Arch Sinfonia performs at Cecil Sharp House

Arch Sinfonia at Cecil Sharp House

An innovative orchestra reinvents the traditional classical concert in a local performance

Arch Sinfonia is a chamber orchestra born from a desire to break down the invisible wall between artist and audience. Last week, the players, led by their conductor Chloé van Soeterstède, blew the cobwebs off the high-ceilinged hall at Cecil Sharp House with their interactive take on the classical concert. For each piece, five members of the audience could sit amongst the orchestra. 

Watching young children scramble up on stage to sit amongst the players and alongside older guests, painted a powerful picture of the importance of music for us all. “It is a very different way of hearing the music”, Chloé explains, “the balance isn’t correct, but it is thrilling to face the conductor and be so close to the musicians. They are invited to feel what we feel on stage.”

The repertoire was a miniature odyssey in French music inspired by Chloé’s Parisian roots. We heard lesser-known works by Bizet and Chabrier, as well as Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte and Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1. Acclaimed cellist Nadège Rochat joined the stage for the concerto, gracing us with an emotive and enchanting performance. 

There was a playfulness to the orchestra in both sound and spirit; the instruments spoke to each other, guided by Chloé’s fluid movements. At times she appeared to be sewing the air, a tapestry of music streaming out of her gestures. The silence at the end of the Ravel was particularly captivating, the orchestra breathing as one organ.

What does it feel like to conduct an orchestra? “You are the musical guide for the players and the audience. I work mainly on my own, trying to understand what, why, how the composer wants their music to be performed. It’s like being a detective in a way”, Chloé tells me. Her approach involves immersing herself in the historical context of the piece in an attempt to understand the sound world, it’s textures and history. “I also analyse the score, zooming in on its structure, tonality and other details.” 

She explains how there cannot be any doubt involved when she’s on the podium. “You have to guide everyone towards your vision. When you eventually work with the orchestra, you get to express what’s been in your mind for weeks. It is a powerful feeling of sharing and achievement.”

At the end of the concert, the audience were asked to listen to two excerpts and vote on the piece of music they think should be in the next concert. “Through shaping the programme together, we keep the connection with the audience”, Chloé explains. 

She expresses her hope that people leave feeling inspired. “You open the doors of the concert hall and embark on a story. Either there is a feeling of energy, joy and exuberance, or, if the piece is heavier, a feeling of reflection where you go home and think about what you experienced.” Keep an eye out for Arch Sinfonia’s next one-hour concert, where you’ll get to hear what we voted for last time.

MUSIC IN CAMDEN

Stay up to date with Arch Sinfonia’s next movements here.

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