10 for 10: Alumni Q&A with Matt Featherstone

10 for 10: Alumni Q&A with Matt Featherstone

Matt Featherstone

flute, 2011 

To celebrate ten years of the partnership between Southbank Sinfonia and EFG Private Banking, and to highlight how together we have helped musicians from across the world build successful and varied careers, we are presenting 10 for 10: 10 alumni stories over 10 months shining a spotlight on the achievements of our brilliant alumni. 

In this month's edition of 10 for 10, we caught up with 2011 flautist Matt Featherstone about what he's been up to since completing the Southbank Sinfonia Fellowship.

What motivated you to join Southbank Sinfonia originally?

I had very little experience in orchestral playing at the time and felt that being immersed in an orchestral academy day in day out with the chance to learn alongside some of the greatest orchestral players would be the best way to bridge the gap between conservatoire orchestral playing and professional orchestras.

What is your favourite memory from your time in Southbank Sinfonia?
I'm sure a lot of people have mentioned this but our trip to Ischia and Anghiari was the best moment for us to all bond and enjoy those amazing places. I could never forget the pizzas, the gelatos, the summer evenings playing music outside, and enjoying getting to know the locals while trying our hand at some questionable Italian pronunciation!

What have you been up to since completing the Southbank Sinfonia fellowship?
Towards the end of my time in Southbank I actually started the trial for my current job as principal flute of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which is where I'm fortunate to spend most of my time playing some fantastic repertoire with a lovely bunch of colleagues. Alongside my orchestral work, I've also been working with my flute, harp, and viola trio; I teach at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I've kept some activity as a session singer and beatboxer, and have released an EP as a singer songwriter.

Matt showing off his varied musical talent in a song reflecting on life in lockdown

How did being in Southbank Sinfonia help you in your achievements since leaving the orchestra?
Playing consistently in an orchestra no matter what your personal circumstances are - whether you're feeling tired, on top of the world, or out of shape - is a massive learning curve. Staying on top of the note learning is an obvious skill, but actually it's all the other stuff no one talks about. Southbank was a great place to understand the inner workings of an orchestra behind the scenes: the interaction with the management when there's an issue, how to handle frustrations or tensions within an ensemble, and how to be a good principal and second player in your playing, but also pastorally. These are all things I worked out, sometimes the hard way, in Southbank, and they helped me a lot later. I also learnt how to keep the variety of musical activity I enjoy whilst playing in an orchestra, and saw how much scope there is within an orchestra setting to branch out, in education work and community projects, working across genres and collaborating with other art forms.

What might a typical working week look like for you at the moment?
This has been a very odd few months for us all. I feel incredibly fortunate to have the security of my BBC job in these times and my heart goes out to all the freelancers trying to make ends meet. For us, we've been recently focussing on small ensemble programming so I've been lucky to have a few programs I could be involved in. It's not as busy as my usual schedule, but it's keeping me playing. So typically at the moment I'll be going in to work for two or three days, a bit of teaching either online or in the college, and the rest of the time I'm looking after my 2 year old who's very active and keeps me on my toes! He's lots of fun.

What goals do you have for the future?
I'm trying not to worry about the future too much these days because there's a lot of uncertainty ahead. I think one of my goals is to keep enjoying orchestral playing whilst managing to balance the other fun musical activities around it that help me keep it fresh, and flourishing in my family life. On a smaller scale, over lockdown I've enjoyed making a cappella videos, writing some new songs, and learning the guitar so I'll try keeping that up.

Do you have a message to pass on to Southbank Sinfonia supporters?
I think we are all incredibly grateful for the supporters because they allowed us to have such a great experience at Southbank Sinfonia. Obviously, now more than ever, the arts need support, not only for the artists wanting to learn, but for us all so that when we come out of this we can continue enjoying the excellence in our culture that we thrive on. At the moment, a lot of artists are questioning their relevance so thank you for also believing this is important!

Find out more about Matt here.