Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra: The vanishing composer

The Stoneleigh Youth Orchestra are working alongside conductor Ben See as part of Adopt a Composer. In this blog one of the orchestra's conductors, Dan Shilladay, tries in vain to find out how the piece is coming along, but the composer keeps up a vanishing act.

I’m the conductor of Stoneleigh Youth Training Orchestra, but as most of our composer’s visits have been to sectional rehearsals, I’ve not yet seen or heard much of Ben’s new piece, or the sessions that have been its crucible.

I got as close to a sneak preview as I’ve yet managed in April at our concert-in-a-day workshop, where Ben and I were both in attendance. Our plan was that he would work with each section in turn during the morning’s rehearsals - a handy change of scene for everyone involved from the frenzied main work of the day on Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre.

But as I toured the different rehearsals, our adopted composer was always somewhere else. Was he here at all? ‘He’s just gone!’ ‘Try the brass’ ‘You’ve just missed him! Maybe if you run...’

The double basses shared conspiratorial smiles before recalling a tantalising loop of instrument body tapping rhythms. The second violins told me that something their principal said had given rise to a working title. The suspense was palpable. I finally caught up with Ben and the cellos. Snippets and fragments of music were batted backwards and forwards, weighed up, looped, discarded, noted down for safe keeping. All too soon it was lunch, and all was tidied away. Back to Saint-Saens - was the new piece any more real than the waltzing skeletons? 

The sectional tutors are in on the secret, too. I suspect they enjoy relaying the general excitement of Ben’s sessions without anything as satisfying as details, never alone hard notes on staves. 

So now the term is practically over and I shall have an agonising wait over the summer before we begin work on Ben’s finished score in September. What will it be like? I can’t wait to find out and be in on the secret.