Interview: Composer Kate Whitley on Multi-Story Orchestra's forthcoming The Endz

Interview: Composer Kate Whitley on Multi-Story Orchestra’s forthcoming The Endz

The Multi-Story Orchestra: The Endz | Queen Elizabeth Hall | 23 September 2023 | From £10

We chatted with composer, pianist and Multi-Story Orchestra founder Kate Whitley about the forthcoming performance of The Endz at London’s Southbank Centre, as well as the importance of creative opportunities for young people, inspirations, and Things To Do in London!

Hi Kate! For those yet to have the pleasure, could you introduce us to the Multi-Story Orchestra?

Interview: Composer Kate Whitley on Multi-Story Orchestra's forthcoming The Endz 1

Yes! So I started The Multi-Story Orchestra (MSO) more than 10 years ago, bringing together a group of musicians to create performances in car parks because it was much more fun than concert halls! It gives you so much flexibility in the kind of atmosphere you can create, and I think people behave differently in such an expected and unusual space. The audience can be a lot closer to the musicians than in a standard concert hall. It’s much less formal. It’s more creative and more open – formal concert hall spaces have always seemed restrictive to me. I also love the fact that you are aware of what is going on in the outside world in the car park. We’re one level below the roof, which means we’re covered from the weather but you get a great view out the sides. You can hear things like the trains going by and traffic, but it never really gets in the way. People always say they find it moving and that it adds to the experience.

Multi-Story Orchestra reaches out beyond Peckham, where it all started, but can you ever take the Peckham out of MSO?

The amazing creativity and musicality in Peckham is what has made our shows so incredible – we are taking The Endz to The Southbank Centre on the 23 September and I am sure the Peckham spirit won’t have gone anywhere! We also play in car parks around the country – we’ve played in Birmingham, Portsmouth, Gloucester, East Riding, Exeter, Ipswich (and probably others I’m not remembering) – we work with local musicians and young people so each performance is unique to where we are. One of my favourite things about my job is having the chance to explore a city I haven’t visited before and spending the day touring car parks to choose the best one for a concert. It is such a funny way to spend a day.

How is MSO opening up creative opportunities for young people across South London?

We work with schools in Southwark and Croydon – where we help them to create big choirs who then come and perform with the orchestra in the car park.

We also have a ‘Young Creatives’ programme for young people aged 16 to join – we write all our music together, and I then orchestrate it ready for the final performances with the orchestra. These young people take a leading role in what we do: deciding what the pieces are about (our most recent one, Verified, was about the dangers of social media addiction), and writing all the music. They are an amazing group of artists and I feel incredibly lucky to get to work with them.

Tell us about The Endz – what is the inspiration behind this piece?

We started making The Endz back in 2019, when some of our young people started making a piece of music about gang culture and asked our help. I’d known some of them for years – since they were at primary school – as they’d all come to sing and play with the orchestra through our performances. So they approached me asking the orchestra to help develop their piece.

Malcolm Mide Madariola, an ex pupil from their school, had been killed in a knife incident, and they really wanted to create a piece that showed young people’s perspective on gang culture. What they wanted to get across was that it was the lack of support, equality and opportunity in wider society that causes things like this to happen.We created the piece together over the next few years, in what was a very democratic, shared collaborative process. I was honoured to be a part of it – they are an incredibly dedicated, talented and inspiring group of young people, and we are all hugely proud of the show we made. What really makes it different, and different from anything the orchestra had done before, is how much ownership everyone had when creating the piece. It really mattered to the young people to tell this story. 

What are some of your favourite things to do in London?

My favourite things to do in London are:

  • Go to Billingsgate Fish Market at 5am, you can buy amazing fish direct from fishmongers, and they have a cafe that does delicious fish breakfasts.
  • Spend a whole day on my allotment. I help look after a wildlife meadow there too, which is where I spend most of my time
  • Go to a riverside pub like The Angel or The Mayflower in Rotherhithe! 
  • Cycle north along the river out past Tottenham, you can get to some really amazing wild places and escape – I used to live round there and do it all the time.

The Multi-Story Orchestra perform The Endz at the Southbank Centre on Saturday 23rd September (5:30pm & 8:30pm). Book Tickets Here.

Main Image Credit: Ambra Vernuccio