Harmony and Solidarity: The National Ballet Orchestra
by Caroline Dickie
May 17, 2021


Members of the National Ballet Orchestra during a recording session for Apollo. Photo by Paul McNulty.

By definition, an orchestra is an ensemble, a large group of musicians playing different instruments together. While the type and genre may vary, and solos are common, the true power of any orchestra rests with precisely this quality of togetherness. So, what is an orchestra in the absence of in-person gathering? The COVID-19 pandemic has forced orchestras worldwide to engage with this question and discover new ways to create and play music together.

In the spring of 2020, Music Director and Principal Conductor David Briskin worked with the musicians of The National Ballet Orchestra to record a gorgeous rendition of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod from his Enigma Variations. Listening to it, you would never know that each part was recorded alone, in living rooms, home studios and basements on personal devices and computers. You would never know because the lasting impression it gives is one of harmony – musically and personally, as an expression of solidarity among artists who know their power as a group, who love playing music together. 

David Briskin

David Briskin. Photo by Karolina Kuras.

“Years from now,” says David Briskin, the Nimrod recording “will serve as one of the most memorable artifacts to remind us of what we have been through. In the face of separation, isolation and uncertainty, we created an ensemble and a musical community from individuals separated by time and distance, recreating what happens organically and naturally when an orchestra gathers and plays together. Hearing it fills me with hope and reaffirms my certainty in a vibrant future when we meet in person once again.”

In December, under strict health protocols and social distancing measures, members of the orchestra came together for the first time in nine months. Members of our cello, bass and percussion sections recorded David Bontemps’s music for Trase Pa by Kevin A. Ormsby; the musicians were also featured within the film itself. In addition, 24 members of our strings gathered to record the music for George Balanchine’s Apollo, which will be released as part of the Balanchine Programme on May 26.

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