You never know, two years out when formulating a celebratory weekend, what the weather might hold for you. Choosing June – the dates originally determined by availability of Wigmore Hall for a whole weekend – might put the odds in our favour for good weather, but it is Britain we’re talking about, with its famously fickle climate. We could just cross our fingers and hope, especially when the stars aligned and we were able to include Multi-Story Orchestra in the mix at its south London home, Bold Tendencies in Peckham.
It seems strange, now, how long the gestation was for the BBT20 celebrations – five concerts and a film screening over three days, opening at Bold Tendencies with a première performance of new BBT Community, The Multi-Story Orchestra, then moving to Wigmore Hall for four diverse programmes ranging from Dowland and Purcell, through Bach, Schubert, Mahler, Ravel and coming right up to date with UK premières of two BBT commissions. The logistics of choosing potential programmes (the job of our Artistic Committee: their success reflected in how little their original ideas actually changed), the invitation to 24 BBT artists to participate (with only one major change of artist in the meantime), hotel and flight bookings, rehearsal and instrument hire arrangements and finally – my job – the creating of the schedules. By the end of it I felt I could recite the full schedule from memory!
So it was a relief, the day before BBT20 officially started to meet Italian percussionist Simone Rubino at his hotel and accompany him down to Bold Tendencies for rehearsals. The waiting game was over and – thankfully – the weather gods were smiling kindly on us: the sky was blue and the sun was out. Climbing the dayglo pink staircase (I think I counted 52 steps) – technically it’s ‘bubblegum pink’ and Simon Whyrbay’s 2016 artwork, hi boo i love you – I introduced Simone to Kate and left them to it.
It was at Ilaria Borletti Buitoni’s insistence that we include something surprising in the weekend. The idea of including The Multi-Story Orchestra at home at Bold Tendencies was quickly agreed upon, and its success in receiving a 2023 BBT Communities grant allowed Kate Whitley and the orchestra’s 13 Young Creatives to come up with a major commission to help celebrate BBT20. Working with five local schools the work was uniquely created to reflect their own concerns. Verified is about the pleasures and pitfalls of social media, the highs you get from likes and the lows that result from the negative aspects of the technology: burn-out, blocking, bullying and cancelling. It’s a powerful message, delivered by four soloists, orchestra and massed choir.
Kate, who herself was a BBT Artist in 2014, had the pick of fellow BBT artists and, alongside Simone Rubino, she chose violinist Hyeyoon Park and soprano Ruby Hughes. Thankfully Ruby had recovered from a throat infection she’d had earlier in the week and was able to perform. It was also her birthday – so BBT provided a cake with three Roman candles on top!
If you’ve not been to Bold Tendencies, it’s on the top floors of a decommissioned car park. The top is open to the elements which is used as an alfresco art gallery space and also boasts Frank’s Bar for refreshments and the compost toilets. Multi-Story’s performing space is the next level down – covered, but open at the sides. It was here that our photographer Simon Weir amassed the young choir members, sporting our specially designed T-shirts, around Kate and Ilaria for some pre-performance photographs, as the expectation mounted.
Once BBT’s guests had arrived, alongside parents and friends, conductor Adam Gibbs set the piece in motion, the choir’s initial euphoria, craving validation, tempered by Hyeyoon Park’s lyrical violin line, leading – inexorably – to Crash – where Ruby Hughes and fellow soprano Francesca Chiejina portray the hollowness after sharing so much (let alone being open to others’ views). In and out of focus came the tuned percussion from Simone. It’s an extended listen – some 45 minutes – and received an ecstatic reception. It is surely Kate’s most ambitious and successful work, all-the-more so because of the collaborative nature of the composition. Two of the Young Creatives took the mic to give a round of thanks and Kate was resoundingly cheered at the small reception afterwards.
Behind every magnificent performance is an awful lot of unseen hard work. With Myffy Dymond and her cohorts at Multi-Story; and Toby Taylor, Tom Kelly and all at Bold Tendencies (especially Devon), as well as BBT helpers, Simon Ndungu and Laura Lavender – seen above, proudly sporting our BBT20 Verified T-shirts – there was a deep sense of satisfaction with being involved in such a bold and successful evening.
And we, at BBT20, still had four concerts and a film screening to go….