Photography by Eugene McLaughlin
With its breathtaking range of musical activity, Orchestra of the Swan, under the Artistic Direction of David Le Page, is passionate about audience inclusivity as exemplified by its adventurous and accessible programming and pioneering work within the community. Founded in 1995 and based at the Warwick Schools Foundation (WSF), we work in close partnership with the WSF, The Courtyard Hereford, Drapers’ Hall Coventry, Stratford Play House and Number 8, Pershore alongside music education hubs, the Armed Forces, Coventry University and the Birmingham Conservatoire. Community organisations are at the heart of our operations, ensuring all activity is designed for, and with, the communities in which we work.
Our innovative mixtape albums, which present an eclectic range of styles and often blur the lines between genres, have achieved over ten million audio streams globally. Delivery of activities for people living with dementia, visual impairment, mental health issues and a range of disabilities, affirm the profound therapeutic power of music. Our regular family concerts, school and university workshops offer us the chance to explore and create fascinating musical experiences for new generations.
We perform over 45 concerts per year in collaboration with distinguished guest conductors and solo artists, bringing the music of the world’s most celebrated composers to our loyal and evolving audiences. Our strong commitment to new music has resulted in the commission and premiere of 72 new works from composers such as Roxanna Panufnik, Dobrinka Tabakova, Errollyn Wallen, Huw Watkins and Trish Clowes.
Our themed Night Owl concerts take place in an intimate cabaret-style, in which many of the potentially intimidating classical performance protocols are refreshingly absent. New audiences subsequently feel more relaxed and can engage more spontaneously with the music. These performances are often creatively lit, make use of projections, staging, and narration, and feature a wide variety of guest artists, not only from the classical world but from other genres; while a dynamic new touring series – Swan Projects – is gaining momentum. The first of these is Earthcycle, a project, with associated educational resources that focus on the impact of climate change feature Vivaldi’s Four Seasons alongside a new commission by jazz/baroque composer and Associate Artist David Gordon, interspersed with four folk songs arranged for orchestra by David Le Page and sung by Jackie Oates.
Covid lockdown was the spur for a dynamic new strand of digital creativity which is now key to our identity and purpose. Our mixtape albums – Echoes, Timelapse, Vivaldi Sleep, Labyrinths – feature music ranging from Bowie and Bach to Rameau and Radiohead, Frank Zappa to Manuel de Falla, have reached the Top 40 in the UK Classical Charts, been nominated for Gramophone awards, and generated over ten million audio streams on music platforms globally. These albums are supported by 7 themed digital concerts, innovatively filmed with staging and specialist lighting, with a contemporary audience in mind. Our latest mixtape album Echoes features 14 tracks including orchestral arrangements of songs by Frank Zappa, Adrian Utley, The Velvet Underground and A Winged Victory for the Sullen alongside classical standards by J.S. Bach, Delius, Max Richter, Philip Glass and Finzi, the album will be preceded by the release of four singles.
Integral to the life of The Swan, is the music we bring to those living with dementia, PTSD, visual impairment and other conditions. It is moving to see the positive, transformational effect our players have on those who attend our regular dementia friendly Café Muse in Hereford, Stratford and Southam; to those in regional care homes that have reopened post covid; and to visually impaired pupils at Priestley Smith Specialist School in Perry Barr; while the players speak positively of the reward and specialist training they in turn receive.
Key partnerships include our new residency at the Warwick Schools Foundation with its superb range of music-making venues and facilities, enabling us to reach into the musical life of the entire county. We achieve this through cross generational concerts, mentoring, educational workshops and students playing side-by-side with orchestra members. Also key, is our new partnership with Sense Touchbase Pears in Birmingham, exploring how to bring the joys of music to people with complex disabilities, particularly the deafblind.
The urgent concern about climate change and the impact of the human race upon our physical world, has inspired new strands in our programming and educational outreach as embodied by our Earthcycle project. In partnership with the Stratford Literary Festival, we have created a series of podcasts featuring environmental journalist George Monbiot and audio producer and science writer Madeleine Finlay. In partnership with Escape Arts and Felicity Robinson of Landscapes Naturally, we are embedding the principles of the European Erasmus environmental project PAPPUS (Plants and Play Producing Universal Skills) in our work with schools through our Nurture Nature videos for primary schools.
This vibrant and diverse range of musical activity makes The Swan truly an orchestra for all, and an indispensable and relevant part of the regional community.
Photography by Eugene McLaughlin
“Nothing defines the Orchestra of the Swan better than its commitment to new repertoire….(with) programmes (that) have a knack of making connections which are genuinely stimulating”