Michael Betteridge Reveals Ravel for Families

We caught up with composer, conductor and music educator Michael Betteridge ahead of the forthcoming LSO Family Workshop Reveal Ravel, which he will be leading. Read on to find out what's in store at the workshop and learn a bit more about Michael.

Tell us something interesting about Maurice Ravel!
Ravel (pictured in the sketch below) is well known for lots of great music, but what he is particular amazing at is his orchestrations – how he uses the orchestra to bring his melodies to life. His music contains some of the most clever, interesting and beautiful sounds you will ever hear from an orchestra. He was also one of Ralph Vaughan Williams' composition teachers!

The workshop is called Reveal Ravel. Can you give us a clue as to what you will be revealing?
We will be exploring the musical themes, as well as the characters, from his famous Mother Goose ballet. We, like Ravel, will be playing with sounds to create beautiful and bespoke works! I'm not going to say any more than that though!

How would you sum up the piece Mother Goose in one sentence?
A rollercoaster ride of emotions featuring many different characters from your favourite, and not so well-known, traditional tales.

Young people are being encouraged to bring their instruments from home. Can you reassure us that you’ll be able to find a part for everyone from piccolo players to guitarists?
Of course! Ravel loved using all sorts of instruments, so, in the spirit of Ravel, all instruments will be more than at home as we 'reveal' his music.

Does everyone have to be able to read music to take part?
Not at all. This is a workshop for anyone who wants to know more about Ravel, or creative music-making in general. We will have lots of exciting percussion instruments alongside those who bring instruments from home and we will be doing a lot of work by listening, experimenting and working with the players in the room. If you can read music though that's brilliant and we may use your skills!

What difference will it make having LSO musicians in the workshop?
The LSO is one of the best orchestras in the world so having players to work with during the workshop will be a brilliant experience for anyone involved. They can play almost ANYTHING and the quality of the sound they make is just fantastic. They also are really excited about the music they play and that always lights up a room.

You’re a composer. Which composers do you look to for inspiration? 
Interestingly John Adams is a favourite of mine! I love the energy and rhythm in his music. My tastes are very eclectic and I'm a big fan of opera and musicals as well as orchestral music. Benjamin Britten is brilliant, as is the American musical theatre composer Stephen Sondheim. Both bring characters to life in their work so successfully and beautifully. I also like Thomas Adès, who, like Ravel, is a great orchestrator and creates really exciting sounds from the orchestra. Steve Martland, like John Adams, has a fantastic energy to his music, and I'm also inspired by the fact he believed that everyone should be involved in music-making regardless of experience. Oh, I could go on all day answering this question...!

American composer John Adams (pictured right) is conducting the concert after our workshop. Do you have a favourite work of his you’d encourage families to listen to?
I have so many John Adams favourites! I love his opera Nixon in China and the aria 'News has a kind of mystery' which is a sort of musical version of the speech made when President Richard Nixon was the first president of the United States to visit the country. Having said that, I think either his Short Ride in a Fast Machine or his Lollapalooza are a good starting point. The former is one of the most energetic pieces of classical music I know, the latter is a really fun piece based on the word it's named after. It was a fortieth birthday present for Sir Simon Rattle when he was conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra! I wonder whether Sir Simon will get the LSO to play it when he becomes their Music Director in 2017...?

How old were you when you started playing and composing music?
This will make me feel old ... I actually started piano lessons just before my 4th birthday! I should be better at the instrument considering how young I started. My mother actually recently found some 'composition' sketches I had made when in primary school, but they're not full pieces. I wrote songs throughout my teenage years and a tiny bit of classical music, but discovered writing for the concert hall when at university. I really fell in love with composing in my third year of university and haven't stopped since.

Has music enriched your life?
I couldn't imagine life without it. My friends always joke that whenever music is playing (even in restaurants, lifts, etc.) I switch off and pay more attention to that than them! The buzz I get after being in the audience of a really good concert is the best feeling in the world. What excites me most is how social a world it can be and how sometimes 'working' doesn't feel like work because you're creating and making with other people.

What else have you done with the LSO?
My first role with the LSO was as UBS Composer-in-Residence at a school called the Bridge Academy in Hackney where I taught composition to GCSE and AS Level students as well as leading workshops with LSO players. Later I was a member of LSO Soundhub, a scheme for emerging composers, with one of my collaborators, Jake Thompson-Bell, where after lots of experimenting (!) we created a piece called Serenade which was performed by players from the LSO in January 2014. It's a really fun piece in which the players are split into teams and have to read 'graphic scores', i.e. music that doesn't look like traditional music. At the same time they have to listen to the sound of either a rattle or dice to cue them to move to the next score. They collect points when they play a certain amount of these graphic scores and the team with the most points wins!  

Recently I wrote a very big piece for LSO Members and 80 beginner instrumentalists from Tower Hamlets and Bexleyheath. The young players (pictured left) helped me come up with the ideas for the piece which they practiced over several months before performing in June earlier this year. The piece was called look mum... no hands! and was the story of a fictional bike ride across the city. Nicola Benedetti, the famous violinist, also played in it as a soloist which was really exciting for everyone involved.  

How do you feel when you hear the LSO perform live?
Electric! The Orchestra is one of the best in the WORLD and you can really hear that every time they perform. The attention to detail, but also to telling a story through the music they're making, is unrivalled in this country.

Michael Betteridge will lead the half term LSO Family Workshop
Reveal Ravel on Thursday 29 October (6.15pm, Fountain Room, Barbican). The workshop is for families with 8- to 14-year-olds and includes access to the LSO concert that evening. Click here to buy tickets and find out more.

Also during half term, bring your 4- to 7-year-olds and assorted adult relatives to our Family Open Day based on the theme of Alice in Wonderland, Sunday 25 October 10am–4pm at LSO St Luke's. Click here for more details and to buy tickets.