Interview: Award-winning British conductor Charles Hazlewood on Paraorchestra & SMOOSH!
Music ensemble Paraorchestra bring their ‘big sonic bear hug’, SMOOSH! to London for the first time!
We caught up with Artistic Director Charles Hazlewood to talk reinventing the orchestra, mass-aoke, disabled musicianship, inspirations, and (of course) favourite Things To Do in London!
So, Paraorchestra – what’s that all about?
Well, in short, we’re about reinventing the orchestra. Don’t get me wrong: I adore orchestral music in all its forms, but the fact of the matter is that astronomic ticket prices and the prohibitively stuffy atmospheres created by some institutional venues can be a real barrier for people to connect with orchestras. And there remains a huge lack of diversity, particularly when it comes to disability. We exist to shake that up. With our ensemble of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians we create large scale, often high energy or immersive music projects that celebrate genres across the board. We cross artforms and take our orchestra to the most unexpected places with the aim of sharing orchestral music that is relevant to and can be enjoyed by absolutely anyone.
SMOOSH! is described as a ‘mobile human jukebox’ – tell us more about what audiences can expect, in Plaistow and on the Southbank.
SMOOSH! is – what I like to call – a big sonic bear hug. A Paraorchestra core ensemble is joined by local musicians, plus professional and local dancers, for an on the move performance of pop karaoke classics. In London, we’re literally delivering a ‘mass-aoke’ to the doorsteps of Plaistow residents for a big celebratory street party. It’s an act of love, inviting everyone to join in and participate. It’s about people of all ages and walks of life coming together, having a damn good sing, and experiencing the sheer joy of music in a fun and interactive way.
Paraorchestra is popping up at Glastonbury too – how important is it for the ensemble to reach out to new and diverse audiences?
It’s at the heart of what both Paraorchestra and SMOOSH! are about – bringing and sharing high quality live music and experiences with new and diverse audiences. And Glasto is a fabulous place to come together with hundreds of thousands of people to showcase the exceptional talents of disabled musicians and to introduce the joy of orchestral music to audiences when they least expect it! Because that’s what Glastonbury is, right? You have the acts you want to see, but then there are those hidden gems that open up a whole new world to you. Whether that’s seeing an orchestra rock a stage for the first time, or, being blown away by a talented disabled performer – because let’s face it, how often do you see a disabled performer on stage?
Who or what inspired (and inspires) the Paraorchestra project, and the SMOOSH! sound?
Well – first off, we’ve moved way beyond the realms of being a project. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work with artists from many different backgrounds and genres, and it is thrilling to see what can happen when they perform together. With Paraorchestra, a key inspiration was my daughter, I wanted to create a platform where disabled musicians could excel, not in a silo, but within an integrated creative and performing context. It’s continuously inspired by the talented musicians involved, as well as the dynamic interaction between the performers and the audience. The SMOOSH! sound is influenced by the energy, creativity, and collaboration of the musicians and the desire to create a joyful and immersive musical experience that transcends people’s expectations and traditional genres.
What’s coming up next for Paraorchestra?
We’ve got so much coming up, some of which is under wraps. As well as SMOOSH! I’m excited by a project we’ll be performing to officially open the Bristol Beacon in November. For that, we’re working with Surgeons Girl and Limbic Cinema to create an immersive electro-orchestral experience that’s not to be missed. We’ve also just announced Liza Bec and Xia Leon Sloane as our latest musicians in residence, and they’re going to be working with us until next year. We’ll also be announcing details of our artist development programme in the autumn. So, it’s about continuing to develop new work, new collaborations and supporting emerging talent – all whilst putting disabled and non-disabled artists performing side by side front and centre of everything we do, nationally and internationally.
What are your favourite Things To Do in London?
Foodwise, I adore Mildred’s in Lexington Street, Soho. It’s the best veggie I know in London. If you haven’t eaten their roast peppers with dirty freekah, tahini and tobacco onions you haven’t lived! A great place for a drink is the excellent Drapers Arms in Islington and for music, I’m a fan of the 606 Club in Lots Road, Chelsea, which has a superb, curated programme. For partying, I have to say Fabric, because it reminds me of some really good nights back in the day. Wilton’s Music Hall in Tower Hamlets is a stonking venue too. It’s the world’s oldest surviving music hall, with a gorgeous vibe. I would say that I suppose, as I used to run it. And for relaxation, it’s London Zoo in Regents Park.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.