Sheffield's Bridge to diversity for classical musicians

Bridge musicians, cellist Elliott Bailey, violist Jesse Francis and violinists Ken Fairbrother and Raye Harvey
Bridge musicians, cellist Elliott Bailey, violist Jesse Francis and violinists Ken Fairbrother and Raye Harvey

Music in the Round has held its first-ever chamber music residential for young musicians of BME backgrounds.

Young musicians Elliott Bailey, Ken Fairbrother, Jesse Francis and Raye Harvey were joined by leading violinist Rakhi Singh and violist Ruth Gibson for five intensive days of coaching and rehearsals last month.

The players, aged between 18 and 22, are the first to take part in a new Bridge scheme coaching young musicians of BME backgrounds, thought to be the first in the UK.

Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, a professional double-bass player and founder of Europe’s first majority black and ethnic minority orchestra Chineke!, is patron.

She said: “I am delighted to be patron of a scheme that has taken positive action to improve access to all in an industry that can often feel frustratingly immune to change.

“The difference we seek to make in the Bridge project is to encourage young musicians to feel confident in themselves and to know that they truly belong in the classical music industry.”

The musicians were based at the University of Sheffield’s music department for the duration of their residential. They had two intensive coaching sessions with Rakhi, music director of the Manchester Collective, and Ruth, violist with Ensemble 360. They spent time being filmed in session at Yellow Arch Studios and had a photo shoot with Sheffield photographer Chris Saunders, who has worked with Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley.

Rakhi said: “Bridge is filling a gap in the chamber music education of this country. There’s nothing like it as far as I know. So I think it’s amazing that Music in the Round has taken the plunge and given this opportunity to this group of people of this age. And I’m really excited to be part of it during its first year.”

Elliott, aged 22, from Rotherham, said: “The excitement of working with new people and playing new music together for longer periods of time made it easier to stay focused and work to really make a difference to the way we played the music.

“I think it has completely achieved what was desired because it has given us the opportunity to not only work with other BME musicians, but the filming and the recordings have served as a stepping stone to something greater that will send the message that people who look like we do have a place in classical music.”

The four will return to Sheffield later in the year for further rehearsal and coaching sessions. They receive a bursary to help support them in their studies this year.

The musicians will perform together in 2019 as part of Classical Sheffield’s Classical Weekend and in Music in the Round’s annual Sheffield Chamber Music Festival. There are plans for the Bridge scheme to evolve and include many more young musicians.

Music in the Round’s learning and participation manager Fraser Wilson said: “Classical music is for everyone, not just the privileged few, and taking one measure of diversity – the ethnic make-up of most performing groups or audiences – shows that it’s not yet representative of wider society.

“We’re in a great position at Music in the Round to bring about positive change, opening up chamber music to more people, and we’re glad to be doing it.”

For more details, email fraser@musicintheround.co.uk or call 0114 281 4660.