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The Royal Ballet Sinfonia (RBS), the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet has 15 different sections within it.
These sections are as follows:
First violins and second violins, violas, cellos and doublebasses - these are all stringed instruments, played with a bow or plucked
Flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons - these are woodwind instruments, and are blown through a reed or mouthpiece. Traditionally these instruments were made from wood, hence the name, but today can be made from metal or plastic as well
Horns, trumpets, trombones and a tuba – these are the brass section. They too are named after the material that they were traditionally made from.
Last, but not least, there is a harp and the percussion section.
A full list of players, including short biographies of the Section Principals, can be found here.
Although the RBS only regularly includes two players for each woodwind and brass instrument (except for perhaps three trombones and only one tuba), some ballets require more. It is also quite usual for wind players to play more than one instrument during the course of a performance. For example, the second clarinet player might double up on the bass clarinet as well.
Sergei Prokofiev's orchestra in Romeo and Juliet requires a lot of different instruments, including some unusual ones such as a saxophone. On top of the usual violins, cellos, flutes and trumpets, he asks for a cor anglias (or English horn - a deeper-sounding member of the oboe family), bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, contrabassson (an even lower-sounding member of the bassoon family), one harp, and a vast battery of percussion instruments. These include timpani (or kettle drums), military drum, snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, xylophone, glockenspiel, tambourine and triangle! As if this weren't enough, there is also an important part for a piano, an instrument not usually found in an orchestra, and a celeste, a light bell-like instrument that Tchaikovsky used when he wrote his 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' in The Nutcracker.
As well as playing for Company ballet class and studio rehearsals, when a piano is needed in the orchestra, one of BRB's pianists will join the regular players in the pit. If the piano part is an orchestral (i.e. non-solo) part, them one of the Company Pianists will play. However, if the music for the ballet is a piano concerto, much like the lead violin will play a violin concerto, then Jonathan Higgins, the Principal Pianist will usually perform the solo with the orchestra. Click on his name to read about him.