The Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship

"We need these young people – not only for the performances, but also for our society."
Colin Petch
August 24, 2023

The amazing people at Manchester Camerata (who are one of the UK’s most successful and innovative chamber orchestras by-the-way), today launch their inaugural Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship – which is set to be a game-changer for musicians, creatives – and the North of England.

Created with the generous support of The Ruth Sutton Trust for Music - this vital, new, year-long and paid training programme will directly address the need for recent music graduates to be given more learning opportunities within an industry under increasing threat of arts funding cuts.

Ruth Sutton was a hugely talented concert pianist in her earlier years and her love for music remained a passion throughout her life. In 2012, she founded the Pendle Young Musicians Bursary (PYMB) to give the young musicians of Pendle, a chance of gaining substantial funding to help them continue their musical studies. Ruth also developed a very close relationship with the Manchester Camerata, with both parties having immense respect for each other’s work.

Kicking off in October 2023, the Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship will offer five recently graduating northern based musicians, in either composition or orchestral strings, hands-on work experience and training across all of its community, outreach, performance and creative endeavours. This will offer an essential and broader insight into the workings of orchestral life and subsequently help enable and develop burgeoning music careers both in and outside of the concert platform.

The Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship has been specifically designed for newly graduating Northern based musicians – i.e. those who have graduated in the last two years and who are in or near Manchester, the Pendle area, Liverpool, Bolton, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford, Huddersfield, Newcastle, Sunderland, or Middlesbrough. One of the key aims of the Fellowship is that fellows can continue their careers in the north and join Manchester Camerata’s talented pool of freelance performers and practitioners.

Before today’s seismic launch, Mag North sat down earlier this week with Sam McShane, who is not only Manchester Camerata’s Creative Director – but also passionate about The North – and creating and retaining creative opportunity on our patch.

Sam Mc Shane: Manchester Camerata’s Creative Director (Image: Manchester Camerata)
Sam Mc Shane: Manchester Camerata’s Creative Director (Image: Manchester Camerata)

Sam returned to Camerata in her new role in 2022, following time as Head of Artistic Planning at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Prior to that she had been a member of the Camerata family – and so heading back to Manchester must have felt like a bit of coming home?

Sam: “One thing that I remembered and and knew really well about Camerata is that there's a special sort of creative freedom that you get in the job, right?

“And everyone is really, really open-minded. Bob, the Chief Executive is just, a really inspired man. The team are really close and having this freelance orchestra, there's this camaraderie and there's this sense of pulling together and people believe in the mission at Camerata. I think it's quite a rare thing to have.

“It was meant to be. Bob asked me if I would go back, so I did. I think having learned so much about working with younger people at the RCS Talent Development [programme] was such an important factor. Camerata, like a lot of orchestras have a community programme. But the thing about Manchester Camerata is that we put the performance side of things and the community side of things, side-by-side. They have equal priority. Community is at the heart of everything that we do."

The members of the Camerata have been leading ground-breaking initiatives for some time. An example being their dementia work – which is inspirational, essential – and beloved by many across the North.

Sam continues: “Some of our professional musicians are also carrying out amazing roles as Teachers and Music Therapists. Speaking to these people that do both sides of the work – they say working with different communities absolutely affects how they play on stage. You become more empathetic, you're going into different environments and that affects you as a person, but also as a performer.”

And that is the depth of experience and understanding that this year’s fellows will be able to tap into.

The bespoke year-long programme will be designed for each individual fellow to develop a holistic understanding of Manchester Camerata as well as construct their own unique career pathway. Each fellow will also be mentored by one of the Camerata’s freelance musicians who will offer 1-2-1 time throughout the year and share their own first-hand knowledge and experience of the breadth and depth of Manchester Camerata’s annual programme. They will also be able to share and offer vital tips on how to sustain a career in this often challenging and ever-changing profession.

Sam: “What's included in 360 is first of all, the skills acquisition. There will be a huge amount of training to take part in – from the dementia work to also learning how to deliver work in schools. There's that community side of our work. Then there's the performance side, so fellows will rehearse and perform with the orchestra, and they will get paid for that as if they're a professional.

“There’s also the mechanics of what happens when you're delivering a concept. What are the things that you need to consider? We’ll be working with [our fellows] and talking them through how finances work behind all of that. They’ll also learn about how to manage their own finances as a freelance musician: the tax-related stuff and all of that.

“Also, how will they further develop who they want to be as a musician? Do you want to be create their own concert series? Camerata can help them achieve that. What we're trying to do is highlight all of the different aspects of an orchestra, first and foremost. But we'll introduce them to things like festivals and give them opportunities, hopefully with other organisations and different artists.

The Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship is a unique chance to get a really holistic view of the industry, with the hope that these creative professionals then stay in Manchester and the North. That they become a freelancer with us and perhaps ultimately then become a member.”

A huge problem that not only orchestras are experiencing – but organisations across the arts is 'peoplepower'. Thousands of creatives have left their professions since the arrival of the Covid pandemic – and many cannot afford to return. The cost of living crisis has only exacerbated an already critical situation in the arts, with a view amongst creative professionals that there is no longer enough work available – particularly in the North – to support themselves, or a family. Any available opportunities are often not sustainable from an economic perspective.

Sam explains: “Manchester – as a city we should be trying to retain talent and keep them in the city with us. Those people that graduate from University of Manchester, RNCM, etc, by offering them a place for a year in Manchester saying: ‘We'll give you some work and we'll train you up, but you're only doing 65 days with us over the year, so let's also look at where else you could perhaps secure some freelance work.’

“I think the key thing for orchestras, I believe at this point in time, Is that orchestras exist for people. Camerata exists for the people of Manchester. And what we try to do is to connect with lots of different communities across Manchester and the North. We’re asking: ‘What could an orchestra do for you?’"

The societal thing is crucial. How do you say to communities: ‘Look guys, this is for you’, - whether it be orchestra, opera, an art gallery. How do we widen participation?

Sam: “I think it's a really good question. First of all, one of my sort of bug bears is that - and I listened to an amazing guy called Darren McGarvey. He has written this book called Poverty Safari, and he, at the Association of British Orchestra's conference, he did the keynote speech – and he was really honest in it.

"He said: ‘You know, I'm a little bit sick of arts organisations sort of saying these disadvantaged communities need the arts – and, and people coming in and doing something for a few days in a particular area and then jetting off again.’ That really, really spoke to me. Who are we to tell a community what they need? Or who are we to say an orchestra is important to them? That's absolutely not how we should be approaching it. I know that for sure.

"So the way that we have been approaching it is by first of all, whether it's a school or a community group – before we even begin working with them, we’re having sessions to understand what those challenges are, in that area.

"Just say, we're working with a group of young people. We want them to produce the performance if that's what we're doing at the end of a project. We, we go in and say to them: ‘Listen, this is in your hands. Who do you want to involve in this experience? And what do you want the music to be and who's going to present it and what's the narrative?’  We’re not taking control of that. The people of the area are taking control of it. And I think that that process is really important in order to engage with people. But there's a whole load of work that needs to happen beforehand to get people to understand: 'Why are you doing this work?'

Manchester Camerata's Inspirational Community Work (Image: Manchester Camerata)
Manchester Camerata's Inspirational Community Work (Image: Manchester Camerata)

"The main things you need to establish are relationships, confidence and trust. That’s what we try to do at Camerata."

Can you tell us about the application and selection process?

Sam: “There's only five places generously supported by the Trust. What we'll do in the first round is ask candidates to make a video. They just perform, or explain why they like a piece of their choice. It’s unlike a traditional orchestral audition, where there's usually set pieces and a structure to follow.

"We want people to turn up and just be their genuine self. So choose a piece that you love, present that to us, and then speak about why you want to be part of this. It is a pilot year, so I'm sure we'll all learn a lot from it. After that initial stage, we'll hold an audition day at the RNCM where we'll see people in person.

"Again, they'll play. We'll have a panel made up of a member of the orchestra, myself, Bob, [the Chief Executive] and a couple of guests from the sector – and also Jane Sutton from the Trust. We'll speak to them. We'll hear them play, and then we might ask them to improvise as well.

"It is a challenge for us to retain this talent in Manchester, because there's still so much more opportunity in London. But with the opening of Factory International, with Manchester constantly being this city where there's more opportunity all of the time, we feel like now is the right time to launch the Camerata 360° Ruth Sutton Fellowship. We need these young people – not only for the performances, but also for our society. What we're doing is we're creating the next generation of creative leaders.

"I really hope that I'll be a key part of the journeys of these five young musicians as well, because for me that's what it's all about. It’s about helping other people achieve the things that they want to do."

The application form and more information on the process is available via the website HERE

The Deadline for applying is 23.59 on 11 September 2023.

Header Image: Manchester Camerata at Stoller Hall (Image: Robin Clewley)