Hannah Nepil talks Music and Neuroscience

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The concert on Thursday 27 November at Cadogan Hall, featuring conductor Alessandro Fabrizi and pianist Alexandra Dariescu, is dedicated to Music and Neuroscience – a scientific project that aims to develop and deepen understanding of the relationship between the themes of music production and science.

Picture the following scenario: you’re feeling under the weather, so you make an appointment with your GP. After a lot of ho-humming, they dispatch you to a specialist, who prescribes three hours of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto shaken up with half an hour of Haydn’s Nelson Mass – to be taken twice daily with food and absolutely no Wagner.

Ridiculous? Maybe somewhat. But it’s not quite as unrealistic as you might think – a fact testified by the ever-increasing number of scientists specialising in the health benefits of music. Music, they tell us, lifts our mood; improves our sleep quality; lowers our stress levels; helps to ease pain; increases our endurance; even enhances blood vessel function. But it is perhaps in the field of mental disorders that we see some of the most cutting edge research. This is a key interest of the Centre of Scientific Research (CSR; chairman: Susanna Castaldo) and the Italy-based Saint Lucia Foundation, which, in collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, host an evening of talks at Cadogan Hall this November.

The event is part of a project entitled Music and Neuroscience, which aims to investigate the impact of music on mood, communication and expression in dementia sufferers. It’s a field ripe with potential: research has indicated that even some patients with advanced dementia respond to familiar songs, even when they fail to recognise close friends and family members. What’s more, singing is often used as an alternative to speech therapy, as a means of rebuilding confidence in verbal communication.

So far, however, the majority of studies into the field have focused on small, non-randomised samples of sufferers, meaning that concrete conclusions are not within easy grasp. Nor does the subjective emotional landscape of music submit easily to scientific research, with its emphasis on specificity. Listening to the Nelson Mass might make us feel uplifted, but in what way exactly? And doesn’t it depend on the mood of the listener beforehand? Still, an increasing number of studies have indicated a beneficial effect of music on anxiety and other psychological symptoms in patients with dementia – a finding on which the CSR and the Saint Lucia Foundation hope to build in the coming months.

‘Music and Neuroscience’ takes place at Cadogan Hall on 27 November 2014 at 5.30pm, followed by a concert of Beethoven, Grieg, Mascagni and Dvořák by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Alessandro Fabrizi and Alexandra Dariescu at 7.30pm.

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Under the Stars 2014

The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, joins Every Child a Musician (EcAM) participants and RPO musicians for Under the Stars.

The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, joins Every Child a Musician (EcAM) participants and RPO musicians for Under the Stars.

Yesterday evening (Sunday 17 August 2014), seventeen Every Child a Musician (EcAM) participants from the London Borough of Newham were given the chance of a lifetime as they performed their very own creative composition alongside the RPO at Newham’s annual Under the Stars concert.

The piece was written over four days of creative workshops with RPO musicians, during which participants learned about Elgar’s Enigma Variations before trying their own hands at writing themes and variations about friends, family and people in their community.

In the build-up to the final performance, we asked the participants what they thought of this whirlwind week:

@RPOresound on Twitter: "Relaxed ECaM post-rehearsal debrief @cadoganhall. No energy left after all that composing! @NewhamLondon"

@RPOresound on Twitter: “Relaxed ECaM post-rehearsal debrief @cadoganhall. No energy left after all that composing! @NewhamLondon”

“I personally think that this opportunity/week has been amazing and spectacular. We’ve been challenged by identifying various notes within complex phrases. I learnt new techniques and the project helped me improve my musical skills and I feel honoured. The RPO were fantastic and it was brilliant watching them rehearse. And we even saw the conductor accidentally throw his stick; it was extremely hilarious. Despite us working hard, we still had the most fun of our lives. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” – Ahmed, 11

“I really enjoyed my week this week. It was very difficult in the beginning, but as we got to put it together it sounded lovely and I hope I will get another chance to work with the RPO and Under the Stars.” – Jessica, 12

“I enjoyed this project because I learnt new notes in the music and had fun doing it. This has made me better at playing trombone and at playing music. I learnt that if I make mistakes, I just have to learn from it and try again.” – Enock, 11

“I really enjoyed this week because I got to spend the whole week with my friends and hear all the different instruments, such as the vibraphone, which I had never seen or heard before. I am quite nervous for the performance because I have a two-bar solo, as well as a quartet playing the original ‘Enigma’ theme. I am also excited to meet the Orchestra. I would rate my experience as 11 out of 10!” – Ellie, 12

This project was in partnership with London Borough of Newham and took place at East Ham Town Hall and Cadogan Hall on 11–14 August, culminating in a final performance at East Ham Central Park on Sunday 17 August.

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An Interview with Cristian Mandeal

Mandeal, Cristian 13-14 brightened

Cristian Mandeal conducts the first concert of the Orchestra’s 2014-15 season at Cadogan Hall next month. Hannah Nepil speaks to him.

When Cristian Mandeal guides the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra through Franck’s Symphony in D minor this September, he will aim to steer a path between two cultures. ‘This symphony sits on the boundary between a French and German mood,’ he says. ‘There is a flexibility to it, which is more appropriate to French music than German – but it’s not French in the same way as Debussy or Ravel or Berlioz. It is a mood which is very specific to Franck.’

On the topic of bridging cultural boundaries, Mandeal has plenty to say. The 68-year-old Romanian conductor tells me that he has lived ‘two lives’. The first, which lasted until the ‘nineties, was based entirely in eastern Europe under Nicolae Ceauşescu’s regime. I made a lot of friends then because that was the only way to have a decent life.’ The second, beginning with the death of Ceauşescu and the fall of communism in 1989, saw him make a career in Western Europe. That’s why his CV boasts roles ranging from permanent conductor of the Cluj-Napoca (Transylvania) Philharmonic Orchestra to Principal Guest Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, Manchester.

Growing up in a family of talented amateur musicians – his father played the piano, his mother the violin – Mandeal initially studied the piano, before deciding to focus on conducting. But being a musician in Romania at the time, as he points out, was far from straightforward. ‘The possibility of travelling was very limited. And, as a musician, you were restricted to specific repertoire. Religious music was not accepted. You could not conduct the Requiem by Brahms or Mozart for example. You were obliged to conduct a lot of national Romanian music. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad.’

Still, he developed an affection for some Romanian repertoire, that he still holds today. In addition to the work of – probably – the best-known Romanian composer George Enescu, Mandeal regularly champions new works by fellow countrymen, such as Ede Terényi and Cornel Taranu. ‘There are very European aspects about all of these composers, but you can recognise the moment you hear their music that there is something very particular which belongs to Romanian culture,’ he says. And what is that? By way of explanation, he launches into a comparison of Romanian and Gypsy music – the latter also prevalent in his homeland. ‘Gypsy music comes from all over Europe and it has a very eclectic style. Romanian music comes from the countryside and it is a very old aesthetic,’ he says. ‘It comes from the deepness of the earth.’

Cristian Mandeal conducts a programme of Beethoven, Brahms and Franck at Cadogan Hall on Tuesday 23 September 2014 at 7.30pm.

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A Look at Behind the Lines

Behind the lines logo

RPO resound’s year of Behind the Lines activities culminates in a four-day creative Summer School this August. Hannah Nepil finds out more.

What was Elgar’s favourite ice cream flavour? And was he ever burgled? These were two of the questions posed by children taking part in Behind the Lines, a year-long education project run by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Westminster Music Library, exploring the music of the First World War. And luckily, Elgar specialist Simon Baggs fielded the answers excellently: whilst there is no documentary evidence about Elgar’s favourite flavour, he could regularly be seen coming out of Woolworths in Worcester with an ice! And he was burgled once, in 1918, by two ex-policemen.

The project began last October, and carries on until summer this year – coinciding with the 100th anniversary of July 1914, when the War broke out. Adults, children and teenagers of all musical skill levels were given the chance to take part in one of several courses running throughout the year, each devoted to a different composer influenced by the events of 1914–1918, among them Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Bliss, Ravel, Ivor Gurney, George Butterworth and Holst.

Although the adult groups did involve practical music making, they tended to focus on discussion of these composers and the themes in their music. The children’s groups, meanwhile, were a little more physically demanding. They would begin with a trip to Westminster Library, where everyone would ‘have a great exploratory time, pulling scores from the shelves, encouraging on-site musicians to read them there and then getting to run round,’ says Ruth Currie, the RPO’s Head of Education. ‘We also had the idea of using the shelving units as ‘trenches’, where people could retreat to come up with ideas.’

Then came a listening and discussion session, in which ‘we would ask the children to imagine what they heard in the music,’ says Detta Danford, who led a Vaughan Williams workshop in June. ‘In the London Symphony, one of them said it sounded like a memorial to somebody. And in The Lark Ascending, someone imagined a man walking out on his own into an icy landscape.’

The final challenge was to create musical responses to the pieces they had heard. ‘We got our children to think about the idea of landscape in Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antartica, Pastoral Symphony and The Lark Ascending,’ says Danford. ‘Then, in our heads, we went on our own musical journey to three different places: the countryside, to the sea and finally to a carnival, using Vaughan Williams’ approach to composition as inspiration.’

As for the ‘war’ element? While the adults were keen to get into the nitty-gritty of what war meant to individual composers, for the children it was more a case of ‘listening to musical devices, such as loud splurges that sound like rifles going off,’ says Currie. ‘Then we’d get them to create their own explosion sound or their own beautiful countryside scene that suddenly dissolves into bloodshed and war. Obviously they grasped onto these ideas quickly. They loved doing it.’

The Behind the Lines Summer School runs August 4–7. For more details visit: www.musicbehindthelines.org

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Meet the Management: Huw Davies (Development Director)

Huw Davies image

Tell us a bit about your working history before joining the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).

I started my career as a professional cellist, initially as a freelancer playing in West End shows, recording sessions, orchestras etc and then as a member of the BBC Concert Orchestra. One day, a colleague very helpfully suggested that as I wasn’t very good at being told what to do, maybe I should move into arts management – and tell people what to do! So I stopped playing (the music profession heaved a huge sigh of relief!) and began working on the business side of the music industry.

How did you get involved working at the RPO?

Having done various jobs in arts management, I decided to gain experience in the corporate world and moved out of the music industry for a few years; my path crossed with Ian Maclay’s (RPO Managing Director) and he invited me to establish a development department at the RPO. It was too good an opportunity to pass up……!

What does your job entail?

The RPO Development Department is charged with diversifying the Orchestra’s revenue streams via sponsorship, private benefactors, trusts/foundations and events to help enable the RPO’s artistic goals and outreach activity. Or, put simply, raising money!

Describe a typical working day for you (if there is such a thing!).

I’m an early riser and am usually in the office by 8.15am. A large part of my day revolves around meeting and inspiring people who might be able to help the Orchestra, by sponsoring a concert or tour, joining the RPO Chair Partner Programme or supporting an outreach project. Building a strong network is crucial and I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen! You never know where a connection might lead. If the Orchestra is in London I usually host current or prospective supporters at evening concerts.

Tell us about some highlights of your time working here at the RPO.

Artistically, one of the highlights of the 2013/14 season was the Orchestra’s performance of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé conducted by Charles Dutoit, who is a true master of French orchestral music; also, the amazing American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, singing Les nuits d’été by Berlioz. From a fundraising perspective it has to be the Royal Gala Concert & Dinner, which the Orchestra’s Patron HRH The Duke of York hosted last November at Windsor Castle, a truly magical setting. The weeks leading up to the event were immensely stressful, but we had a wonderful evening that raised a significant sum of money for the Orchestra’s community and education programme, RPO resound.

How do you relax in your spare time?

With a very full-time job, two small children and a demanding wife, spare time is an absolute luxury, but I do love to cook and enjoy a good bottle of wine!!!

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