The beginning of a New Year provides a time to reflect on the previous 12 months, as well as looking forward to the coming year and all the opportunities we hope it will bring. For Sinfonia Viva 2023 was a year of renewal and development across all areas of our work – from re-establishing a regular concert programme in Derby to building on our community partnerships across the East Midlands, Essex, and the East Riding, to experimenting with AI music making.

One of the highlights for me over the year was being able to enjoy such a varied programme of orchestral performances along with incredibly appreciative and supportive audiences.

July saw us return to the Royal & Derngate, Northampton with conductor Delyana Lazarova. This was our first performance in Northampton for a number of years, so were delighted to have such a warm welcome from the audience, and be described as a ‘funky group of musicians’ by a reviewer!

Nadine Benjamin sings with Sinfonia Viva at Derby Cathedral, conducted by Olivia Clarke

The Planets with Nadine Benjamin (l) and Olivia Clarke (r) at Derby Cathedral

In the autumn we launched our first concert series in Derby since 2019, renewing a relationship with Derby Cathedral Choir, and establishing a new partnership with our friends at Derby Museums. The opening sold-out concert at Derby Cathedral, under The Museum of the Moon art installation was an incredibly special concert - atmospheric, evocative and with fabulous musical collaborators. Our first concert as part of a new chamber series at Derby’s Museum of Making was also a great success, although due to the awful flooding experienced by the museum in October we had to relocate to Derby Museum and Art Gallery. We’re so pleased to be able to continue this series back at the Museum of Making, and our next concert will be held on 26th January 2024 – the day the Museum re-opens. Join us if you can

With a return visit to Loughborough Town Hall, our ongoing partnership with the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham, including our annual New Year’s Eve Concert, and performing the Darley Park Concert to a capacity crowd of 7,500 we’ve had an incredibly varied musical year and I hope that you have enjoyed these performances as much as the musicians and I have.

Every year Sinfonia Viva delivers around 300 creative project sessions in schools, care settings and within community buildings, and 2023 was no exception. Sinfonia Viva musicians were working from Leicester to Bridlington, and Derby to Basildon bringing joy and creativity to hundreds of people. With so many incredible projects over the year, many delivered in partnership with Orchestras Live, it is hard to select any particular favourites, but I will share just a few with you here.

February saw us return to Derby Theatre, with over 300 children and young people from Derby Schools to give our first public performance of our annual STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) project in partnership with Rolls-Royce PLC since 2020. This year we worked collaboratively with the Learning Team from Derby Museums as well, providing children with a truly immersive and creative experience exploring scientific Pioneers from Ava Lovelace to the Wright Brothers.

A female violinist sits at the front of an orchestra of adult professional musicians and young people

A Sinfonia Viva creative project in action

These projects and performances are so inspiring. The commitment from the children and young people involved, the passion with which they perform their original songs and compositions, and the sheer joy of all the performers on stage (including our orchestral musicians) is life affirming and I’d encourage anyone to come and experience this for themselves. We’ll be back at the Theatre on Tuesday 6 February 2024 with a performance inspired by the story of Energy and the environmental impact that this is having so do join us if you can. 

Our collaborative approach to creative projects is a constant theme throughout all our work in 2023. In May, Reimagine concluded. This was a four year programme of activity for Derby’s Special schools delivered alongside Hubbub, an inclusive theatre company, and Quad.

A group of people stand next to a bench on a cliff overlooking the sea in Scarborough

Love Stories in South Cliff Gardens, Scarborough

One of the most immersive projects we delivered this year took place in the summer months in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. We were part of Love Stories, led by an inspiring community arts organisation, Arcade, who were creating a sound trail for the recently restored South Cliff Gardens in Scarborough. Local residents shared their own personal love stories which were associated with the gardens, then created music to accompany their story. This work was recorded for people to download and listen to as they walked through the gardens. The stories were just wonderful – some very funny, others incredibly emotional – and is one of the best cultural experiences I had in 2023.

In Essex we continued our work with Peaceful Place, a venue supporting people living with dementia and their carers. Sinfonia Viva and Orchestras Live have been working with this group for a number of years, and one of the real benefits of this project has been the way the community of participants have bonded through the creative and performance process. It was, therefore, a real testament to the approach that our musicians take, when we were asked to return last year to help new members of the group integrate into the Peaceful Place community through participation in our project. Music is such a powerful medium, empowering and enabling people living with dementia to connect and create in a way that no other art form can.

Two of the more unusual projects last year were collaborations with the University of Nottingham, with one involving musicians engaging with an AI Robot in a collaborative, improvisation project. The AI Robot is being developed to help people with additional needs participate in group music making activities, and it was put through it’s paces by Jess Fisher who performs on a digital instrument called CMPSR, cellist Deirdre Bencsik and violinist Clare Bhabra. I won’t even try to explain how this works, but it was one of the most interesting projects of the year with the musicians forming an almost human relationship with the robot during performance, and even viewing it as the fourth member of the ensemble. Amazing.

So all in all it has been a wonderfully varied, artistically interesting, collaborative, and inspiring year of music making and creating at Sinfonia Viva, and 2024 is shaping up to be just as good – perhaps even better!

Thank you for your support of Sinfonia Viva over the last 12 months, and I look forward to seeing you at one of our performances or projects in 2024!