Mathematical Advantage

Tuesday 6th February 2018

Review by Mike Wheeler


Music and maths have been knocking around together since – oh, I don’t know when. So it was a natural progression for Sinfonia Viva’s annual schools residency to move from last year’s engineering-themed project to this year’s ‘Mathematical Advantage’.

Regular workshop leader James Redwood was joined in steering it by composer Raph Clarkson and singing leader Rachel Wilkes from Derbyshire Music Education Hub. Clarkson also wrote three of the songs, with poet Hazel Gould. The others, together with two instrumental pieces, were devised by the participants. Fourteen players from Sinfonia Viva were on stage, with Frank Zielhorst, who takes up the post of the orchestra’s Principal Conductor in a month’s time.

An entertaining survey of some basic mathematical principles explored the idea of symmetry in the first Clarkson-Gould song; multiplication in their second, ‘Times Tables up to 12!’ (much more fun than those black and white wall charts some of us grew up with). In case we were still in any doubt about the connection, Firs Primary School reminded us that ‘Music makes Maths’. Derby College took us round the concept of ‘Infinity’. Twelve audience volunteers came on stage to be a human note-row, followed by a gently lyrical demonstration of the principle in action in the second movement of Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments from Sinfonia Viva. We went into fractions with Becket Primary School’sPizza Party’, and Littleover Community School bundled all the evening’s ideas together in their instrumental piece ‘The Getaway Snail’.

Sinfonia Viva gave us their take on the idea of symmetry in Contrapunctus 1 and 7 from JS Bach’s The Art of Fugue, lucidly orchestrated by Frank Zielhorst. The circling, proliferating lines of Pärt’s Fratres offered us another taste of infinity. Katie Smith’s introduction to the Fibonacci sequence led to Debussy’s use of Fibonacci proportions in Viva percussionist Graham Hall’s orchestration of Reflets Dans L’Eau. Finally, after the irregular rhythms in three of Lutosławski’s Dance Preludes, everyone came together for the last Clarkson-Gould song, ‘Itself and One’, exploring the mysterious world of prime numbers.

It all added up (sorry) to another heart-warming showcase for what kids can do, given half a chance and the right encouragement.