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Birmingham Royal Balletís orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia has 24 full-time stringed instrument players including violinist, violists, cellists and double bassists.
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia plays for all BRB performances, unless there are special requirements such as taped music or a solo piano, and normally resides in the orchestra pit at the front of the stage. The strings are split down into sections as follows: First Violins, Second Violins, Violas, Cellos and Double Basses. Each of these sections normally has two to six members (though extra players are brought in
for big ballets such as Romeo and Juliet), and each section also has a principal, who is responsible for some of the details of the music within the section, and also performs any solos. You'll hear several prominent violin and cello solos in Romeo and Juliet.
The principal first violin is called the Leader. His additional duties include deciding upon the bowing for all the string sections. The number of notes a player plays without changing the direction of their bow affects the sound produced. Different bowings are used for loud or soft, or short or smooth notes. Robert Gibbs is the Leader of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Click on his name to find out more about him. When the orchestra performs ballets such as The Four Seasons (a concerto for solo violin and strings), it is Robert who will perform the solo violin part. BRB is performing Oliver Hindleís sporting ballet The Four Seasons in June 2007. Click the thumbnails below to see some photos of The Four Seasons:
More often than not, the string players perform alongside the woodwind (such as flutes and clarinets), brass (trumpets and tubas) and percussion (cymbals, drums and triangles for example). However, some ballets such as The Four Seasons, mentioned above, require just the string players. Apollo is another ballet in which only the strings are required. The music is by Igor Stravinsky and was written in the 1920s, a time of great experimentation in music. Stravinsky wrote this music in what is known as a neo-classical style. What that really means is that he wrote in an updated and modern-sounding version of the clean and tuneful manner in which composers such as Bach, Mozart and Haydn used to write, 250 or 300 years ago.
In order to achieve a particularly rich sound, Stravinsky divides his cellos into two sections, effectively adding an additional instrument in the mid to lower range of the orchestra. He also writes a very prominent violin solo to which Apollo dances. Again, this is performed by the orchestraís Leader. Click on the thumbnails below to see some photos of Apollo: