We ask our players and staff which single movements from classical music works really move them, be it emotionally or physically. Discover some new favourites below.
The first movement of Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor made a massive, lasting impression on me the time I first encountered it. As a teenager few pieces had connected with me in the same way prior, and it sparked a love of chamber music and the string quartet medium. The dark, unified opening conveys a rawness of emotion which captivated me immediately, and with my teen angst I found the outpouring especially relatable. I remember listening to it over and over again, even trying to convince other bemused teenagers to listen to it at parties!
Contrasting with the opening, the listener is transported on a flurry of ethereal textures and through harmonies which still feel totally fresh and unexpected today. I love the powerful use of fifths during the climax and the quicksilver harmonic changes in mood throughout. My first time playing this piece was at the Junior Royal Academy of Music with coaching from Raphael Todes, who is now one of our coaches at Southbank Sinfonia. It was an experience which inspired a far deeper connection to music and a love of chamber music which has only continued to grow to this day.
Find out more about Elly here.
Although not technically a movement, I have chosen a track from the film Rocky III. The film was scored by Bill Conti and the track is called Mickey. It is a hugely emotional moment in the film where Rocky’s manager Mickey Goldmill passes away. As a horn player I’m obviously drawn to the horn playing of the extraordinary Vincent DeRosa (who has just turned 100!) It is beautiful writing and playing, you don’t need words, or to even know the plot to be moved by this track.
It was very difficult to pick just one movement, but I came to a conclusion that the one piece of music which never fails to move me every single time no matter what is the third movement from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2. The very first time I heard and performed this piece was in the first year of my undergraduate studies where we were performing this symphony as part of our annual concert series.
I will never forget the first time I heard the lyrical opening theme played by the violins which is followed by the clarinet playing a more peaceful melody. The movement then continues to take the listener travelling through the most romantic and dreamy burst of melodic lines. As a cellist I cannot leave out the passage where the violins and the cellos build up the intensity by playing two melodic lines which feels to me almost as if they are fighting against each other. At last with the call of the brass the music settles back into peacefulness after lots of emotional strain.
It is said that Rachmaninoff was so distressed by the unexpected criticism his Symphony No.1 received that he banned it from being performed in his lifetime. However the Piano Concert No. 2 which he composed next was a huge success, and he moved to Dresden with his wife and daughter to take a momentary break from his busy life as a performer and focus on composing. Symphony No. 2 was written during this time.
Every time I listen to the third movement of this symphony I feel that there is not only beauty but also some sort of torment as well. If I were to compare it to a romantic movie I feel it wouldn’t be a complete fairy tale, but rather a love which has endured many hardships. I also relate to the music in a more general life context - just like Rachmaninoff, we may unexpectedly face hardships during our lifetime, but if we endure it and continue to move on what awaits us afterwards may be a much bigger award.
Find out more about Kelly here.
Founder and Musical Director
As a Coventrian, the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten is a work very close to my heart. My teacher in the Netherlands knew about Coventry through this extraordinary work and yet I fear very few residents of the city know about it and its significance, let alone know it well. It has been my privilege to be involved (as pianist, organist and conductor) in many different performances, each monumental in its way.
Coventry Cathedral Chorus was formed in 1963, a year after the premiere of War Requiem (its early membership included a number of people who sang in the premiere) and has been a regular and much-valued partner to the Parliament Choir that I conduct over the last 20 years. When its director, Paul Leddington Wright (also my former teacher) invited us to join them in a performance to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the old cathedral, I was thrilled and started thinking about a reciprocal performance in Westminster. It also struck me then that it would be a good moment to make the work better known in and around the city of Coventry. There were people like my father still around who could remember seeing the cathedral ablaze on that awful night and it occurred to me that the schools of the city should join together for this project (history departments looking at the world wars — War Requiem poetry from WW1 and the bombing of WW2, English departments at the poetry of Owen and Sassoon and the music departments at war-related composers (Britten, Bliss, Bax, Butterworth — and others not beginning with B!).
The plan was that Southbank Sinfonia players would be resident in the city for a week and, with the children, interview people like my father about their memories, look at the War Requiem and understand its message and significance, then write their own War Requiem with their own poetry and music to be performed in the cathedral the day before. They would have free tickets for the Saturday performance and could bring along their parents for a nominal ticket price. I visited Geoffrey Robinson, then still MP for Coventry North West. I remembered him coming to my school when I was 12 (he clocked up 43 years before retiring in 2019). It was the most fruitful fundraising visit I’ve ever made. He spoke of approaching the Coventry Building Society and other major institutions in the city and I suggested he call them whilst I was there. I left his room with £20,000 pledged. I’d imagined that was the difficult part, but in fact persuading the schools to join the project was much harder. ‘Will it benefit our A-Level results?’ I was asked more than once. I protested that whilst it might or might not, it would be something memorable for the children and give them the opportunity to know and appreciate this crucial work and important part of their city’s history. Thankfully Bluecoat C of E school saw the potential value and hosted the project.
For the performance on the Saturday evening the inside of the cathedral was turned around to have the ruins of the old cathedral as a backdrop through John Hutton’s glass screen. I conducted the chamber orchestra and soloists on the steps of the Chapel of Unity (which seemed appropriate) and Paul conducted the symphony orchestra and chorus (we swapped roles a few days later in Westminster Cathedral). Before the concert the German Ambassador rang the Peace Bell (inscribed ‘Peace, Friede’, it was presented to HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother at a service 20 years before, which marked 50 years since the bombing).
The particular significance of these performances for me was having politicians (inextricably connected to wars) singing alongside the young players of Southbank Sinfonia, all the same sort of age as the soldiers who went off to fight, never to return. Also, having the girls’ choir of the cathedral singing (at both performances) instead of the usual boys made the point that it wasn’t just boys, soon to be young men, who suffer in wars; girlfriends, wives, mothers all had to live for the rest of their lives confronting the effects the atrocities of war had on their loved ones. One of the politicians in the Choir at the time was Admiral Lord West, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism and a former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff. His presence necessitated a full closure of the building before the concert, including a dog search. This represented clearly the significance of politicians singing about war.
I only need to hear a few bars of this powerfully moving work and am instantly overwhelmed with so many memories flooding into my mind. The particular movement that I find so especially moving is the Agnus Dei which combines Wilfred Owen’s poem:
One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ's denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
with the Agnus Dei text from the Requiem:
Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/give us peace.
-sung underneath in a monotonous, plodding 5/8 representing profound exhaustion.
As is so often the case with Britten, it is utterly simple yet so deeply moving.