which followed her process of composing the score for the BBC TV series.
In 2004, Debbie was honoured in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list with an MBE for services to the music and film industry. She has been awarded Honorary Fellowships at both colleges where she studied, Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Warner Classics are now thrilled to welcome Debbie to their celebrated roster of artists, and her first solo album for the label, “Piano Stories”, which features piano solo performances by the composer herself of many of her acclaimed scores, entered the UK Classical Artist Album Chart at number 10. Debbie performed tracks from the album in a solo live concert appearance at St George’s concert hall, Bristol in March 2013.
Debbie was one of the 11 composers chosen to compose music for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on June 3rd 2012 when she conducted her movement of new “Water Music” on The Georgian barge.
It’s the 19th year of this popular event, which is one of the highlights of the season at The Shuttleworth Collection. You’ll be watching vintage aircraft perform aerial displays to much loved classical themes performed by the 50-piece National Symphony Orchestra. With all of the atmosphere and fun of a truly British Proms and the excitement of watching Shuttleworth Collection aircraft display. Closing with a thrilling firework display featuring illuminated models this year’s Flying Proms at Shuttleworth won’t disappoint!
– Supermarine Spitfire IX MH434 (The Old Flying Machine Company)
– AeroSparx (Vigilant Pair pyros)
– Extra 330SC pyros
– Hot Air Balloon Glow
– Illuminated Models
– Pilatus glider
Old Warden Aerodrome
Bedfordshire SG18 9EP