Applying for Southbank Sinfonia: Frequently Asked Questions

We naturally expect you to have lots of questions: for some of the most common ones, you will find the answers right here. We also recommend that you download the Application Pack.

There is no fee to apply or audition for Southbank Sinfonia’s fellowship, our annual programme for graduate musicians.

Yes. Demand for places in Southbank Sinfonia is high and sometimes players who eventually gain a place in the orchestra were unsuccessful on their first or second attempt. If you have applied before but feel you have made good progress since then and would like to try again, please do not give up. When applying, it’s important that you tell us in your form what new things you have done musically and how you have progressed since your last application.

Owing to the intensity of the programme, this is not usually practical so we strongly recommend you wait and apply once you have graduated. If you are planning on taking a gap year, or other exceptional circumstances prevent you from applying for Southbank Sinfonia once you have completed your studies, we may still consider an application from a student. However, in addition to your application, you must also arrange for your Head of Faculty or whoever runs your degree course to send us a detailed letter about your situation, vouching that they are willing for you to put Southbank Sinfonia ahead of studies next year.

Officially there is no age limit for Southbank Sinfonia though principally we are here to help people in the first few years of their career, so most members are usually in their twenties. Some have just graduated, but others have already been working for a few years, so you can still apply even if you left education a while ago.

This is rare but we are happy to have a conversation about it. It may be that we can help you decide what would be the best instrument to apply on based on your experience so far, or – in exceptional circumstances – we may be able to accept two applications from one person. If you would like to talk about this, please contact us at auditions[AT]southbanksinfonia[DOT]co[DOT]uk and we can chat further.

No. Many Southbank Sinfonia players have completed an undergraduate or postgraduate music degree in the UK and are therefore familiar with living and working in a major UK city, but each year we also welcome players who have studied abroad.

Every country has its own specifications about whether a visa or any other documents are needed to work in the UK, so you should check online what is expected of you. We have authorisation from the UK Border Agency to assist a small number of musicians to gain a work visa to move to the UK for the duration of the Southbank Sinfonia programme. We encourage applicants to arrange their own visas wherever this is possible (for example with a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa). We regret that if you are not able to arrange a visa for yourself which enables you to live and work in the UK for the period of Southbank Sinfonia’s programme, we may be unable to take your application forward, but you are warmly welcome to contact us at auditions[AT]southbanksinfonia[DOT]co[DOT]uk to discuss this in more detail if you are not sure of what is required.

The simple answer: at this stage, we hope it won’t affect you.

In more detail: as you are likely aware, Britain plans to leave the European Union on 31 October 2019. The British government is still working on the terms of this, but it is expected that any negotiated outcome will include a continued period of 'freedom of movement' with other EU and EEA countries. It is likely that musicians based in the EU or EEA would still be able to participate fully in our 2020 fellowship without the need for a visa. 

We are following this issue very carefully and will update our website and contact all mainland European players who have completed an application should this situation change.

Whatever happens, we are committed to welcoming musicians of all nationalities, both from the EU and beyond. At the heart of Southbank Sinfonia is an amazing collection of cultures, languages and personalities that make our orchestra all the stronger. As an organisation, we are actively committed to the principle that music transcends borders and that dedicated musicians from overseas have much to contribute to Britain’s diverse musical heritage, just as British musicians do abroad. We will keep doing all we can to ensure talented young musicians can join us and make a positive impact in Britain. As a result, we hope you will apply for Southbank Sinfonia. If you have any concerns relating to Brexit and would like to talk to one of the team, we are very happy to hear from you.

Yes. All of our team, guest artists and partner organisations converse and write in English, so it’s vital that you have very good use and understanding of the language.

In order for you, and all your fellow players, to get the greatest value from being part of Southbank Sinfonia, we do expect you to commit to the whole programme from February to November. Our usual working pattern allows you many Mondays, Fridays and weekends to pursue your other career interests. Occasionally some concerts and workshops fall on these days but we will provide you with a list of these ‘dates to note’ when first joining, and then in good notice throughout the year.

If you already have musical commitments planned for next year, you can tell us about these at your interview and we can address together whether you would be able to fulfil them. During the programme, if you get a work opportunity with a notable professional ensemble, venue or festival that is likely to make a genuine difference to your orchestral career prospects – such as an audition, trial or concert with a major orchestra – we will always consider the possibility of granting you an ‘NA’ (not available) meaning that you can miss some activities to facilitate this, with a relative deduction to your bursary. Naturally, we expect you to participate as much as possible in the programme - principally so you can derive all the skills, insights and experience that being a full member of Southbank Sinfonia offers - so NAs cannot always be granted, but we always aim to help you in the best way we can.

The fellowship provides unparalleled opportunities to gain crucial orchestral experience and the skills that a 21st musician needs to thrive. In addition to orchestral music, there will be many opportunities to rehearse and perform chamber repertoire at our base and at prestigious venues further afield. You will also be given the chance to be considered for a concerto performance with the orchestra during the programme.

In addition to being part of an orchestra, we are also mindful that each of you will have individual professional goals. These are determined by you at the beginning of the programme, with regular opportunities to reflect on your progress with our Artist Development Manager throughout the fellowship.

As part of #ConcertLab, you will be encouraged to think beyond the conventions of classical music, challenging yourselves to explore how your art form could evolve. Each year’s experiments are bespoke, but you might find yourself collaborating with choreographers, lighting designers or theatre directors as you pioneer new ways of thinking and performing.

Presenting to an audience or networking with potential funders can be a daunting prospect for many musicians. Workshops led by actors and voice-coach specialists will help you build the technical skills and confidence to speak fluently in a variety of contexts, from the concert hall to receptions. You will also have the opportunity to contribute to marketing materials, with coaching from our Communications team in video production, blog writing and social media. Networking opportunities are rife throughout the year, helping you to make new contacts who will prove invaluable throughout your career.

The ability to communicate in a passionate and engaging manner to audiences of all ages is vital for musicians. It is every musician’s responsibility to help ignite a love for classical music among new generations. Just as with every professional orchestra, this forms a crucial area of activity for us and is something all players need to embrace enthusiastically. Many projects will see you create and devise your own content, helping you to build the skills and confidence to lead workshops and projects in the future.

Southbank Sinfonia players are expected to find their own accommodation for the year. We strongly recommend you find somewhere within Greater London so you do not have to travel excessively; this is especially important on occasions when we have concerts at venues around the UK and return very late at night to London when much of the local transport has shut down and only night-buses across the city and taxis are available. Many Southbank Sinfonia players live with friends or other young people in flats or house shares; others rent rooms from families or individuals who are happy to accommodate young artists. If you have difficulty finding somewhere to stay, we can usually help make some connections for you.

If you know anybody who has been in Southbank Sinfonia in recent years, we strongly recommend you ask them about being in the orchestra: they will be able to give you a good impression of the many opportunities it involves and the commitment it requires.

Team spirit is one of the most important ingredients of Southbank Sinfonia, so there’s a very friendly atmosphere not just among the orchestra, but also with the staff who are all here to help you excel, and our family of supporters whose generosity and belief in your potential helps make Southbank Sinfonia happen every year.

Being a professional orchestral musician is hard work. The programme is therefore action-packed and features some long days and late nights, but every year players build up the energy needed to thrive, standing them in good stead for a career in music. At the start of the year, we will spend our initial days in London plunging into repertoire for our first concerts alongside activities that help shed inhibitions and enable us to start feeling like a real team. Early in the programme, we have a short residency out of London developing our sense of ensemble, delving into chamber music and creative workshops. We could tell you more about what it’s like being in Southbank Sinfonia, but if you know people, who have already been part of it, make sure you ask them. Here’s what some recent members have to say:

‘My experience with Southbank Sinfonia has surpassed my expectations. I had anticipated a busy and rewarding programme but never could have expected to have taken on as many exciting and interesting artistic challenges such as those undertaken over the past nine months.’ Jonny Abraham, trumpet

‘I never expected to have such a fantastic time, or be able to say I'd played so many major London venues. The repertoire we played particularly exceeded my expectations, as did the standard of the players involved.’ Luke Russell, flute

‘My expectations were to cover a large amount of repertoire and to see what life in a professional orchestral job would be like. Southbank Sinfonia has met my expectations and far, far more - I think the opportunities I have had this year have been incredible and I feel very lucky to have had them.’ Letty Stott, horn

If you have any further queries about the programme or the audition process, please do not hesitate to contact us on auditions[AT]southbanksinfonia[DOT]co[DOT]uk or you are welcome to call our team on 020 7921 0370 and we will be very happy to give advice.


Find out how you can apply to join Southbank Sinfonia in 2020.

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From world-class collaborations to leadership, health and communication, find out how the fellowship helps musicians to develop.

Find out more