An interview with Artistic Director Gijs Kramers

Gijs Kramers, violist and conductor, is our Artistic Director. After conducting the Ricciotti Ensemble in the Netherlands for seven years, he came up with the idea to form a similar orchestra in London. We interviewed him to find out more:

Tell us more about the Ricciotti Ensemble…
The Ricciotti Ensemble accidentally came into existence when a group of teenagers were asked to play some baroque stuff at a pop festival back in 1970. 11 musicians prepared a piece which was at the time attributed to Carlo Ricciotti. A few years later it proved he never composed this piece at all, but the name was already too established to drop. After having performed the gig (which went down really well) they wanted more and played the piece two more times: once in a train station and once in an old people’s home. That day two ideas were born:

  • To enjoy different styles of music in one event.
  • To take symphonic music to the streets – in any case, out of the concert hall.

After this initial start it took Ricciotti a good 15 years to develop to a 40-piece street orchestra, and it’s still going strong! I played the viola in Ricciotti when I was a student in the late 90s and became artistic leader and conductor in 2006. I passed on the baton in 2013 to Leonard Evers, who is still in charge.

What was the inspiration behind creating the Street Orchestra of London?
I believe the concept of a street orchestra is incredibly strong as it shows the power of music in its most direct and effective way. Having lived in London for about 15 years, I felt there would definitely be a place for a project like this, as this city has a strong community spirit, a lot of great places to perform, and most importantly a lot of people that are deprived from hearing and enjoying music. Combining those things resulted in a strong urge to set up something similar to Ricciotti.

What’s the difference between conducting SOL and a more traditional orchestra?
There are quite a few differences obviously, but the main one is that it is much more fun! In SOL the players are incredibly flexible and up for anything, which is something that certainly can’t be said for every orchestra. Technically there are differences too: because we don’t do sound checks or warm ups the role of the conductor is important in a guiding way. Every performance is in a different acoustic so the way the players hear each other is different too. This is one of the most challenging things when keeping a high standard.

What’s been the highlight from the last two tours for you?
There have been two: the gig at Kings Cross in June 2016, as this was the moment I knew for sure that SOL “worked”. It took Ricciotti a long time to establish itself, but with SOL we gave ourselves only a few days. The performance at Kings Cross was at the end of the first day after the rehearsals and everything just clicked into place: a great momentum, lots of energy, creativity and very good and convincing playing, and all that even without a microphone or electric bass! The other one was the last concert of the April 2017 tour. We performed in a refugee centre and really managed to engage all the people attending. They loved everything we did, even the more abstract pieces and we got pretty much everyone dancing!

What did you learn from the debut tour?
That SOL is really quick in learning new music and picking things up swiftly. The amount of repertoire we prepared in just 2.5 days is pretty incredible. The players found the rehearsal schedule a bit harder to cope with than their Dutch counterparts though so for the second time we took it slightly easier, only rehearsing 7.5 hours a day!

How did people (audience members) respond to the orchestra?
The reactions we get are incredibly positive, from people that might hear and see a violin for the first time in their life at one of our gigs, to those who are used to going to concerts but see with us how much fun music making can be. Because we are specialised in playing many different styles and properly engage and involve our audience no one ever gets bored when we perform. People are impressed with what we do this because we show and share our love for music and feel strongly about taking it to a wide audience, especially in these rather dark times. 

What would you say to someone who is thinking of auditioning for the orchestra?
Do it!

Come and hear us perform live during our upcoming tour (13-16 July). We will be playing in Leicester, Coventry/Warwickshire and London!