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The Glasshouse

"Fifteen years after leaving Young Sinfonia, I’m back."

by composer Anna Appleby

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I’m certain that if I had not had the chance to play in Young Sinfonia at Sage Gateshead as a teenager, I wouldn’t be a composer now.

I clearly remember sitting onstage at the vast Gothenburg Concert Hall, proudly – and shakily – awaiting my oboe solos in Holst’s The Planets. The shaking was a cocktail of nerves, excitement, vending machine coffee, and the overwhelming realisation that I had found something I was passionate enough about to do every day for the rest of my life: music.

If you told fourteen-year-old me that I’d go on to hear my own compositions performed in concert halls and opera houses around the world, I might have passed out into the viola section.

The friends I made at Young Sinfonia were the first of many musicians to give me a sense of complete belonging. I experienced a lot of imposter syndrome as a child growing up in Newcastle without any belief that a career in music was open to me. I thought those opportunities were reserved for children who went to specialist music schools in London.

I’m very lucky to have encouraging parents who brought me up playing and listening to everything from Bach to The Beatles. They supported my wild career choice.

I’ve also received guidance and inspiration from many teachers along the way. Still, it was the community, mentorship, education and creative challenges I experienced at Young Sinfonia that took me over the big hurdle of considering myself a musician.

This confidence and camaraderie, along with the touring opportunities and masterclasses available at Sage Gateshead, set me on a path to better understanding how to become a full-time musician.

There were many challenges to face including interviews for university, conservatoire and composition residencies. Beyond this, as a composer I constantly face the battle with the blank page. But, I often remind myself or my friends that nobody can stop you playing or writing music except yourself. It is then a gift to have people to share that music with, to communicate with.

The beginnings of professional training that Young Sinfonia provided, helped me discover a sense of core purpose through all of this.


Composer Anna Appleby and Young Sinfonia conductor Helen Harrison

Fifteen years after leaving Young Sinfonia, I’m back! I’ve been commissioned to compose a piece with and for Young Sinfonia and conductor Helen Harrison.

Over the course of the year, I’ll work alongside the young musicians in three sessions, not including the final performance. The first was back in October when the focus was on getting to know one another and creating short group improvisations inspired by some abstract graphic scores that I painted. The second session is a chance to try out my sketches for the piece and work on ideas together. And then in April our focus will be on perfecting the final score.

The result will be performed in the summer and might not be what you’d normally expect to hear in a classical concert. It will have three movements, named after three iconic landmarks that every Geordie arriving on the train over the river greets like an old friend: The High Level Bridge, the Tyne Bridge, and the Gateshead Millenium Bridge.

The music will be a journey through time, beginning with big tunes and big rhythms, travelling through industrial sounds, and ending with an electronic and ambient soundscape created live in front of you by the orchestra themselves.

I want everyone who plays music to have that spark of self-belief that their creative voice matters, and what better way than being part of an orchestra or ensemble where you contribute to something larger than yourself?

So, we’re collaborating over a series of workshops so that each member of the orchestra gets a chance to contribute to the ideas behind the piece, develop a sense of their own vision and build creative confidence.

They will also learn more about how to make and perform contemporary music. My aim is that by the end of the project, as well as performing a world premiere that’s written especially for them and their skill set, every member of Young Sinfonia will have a greater sense of how to be a composer.

(And, they will know better than to try coffee for the first time on tour in Sweden!)