On 31 March 2019, the Britten Sinfonia Academy, talented young instrumentalists from the east of England, went on a family-friendly musical tour exploring the stories behind the collections in the Museum of Zoology, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Britten Sinfonia Academy (BSA) has a longstanding partnership with the Fitzwilliam Museum which began in 2013. March 2019 saw this unique collaboration extend to include two other University of Cambridge Museums (UCM): the Museum of Zoology and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Together we offered, for one afternoon only on Sunday 31 March, a family-friendly musical tour across the three UCMs telling stories related to each museum by presenting music and a specially written script to audiences.  To do this the BSA divided into three smaller chamber ensembles with a member of the Britten Sinfonia as their tutor in each case.  Each performance included a new piece written specifically in response to the stories by a young person from the BSA Composer hub.

A view from above of the musicians performing in the middle of a gallery
BSA perform in the heart of the Museum of Zoology

12.30 was the time of the first performance at the Museum of Zoology.  Here the story went back to the great naturalist Charles Darwin and the voyage of the Beagle.  Great to hear this story told in a Museum which still displays some of the treasured specimens collected on that memorable journey.

The music performed was:

  • Arnold: Sea Shanties Movement 2
  • Berio Opus Zoo: “Barn Dance”
  • Jasper Eaglesfield: Seasickness
  • Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals highlights

At 14.00 the second performance began on the first floor of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA). Visitors could listen to the music in the first floor gallery or from the second floor balcony. The repertoire took inspiration from the voyages of Tupaia, an 18th century Pacific navigator. From his home of Raiatea, Tupaia travelled to Tahiti, where in 1769 he met Captain Cook. Tupaia travelled with Cook on the Endeavour through the Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia. Objects from these places were pointed out to the audience by MAA volunteer Ali Wallis who commented:  ‘The music was lovely and Britten Sinfonia Academy played beautifully. I really enjoyed being part of the concert.’

The music performed was:

  • Mozart Flute Quartet in D major Kv. 285.
  • Percy Grainger: Molly on the Shore & Mock Morris
  • Alexander Watson: Tupaia
After the Wedding by L.S. Lowry, Fitzwilliam Museum.

The final performance began at the Fitzwilliam Museum at 15.30 in the gallery containing works of art from the 20th century.  Here a romance between Tom and Mary was constructed across four paintings, taking them from a chance meeting by an apple tree in summer, to a Chestnut Wood in a storm in Autumn on to a fitting for a wedding dress and finishing with the above scene following their wedding in the painting by L.S. Lowry shown above.

Performing in the Fitzwilliam’s 20th Century Gallery

The music performed was:

  • Paul Reade ‘Summer’ from A Victorian Kitchen Garden.
  • Sarah Henderson: Chestnut Wood
  • Ravel Introduction & Allegro

Of course none of this just happened without a great deal of work.  Plotting and planning took place over months between the learning staff across the three museums and Britten Sinfonia.  As for the young musicians, Britten Sinfonia Academy brings together talented secondary school age instrumentalists from the east of England with its own world class chamber musicians. Each year Academy members take part in four special projects, learning how to perform collaboratively and trying out new skills, styles and musical genres whilst being mentored side by side by Britten Sinfonia players.

Since 2013 one of these four special projects each year has been held at the Fitzwilliam Museum, and this year the Museums of Zoology and Archaeology and Anthropology. We look forward to more adventures involving our UCM collections.