Carmel Smickersgill and Manchester Camerata Disrupt at Albert Hall

The artist behind 'Crunchy Leaves, Fresh Sheets and People Smiling When They Meet' talks to Mag North
Colin Petch
April 24, 2024

Manchester Camerata play instruments. They make music. But if we’re looking at a metaphorical iceberg – that’s just the tip.

The people that make this 50something cultural keystone might one moment be working with East Yorkshire communities to celebrate the work of the RNLI and its Yorkshire partners – the next you could find them rehearsing for a massive concert (this weekend) in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral – joining choirs to bring Merseyside the very best version of Verdi’s Requiem.

Some of them might be working in Greater Manchester Care Homes delivering Music in Mind sessions – encouraging moments of connection through music – not words.

But without a doubt, the Camerata musicians and team of superstars will be gearing up for Thursday 2 May, when an entire orchestra decamps to Manchester’s Albert Hall, to push boundaries and ‘disrupt’ like only a glacial mass can.

Camerata’s website currently advises: Revolutionary thought is most potent when you allow yourself to surrender to it – and with that in mind it was imperative we learned what’s in store next month – directly from the Manchester-based composer Carmel Smickersgill, whose work takes centre stage (literally) next Thursday, when she premiers her newly commissioned piece, together with some supporting Beethoven.

Without giving too much away, the Disruptors show will be performed in the round – and Ms Smickersgill explains that she has worked with her piece to flatten and blur the traditional orchestra/audience hierarchy.

The twenty-seven year old artist was a 2019 recipient of the Rushworth Composing Prize with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, a 2020 nominee for the Ivor Novello Rising Star Award and a 2021 recipient of the Jerwood Live Art Award, so it’s fair to say that her work across electronic, classical and theatre music – is valued – and in demand.

In 2022 her debut EP We Get What We Get and We Don’t Get Upset was described as 'unironic, major-key joy' by Joyzine and quickly picked-up and flagged by another extra-special Greater Manchester musical changemaker,Mary Anne Hobbs.

Hailing from North Leeds, Carmel headed west to study composition at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music with Gary Carpenter and is now an associate member of the college family. Like lots of other creative dynamos – she then opted to call the city ‘home’.

Carmel Smickersgill. Image: Andrea Terzuoli

So, would she describe herself as a Disruptor? Is the noun a fitting description?

Carmel: “I think it is. I think of [myself] not firmly fitting into a certain place. A lot of the stuff like the more electronic writing that I do for myself, like the EP and the big orchestral works, is massively, artistically different.”

Through work with orchestras like Liverpool Phil, commissions from Manchester Camerata, composition and performance in productions including Liz Richardson’s beautiful and heartrending production (around loss and wildswimming), together with forming an integral part of the Bunny Hoova movement – there are clearly a multiple of other nouns that could be employed to profile this high-achieving musicmaker.

“I like to play for other artists too in different guises. I like the variety of doing lots of different stuff. To feel like I was just in one world, I would be quite bored. Chopping and changing between all these different places, they all they feed into and inform each other.”

And after the concert at the Albert Hall, do you just hand that piece of work out to the world and immediately move on to a new project, or are you going to tour it? Is it going to be recorded?

“It largely depends on how well it goes on the 2nd. You always hope that a piece has a life beyond the premiere, but you never know. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, it's always a bit random. There are pieces that I think have been really well done, really well put together – but sometimes no one has the same ensemble or the same reason to play again. Personally, whenever a piece that I’ve created goes out, I step away and move on to other things because I think you've got to move on at some point, don't you?

“But for this [Disruptors concert] I'm probably going to be behind the laptop saying: Is the sound okay? Wiggling things on the night. It's not just going to be a case of ‘hit the space bar and step back’.

“I've still got quite a lot of work to do before next Thursday. Within the concert there's this other little piece that I think will probably come after the interval – it’s a project I’ve been working on with Hideout Youth Group from Gorton. I've been working with the Sunday Club to write a piece of music – and it’s very exciting because they’re going to perform it.

“Getting to know the personality of this collective of people has been really good. This particular group of people are all very, very, sweet and lovely. It's been a really lovely project.”

Manchester Camerata is embedded within the community in Gorton and the positivity, opportunity and access to creativity that radiates out from the Monastery as a result is incredibly special.

Carmel: “I think as an orchestra, they get it really right and if they're going to be based somewhere – they’re really based there and not in a superficial way. They’re getting to know the people and be a part of the community.”

And before we say goodbye - what does the rest of the day look like for this particular composer?

“Actually, on a Tuesday afternoon, I go and sing songs with a bunch of refugees and it's very lovely and wholesome and then we eat really good curry together – so that’s what I’m doing today!

“It's the easiest and most worthwhile project to facilitate. It's through an amazing charity called Music Action International. I've volunteered or worked with them on and off since 2015. I’m a bit of an anomaly - it's usually people who have been refugees but now have settled status who are the musicians who facilitate. I fill in if they have gaps where they just need another person in the room.

"We’re based at Rainbow Haven [also in Gorton]. The staff are all excellent and it's a really good atmosphere in the centre. The refugees learn English - and then on Tuesday, there's myself and two others who go along and we just sing! People bring songs in from around the world – and we learn them together. They’re usually bangers too, so it's great!"

Just as with Manchester Camerata’s iceberg tip – the Disruptors concert at the Albert Hall on 2 May is only a small element of the whole Carmel Smickersgill story – but it’s imperative that we’re all there, to not only bask in the warmth of this unique world premiere, but also celebrate creativity, community and Carmel.

For further information and tickets CLICK HERE