Tchaikovsky Unwrapped at Turner Sims

Robin Browning, conductor of the SÓN orchestra talks Tchaikovsky, classical music, dress codes, iPad’s as instruments and more with Jamie Harris, pianist and arts coordinator at Arts at University of SouthamptonImage: Chris Christodoulou

Hi Robin, thanks so much for talking with us. For those that don’t know, who are SÓN?

SÓN are Southampton’s first and only professional orchestra. The orchestra gave its inaugural concert in November 2015 at Turner Sims, located on the University of Southampton’s Highfield campus, and has since become a mainstay of Turner Sims’ international concert season. The orchestra have also performed as part of the Music at Romsey Abbey series. We found it incredible that a large and vibrant city like Southampton could not boast its own professional orchestra which ultimately drove SÓN’s creation.

Your latest concert “Tchaikovsky Unwrapped” is part of a series of “Unwrapped” events. Can you tell us a bit more about how they work?

The Unwrapped series of concerts are designed to explore the work and life of a composer using musical extracts performed at the piano and by the orchestra.

The first half features David Owen Norris, BBC broadcaster and Head of Keyboard at the University of Southampton dissecting Tchaikovsky’s music in a fun and informative way that’s relevant to new and experienced concert goers. These events have proved popular with audiences with Classic FM’s John Suchet helping to unwrap Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and David Owen Norris investigating the work of Sibelius, Elgar and now, Tchaikovsky.

The first half will feature David, myself and the orchestra dissecting Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in the first half, followed by a performance of his Souvenir d’un lieu cher performed by our fabulous leader Victoria Sales. The second half will be a complete performance of Tchaikovsky’s mighty Fifth Symphony that the audience will listen to with David’s insights fresh in their minds!

Victoria Sales, són orchestra leader. Credit Chris Christodoulou
Victoria Sales, són orchestra leader. Credit Chris Christodoulou


Based on what you’ve said, combined with the dramatic music of Tchaikovsky, might this be the ideal concert for people to attend who have never seen an orchestra or classical music live?

Definitely. There can be so many implied barriers for classical music newbies to attend a live concert – the dress code of the audience and orchestra (no suits required in this case!), not knowing when to clap, or having never heard of the music all contribute to new audiences simply being put off. Through David’s good humour and ability to bring the music to life and SÓN’s passion to share this music with new audiences, this is an ideal concert to introduce yourself to something completely new. On that note, Tchaikovsky’s music is filled with spine tingling moments of excitement and drama as well as some beautiful and memorable melodies that are sure to delight all in attendance.

What will those familiar with Tchaikovsky and his music get from the concert?

There will undoubtedly be gems of knowledge that David will can impart on those familiar with Tchaikovsky’s music and that have heard the Fifth Symphony many many times! Focussing on smaller extracts of the work to discover new depths about the piece will ensure that hidden meanings within the symphony do not remain so. David will be focussing on Tchaikovsky’s use of melody and what impact that has upon the music.

What are SÓN’s plans for the future?

This year we are taking a step back and doing slightly fewer concerts. We want to use the extra time to think about how SÓN’s can work with the community in the large and diverse city of Southampton. We are interested in coupling art and music with issues of wellbeing and mental health and want to use music as a vehicle for change in people’s lives. We are currently working with Southampton Music Hub as hub partners to work on a series of education projects in schools, including performing an iPad concerto at Shirley Warren school with pupils there. Back in the concert hall, John Lill the acclaimed Beethoven pianist will begin a series of Beethoven final piano concertos starting in January 2018 and culminating with the famous Emperor Concerto in 2020, Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

How can students get involved with SÓN’s in addition to going to your concerts?

SÓN runs an active internship scheme that has had students working on marketing, orchestral management and a creative internship that focuses on creating blogs, podcasts and other media content. We have also run workshops for some of the more accomplished music students at the University with members of the orchestra, as well as including them in certain performances where appropriate. For those with an idea or to express an interest, students should head over to our website for more information.

When is the concert and where can I get tickets?

The concert is taking place at Turner Sims on Saturday 30 September 2017, 19:30. Tickets can be booked by calling 023 8059 5151, booking online or heading to the Turner Sims box office. Student tickets are only £9!

Thanks for your insights Robin. Best of luck for the concert on Saturday and to SÓN in the future!

© són in concert - Chris Christodoulou
© són at Turner Sims- Chris Christodoulou

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