It’s hard to believe that it was November 2013 when Ensemble Reza performed their first official concert in Cuckfield.
The time has passed very quickly.
But anyone who was in Holy Trinity Church that night will understand the level of talent and passion that these musicians have.
It’s the kind that leads to longevity.
That evening the players offered a soul-stirring concert of Arensky, Mozart and Brahms, and since then they have gone from strength to strength.
Cellist Pavlos Carvalho is looking back happily on his time with the group, but he’s also looking to the future.
“It gets more and more exciting as the years go by,” says Pavlos, the now 42-year-old son of Lindfield cellist Santiago Carvalho.
“We always wanted to do these concerts and have this kind of group but I don’t think we expected it to become such a central part of our lives.”
The group’s managing director Hannah Carter has worked tirelessly to set up different concerts and education projects, says Pavlos.
But, he continues, another big reason for the group’s busy schedule is simply their growing enthusiasm for what they’re doing.
The ensemble – Miriam Teppich (violin), Lucy Jeal (violin), Andrew Thurgood (violin), Matthew Quenby (violin), Anna Cooper (violin/piano), Sarah Dubost-Hautefeuille (cello) and Pavlos – represent some of the UK’s leading orchestras and they all love bringing beautiful works to audiences across the south east.
Pavlos finds it impossible to pick one stand-out moment from the past few years.
“Pretty much every concert you play you think ‘oh, this is the one’ and the same with the repertoire,” he explains. “You always think ‘this is the piece we enjoy playing best’ and then you play another one and you think ‘actually, this is the best’.
“But I suppose the ones that do stand out are the ones where we’re in a bigger group when we can involve more of our close friends,” he continues, mentioning the times they played the Mendelssohn Octet in Petersfield and Hurstpierpoint.
He’s also proud of the group’s outreach work and explains that they recently performed a concert at Ingfield Manor, a school for children with neurological motor impairment.
“It was Anna’s arrangement of the Nutcracker and the reaction to that was amazing. At the end we were actually dancing with them.”
The concerts aimed at kids are particularly memorable for Pavlos, especially Ensemble Reza’s first family show in 2014, where youngsters got involved in making the music.
“It was wonderful to have lots of young children come along and older people as well who were later calling us up or going to West Sussex Music Services to start playing an instrument.”
But, no matter how fulfilling these (almost) five years have been, the ensemble has still faced its fair share of difficulties.
One specific challenge keeps cropping up.
“It’s finding the time to rehearse,” Pavlos laughs, explaining that not all groups can survive the routine of getting everyone together for short rehearsals of highly complex pieces of music.
“Hopefully, when it’s performed it doesn’t seem difficult but it’s music that requires rehearsal,” he says. “It requires a lot of syncing and discussing.”
Groups featuring fantastic players can easily fall apart if everyone’s rehearsal needs are different. Thankfully though, Ensemble Reza have the right chemistry and a deep trust of each other.
“We’re all coming from the same kind of angle,” Pavlos explains. “We have families, we’ve worked in London, we want something else from life, you know? We’ve lived a bit. We have different priorities other than just becoming a successful ensemble and the ensemble supports the other priorities in our lives rather than directing them. So we come to the rehearsal knowing and being compassionate.”
“We would love to spend the whole week rehearsing,” he states. “But we know that we can’t.”
Even if they’re not quite ready on the day, Pavlos is confident they can get it together quickly and deliver a beautiful performance.
And it helps that most of Ensemble Reza’s musicians live around Sussex with only a couple having to make the trip from London.
The group don’t have any specific concerts planned to celebrate their fifth anniversary but they’ve got a packed schedule over the next few months.
There’s a family concert at Kings Church, Burgess Hill, on March 10; an evening concert with Horsham Symphony Orchestra at Holy Trinity Church, Cuckfield, on March 24; and a lunchtime family concert and evening concert at St John’s Chapel, Chichester, on June 23. On top of this they are continuing their series of lunchtime concerts on March 13 (Haywards Heath Methodist Church), March 29 (St Anne’s, Lewes), April 10 (Haywards Heath again) and at various other venues until early July.
There’s also the Community Orchestra project, which is running at the moment.
Now in its third year, this is for players of all ages and abilities who get to rehearse with Ensemble Reza and The Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra while being led by Steve Dummer, Horsham Symphony Orchestra’s musical director.
Their pieces this year include Elgar’s Nimrod from the Enigma Variations and Greig’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.
After a series of monthly rehearsals participants will perform live at Warden Park Secondary Academy, Cuckfield, on May 6 and at The Power of Music Festival at the Orchards Shopping Centre, Haywards Heath, on June 17.
“The rehearsals for this, the preparation, all the people and families that are involved, it’s so exciting and it’s so much fun,” says Pavlos. “And it keeps you really grounded. Whatever ambition one might have – all that big concert hall stuff – when you play in a community orchestra you’re playing with four-year-old children and their grandparents. You see everyone there doing their best. It starts from a complete mess and suddenly flowers into a recognisable, beautiful piece of music.”
Pavlos goes on to talk about the appeal of playing live.
For him it’s the risk, the thrill, the escape from the burdens of day-to-day life and the emotional impact it can have on both the players and the listeners.
What about his particular role in the group though? What is it about playing the cello that Pavlos loves?
In an interview in 2014, Pavlos described waking up to the sound of his father playing Bach on the cello, which explains some of his fascination with the instrument.
But is there something else that draws him to it?
“It’s like when I have it in my hand it feels like a companion,” he states after taking a moment to think about his answer. “You never feel alone when you have the cello in your house.”
It’s partly because of the size, he quips, but also because the sound is truly something special.
“It’s as close to the human voice as you can get, more than any other instrument,” he explains. “The middle range of the cello has this tenor quality.”
“It’s like speaking or having a dialogue with someone. You’re kind of having this free conversation with an instrument, which has a sound that is warm. I suppose that because I’ve grown up with the sound of the cello it’s like a therapy for me when I hear it.”
“I know sometimes my friends will make fun of me, saying that I never want to stop playing,” he adds.
“If I want to do something to relax after work, which is playing the cello, I’ll go and play the cello,” he laughs.
“I’ve always found it like a meditative experience, especially when I’m not preparing for a concert.”
To find out more about Ensemble Reza or book tickets visit www.ensemblereza.com.
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