Friday, 20 March 2009

Sheffield Chamber Orchestra

I've now completed post-production on a shoot with the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra. This long-established group of around 40 players gives three concerts a year, under their two resident conductors, Robin McEwan and Richard Haworth. I was commissioned to provide rehearsal images, formal shots of the orchestra and conductors before the concert, and shots during applause. The occasion was a concert at Firth Hall, University of Sheffield. The soloist in Beethoven's Violin Concerto was Jiafeng Chen.

Before the shoot, I found inspiration in the work of David Bazemore. I wonder how he achieves such fine images? They set a standard for photographers working with classical musicians. Of course, actual performance in concert dress gives stronger images of musicians at work than does rehearsal. But camera noise can be an issue, more for audience than for performers. A sound-deadening enclose for the camera, known as a "blimp", is very expensive.

Of course, the quality of imagery you can get is constrained by the extent to which the players are able and willing to adjust to the needs of the photographer. Most of my work with classical musicians has been opportunistic -- and, hopefully, minimally obtrusive -- rather than resulting from time having been dedicated to a photoshoot. For example, cleaner images of groups of players could be obtained by re-arranging the platform to isolate small groups. But this would not be compatible with effective rehearsal. However, the SCO rehearsal shoot could have been improved simply by taking the time to clear the auditorium of musicians' belongings and darkening the windows.

So I tried to convey the atmosphere of rehearsal, including visual communication among players and conductor, and including the informalities of the rehearsal context. I hope SCO members will feel free to add their comments as to how far we succeeded in this.

As always, I found it hard not to be distracted from my work by enjoyment of the music. But I was free to enjoy the concert itself. Although an "amateur" orchestra, SCO members have all achieved at least Grade 8 on their instruments, so their playing is excellent. And Jiafeng Chen was stunning in the Beethoven, obviously a rising star of the violin.

I'm grateful to SCO for favouring me with this commission and hope the images do not disappoint.


Steve said...

This is a splendid set of photos taken under difficult conditions. Having photographed orchestral rehearsals myself, I know how hard it can be, with difficult access and camera angles, poor lighting and the overall desire not to get in the way or distract the musicians.

David is to be congratulated for portraying the Sheffield Chamber Orchestra in such a lively way which perfectly captures the spirit of the musicians, conductor and soloist.

David Shapiro said...

Thanks, Steve, for your kind comments. Especially since you know the challenges of this work.