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New Gwilym Simcock work performed by virtual orchestra from five music schools

Peter Bacon reports on a new commission and collaboration to honour 40 years of the Music and Dance Scheme:

A new virtual orchestra bringing together around 80 young musicians currently studying at the UK’s five specialist music schools – Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, The Purcell School in Hertfordshire, Wells Cathedral Music School in Somerset and the Yehudi  Menuhin School in Surrey – has released, on YouTube, a performance of Union Overture and Celebration. The new work for symphony orchestra and jazz ensemble was commissioned from former Chetham’s student Gwilym Simcock.

The brass, woodwind and percussion sections of the five-school orchestra

The new commission and collaboration celebrates 40 years of the Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) which gives support for specialist music education in the UK. MDS funding enables access to classical education regardless of financial background.

The filmed performance is the result of an unprecedented collaboration, written and performed during lockdown, and is the first time that five separate orchestras, located hundreds of miles apart, have been able to collaborate so successfully, and on such a large scale.

Union Overture was an exciting project for me, that drew upon the unique set of skills that students learn at the specialist music schools in the UK,” Gwilym Simcock explained. “The piece was written in two weeks, and then the students had just two weeks to learn and record their parts, before I combined them together into the finished recording. The skills required for the musicians to do this are ones that they’ll need for the rest of their careers in music, and there really aren’t any better places in the world than these fantastic musical institutions here in the UK for them to learn their trade in such depth and to such a high standard. I really hope that audiences enjoy the piece, and the hard work all these students have put in to make it possible.”

Gwilym Simcock, who called the project ‘a massive undertaking but a great experience for me’, composing at home in Berlin. Photo: Gregor Hohenberg

He added: “I’m extremely proud to have been a student at Chetham’s for nine years. Undoubtedly, what I learned there has given me the opportunity to have a very enjoyable and fulfilling career in the music industry. The funding that allows pupils from all backgrounds to attend these wonderful institutions is absolutely crucial, and without it the musical world in general would be a much poorer place – and more importantly so would many, many young lives.”

Established in 1981, the UK government’s Music and Dance Scheme (MDS) allows talented young performers to fulfil their potential by funding world-class specialist training at one of the UK’s famous five specialist music schools. The scheme has provided a vital education for many of the country‘s finest musicians, such as Nicola Benedetti, Jacob Collier, Martin Bartlett and Steven Osborne.

A spokesperson for the five schools said: “Now is a special moment, as we join forces and begin to mark the 40th anniversary of the UK government’s MDS funding. This support has been vital to so many of our finest classical musicians. We must now do even more to widen this access and we hope new performances like this will start to raise broader awareness of the scheme.”

The piece was broadcast for the first time yesterday morning, simultaneously launching on the YouTube channels for all five of the specialist schools. The audio was mixed by Gwilym Simcock and the video edited by Tom Bell. Watch and listen to it here:

LINK: More information about MDS 

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