Orchestral Management at the CBSO

Ruth Sanderson at CBSO:

I’ve now spent three weeks working at CBSO Centre.  I am working mainly within orchestral management, which involves all aspects of the day-to-day running of a professional symphony orchestra. No small task with around 100 musicians and three concerts per week!

My work has been split between administrative work at CBSO Centre, working in the music library and at Symphony Hall for rehearsals and concerts. CBSO Centre (just off Broad Street) has just undergone a £2 million refurbishment, including new acoustic panels and lighting in the main hall where the orchestra rehearse. The building was officially reopened by HRH The Earl of Wessex – shame I missed it by a week! My desk is in the office on the 2nd floor, where sounds of the orchestra rehearsing drift in. I’ve enjoyed sneaking into the rehearsals from upstairs and getting a bird’s eye view of the orchestra in work!

A huge perk of the job is getting free tickets to CBSO concerts which I have been making the most of. In the last two weeks I’ve been to two concerts – Bartok and Brahms with Ed Gardner conducting and Strauss and Brahms last week, conducted by legend Walter Wellar. Walter is an Austrian conductor in his 70s, who conducted the whole of Brahms’s First Symphony (about 45 minutes of music) from memory! I had the honour of taking him from his dressing room to the rehearsal room on Tuesday and was a little bit starstruck. Seeing the whole of Symphony Hall, orchestra included, cheering him at the end of the concert was a great moment.

For this concert I was given the task of writing and operating the surtitles used during the concert for Strauss’ Tone Poem Don Quixote. I was sat in the lighting box at the back of Symphony Hall auditorium, armed with a laptop and a full score of the music. Having to follow the music and time the surtitles on the overhead screen was very exciting – with a mere 2000 people watching, no pressure! Luckily my finger didn’t slip and I hadn’t made any typos – phew.

I am also involved with the recruitment process for the orchestra – processing applications, scheduling auditions and helping the audition days run smoothly. Places for musicians in professional symphony orchestras are extremely competitive – most positions attract hundreds of applicants, for which only one can get the job. The calibre of applicants is very high – most will have played their instruments since early childhood and spent at least four years studying at music conservatoires. As a violinist, having a peek at the recent violinist applicant’s CVs has been extremely interesting (and slightly depressing…they have all been to X conservatoire and studied with Y, have played 300 concertos and had master classes with all the world’s top performers…whatever).

Another interesting aspect of my work is to do with the Concerts & Planning department. As well as scheduling all of the orchestra’s UK concerts, they also plan 2 to 3 tours per year. This year, they have already been to France, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg, and in December they travel to Abu Dhabi for two concerts in three days. Sadly the intern doesn’t get invited on this! The tours have to be planned well in advance to allow travel, conductors, soloists, venues and the musicians to fit together – a huge task. I’ve been working on travel for the tour in May 2015, making sure that flights fit around the rehearsal and concert schedule and adhere to Musician’s Union contract rules.

Over the next few weeks I will be working on a number of concerts at Symphony Hall, a trip to Cardiff St. David’s Hall, Bassoon auditions, a UK premiere performance and Christmas concerts presented by Hugh Dennis! However I still think that my biggest challenge will be trying to learn the names of all of the orchestra members…all 100 of them!




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