Blog – Sistema’s Jukebox

It seemed, in Juan Gabriel’s own words, a crazy idea – an interactive concert where the running order was chosen on the night, by the audience. In the end, it was undoubtedly a triumph. A unique, bespoke performance that showcased the talents of Sistema in Norwich’s amazing Tutor team.

For two consecutive Friday evenings, the Tutors took to the stage at Norwich’s Blake Studio and dazzled audiences with their repertoire. The format was thus: opening with a starter of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3 and with Crystal Plohman’s Celtic Canon, an arrangement of Pachelbel, as dessert; the main course, as it were, were the seven pieces in between. These seven pieces were chosen from a menu of 21 options, presented to the audience in seven genres: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary, Jazz, Musical & Film and World. Seven members of the audience, drawn from a hat at random, each chose a genre and then, from a brief description, the piece from that genre that they wished to hear.

The ensemble had rehearsed all the pieces, but walked out onto the stage with no idea which they were going to perform that evening. Some, such as Mezzo soprano Ellie Wright, couldn’t even be sure whether they would be called upon at all, yet all committed to the format and delivered two consummate sets which delighted our audiences.


The two evenings differed wildly, with only Angerer’s Toy Symphony being performed on both nights (who could resist the opportunity to hear a piece including a toy rattle, a cuckoo and a nightingale?). That particular piece, pleasingly, ended up as the final of the seven pieces on 1st April and was then the first to be chosen on the 8th, making a nice segue for those of us lucky to be there both nights. Our audiences seemed to lean towards pieces for strings the first week, and more towards the woodwind and brass offerings on the second performance, giving the two evenings very different atmospheres. The versatility of our talented team was certainly tested.

We heard from composers as varied as Purcell, Gluck, Brahms and Leonard Bernstein, and even pieces composed by Firdevs Eke and David Ingham, two more of our Tutors who formed part of the ensemble (playing piano and a selection of woodwind instruments respectively). Ellie, who will be leading Sistema in Norwich’s new choir sessions, got to show her range by performing a compelling performance of Rogers & Hart’s My Funny Valentine one week and a haunting Ebarme Dich from Bach’s Matthaus Passion the next.

The ensemble also featured Anouk Smit, the most recent addition to our Tutor team, on violin; Vilem Hais on Double Bass; Ingrid Perrin on Cello; Hebe Raval on Trombone (and toy trumpet!) and Ben Winn on percussion. Even Alistair Watts, our Programme Manager, took to the stage on percussion for a couple of numbers, as well as compering the evening. Juan Gabriel Rojas, our Musical Director, led the ensemble as well as playing violin.

As a non-musician myself, it was a welcome chance to see colleagues I thought of as tutors showing their own musical skills in a performance setting, and the one thing that really sunk in was what an amazing opportunity it is for the Sistema in Norwich students to learn from such accomplished, talented and committed musicians.

The future of the programme couldn’t be in better hands.