from Academist to Scholarship Recipient

23 May 2016

Violist Ben Newton, who participated in the MCO Academy 2016, has been selected to take part in the MCO’s June tour, Håkan with Harding, as a scholarship recipient. Scholarship recipients are chosen based on their outstanding musicianship during the Academy project by members of the MCO. 

Born in Manchester, Ben Newton started playing the viola at the age of thirteen. He studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama from 2010 to 2014 with Alex Thorndike, where he was a finalist in both the Ian Stoutzker Prize and the Concerto Competition. He also won such college prizes as the Solo Bach Prize and the annual Chamber Music Prize. Since Autumn 2014, Ben Newton has been studying towards a Master of Music Postgraduate degree at the Royal Northern College of Music with Vicci Wardman, where he is a member of the Vornicu String Quartet. 

In February 2016, Ben Newton was a participant in the annual MCO Academy project, in which he – along with 49 academists – joined the MCO, soprano Christiane Karg, mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and the MCO Academy Choir under Conductor Laureate Daniel Harding in performances of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 2 Resurrection in Essen, Dortmund and Cologne. 

Since 2009, the MCO Academy has offered an educational model that provides young musicians with a high quality orchestral experience and a unique platform for networking and international exchange. In addition to audition training, individual coaching and orchestral playing, the Academy also includes chamber music workshops which emphasize the MCO’s characteristic chamber music approach to music-making. MCO Academy scholarships are generously funded by the MCO Foundation.

Ben Newton shared his thoughts on his time at the MCO Academy 2016 in February, how this experience has influenced his music making, and his goals on the June tour, which features concerts in Cologne (15 June) and Ravenna (19 June) with trumpet player Håkan Hardenberger under the baton of Conductor Laureate Daniel Harding.  

How would you describe the MCO-style of music making? 

The MCO seems to give 110%, whatever the occasion. The musicians are so focused on achieving the best performances that an audience can experience and as a result, are much more driven to enjoy themselves. It is more than a job to the members. 

I think the fact that each member has travelled so many miles says a lot about their commitment to the orchestra. Even though there are so many different nationalities and styles of playing, everyone comes together to make one sound. The orchestra seems like a big family when it is together. 

What do you think are the most important aspects of the MCO Academy?

Having the chance to meet and play with musicians from different colleges in different countries from around the world. 

It has only been a few short months since the Academy project, but has your experience with the Academy influenced the way you approach music?

The Academy has definitely made a big impact on my playing. I came back to Manchester feeling as though my playing had subtly changed. I noticed that I was more able to produce longer lines of phrasing in my playing. I also noticed that I became less preoccupied with my own technique and more focused on the music. 

What was your most memorable moment from working with the MCO?

It would have to be the last few bars of Mahler 2 in Cologne. I remember that although I was feeling so exhausted before the concert, that performance was so “edge of your seat” exciting that I came away with more energy than I had before it had started. There was nowhere else I would have rather been at that moment. 

What was it like to work with the members of the MCO viola section – as colleagues, musicians and mentors?

The MCO viola section was so lovely and welcoming. Right from the first sectional rehearsal, it felt like a very creative and inclusive environment. As academists, we were never treated as students – we were treated as equals and expected to commit the same energy musically as the MCO members did, so it was an inspiring atmosphere to be around. 

Has your experience with the Academy influenced your future plans? 

The Academy really opened up the possibility of working abroad to me. I had never played outside of the U.K. before except in youth orchestras, and since leaving the academy, I am much more open to the idea of travelling. 

What did you learn during the Academy project that you hope to take with you to the tour in June? And beyond?
The main aspect of the Academy that I have taken with me has been “enjoying myself”. I am starting not to worry so much about the technical aspect of my own playing and to really enjoy every aspect of music making. In the months since the academy, I have been lucky enough to play with several fantastic orchestras and ensembles, and each time I have played, I have found something new that I enjoyed, whether it be playing different repertoire, working with different musicians and conductors, or working in a new place. 

Photos: Sonja Werner