This year, 17 OMF string players performed in a mammoth production of Britten's community opera, Noah's Flood, produced by Manchester Collective and Slung Low and featuring 180 singers from Ingram Road Primary school. Two performances took place at The Warehouse in Holbeck, the home of people's theatre company Slung Low; and at Mayfield Depot in Manchester as part of the Manchester International Festival 2023. OMF's Chief Executive, Jo Yee Cheung, recounts this amazing project!
In preparation for the project, OMF string players (all brand new to orchestral playing!) worked with BBC Philharmonic Orchestra cellist, Jess Schaefer, to explore the music for Noah's Flood and hone their ensemble skills. OMF teachers, Alice Needham (violin), Nadia Eskandari (violin) and Polly Virr (cello) also worked behind the scenes to support pupils to learn their parts in time for the big performance - highlighting scores, making practice videos and offering encouragement between sessions. Orchestral rehearsals took place at Hallé St Michaels and Hallé St Peters in Ancoats, which some children recognised as the venue where they also take their music exams.
On Friday 7th June, the OMF gang boarded a coach for Holbeck in Leeds, ready for the first performance! This was the first time all 250 participants had been together, including the professionals musicians leading the orchestra, members of the Hallé Youth Orchestra, Junior RNCM and the incredible singers/animals from Ingram Road Primary School. After a quick dress rehearsal and dhal for dinner (thanks Slung Low!), we jumped straight into the performance - narrated by Manchester's very own Lemn Sissay as the 'Voice of God'.
After a quick rest on Saturday, we prepared to perform on home turf at Mayfield Depot for Manchester International Festival on Sunday 9th July. The cavernous warehouse in Manchester was an amazing setting for the performance (particularly given the rainy weather outside!) with the whole audience singing along and cheering as the 180 pigs, lions, dinosaurs (?), jelly fish and other animals ran up the aisle onto the stage and into the ark. Our young string players were now feeling pretty confident and played with great enthusiasm and gusto, supported by their proud families and friends in the audience. Some of our young musicians even made their television début, speaking assuredly and eloquently about their experience of being involved in Noah's Flood and what they've learnt from the project. You can watch the BBC News interview here.
Noah's Flood has been an unforgettable experience for all involved - musicians, children, families and all of the incredible people working tirelessly together to make it all happen.
Britten's intention in writing Noyes Fludde was to involve his entire community in the opera - expressly stating that the opera should be performed in 'churches and large halls' (NOT theatres), and writing parts for amateur string players, school choirs, local bell ringers and percussionists on slung mugs. In doing so, he created a work which brings people from all walks of life together through music and offers opportunities to make new friends with people different to yourself as part of the process.
At a time when music education where is under constant threat and it is becomingly increasingly difficult for young people without financial resource to access music education, projects like Noah's Flood are poignant in their rarity. Professional performers and young musicians play an equally important part in Britten's community opera - the opera cannot exist without either group - and the same can be said for our music sector as a whole. There are no festivals, performances or adult professional musicians without children learning to sing and play instruments, and this cannot happen unless their are opportunities for children without financial support to do this over a sustained period and for free.
We are so happy and proud to have played a small part in Noah's Flood, and grateful to our wonderful friends at Manchester Collective and Slung Low - thank you for this incredible opportunity and reminder of the power of music. We won't forget it!