Simon Halsey says he was the right person at the right time when he was chosen as the chief conductor and artistic director of the Berlin Radio Choir – the Rundfunkchor Berlin in German – in 2001.
As well as world-class performances which have won the choir three Grammy Awards, under Halsey’s watchful eye it has reached out to all sections of the city’s community by engaging with children, adults and even politicians through education projects.
The choir used a project fund from the city council to replicate Sing Up, an extensive British education initiative that brings singing and teaching tools to primary schools across the country. Berlin’s version, Sing! takes choral music into the city’s schools in an effort to get every student and teacher singing.
Each year, the organisation coordinates the ‘Leader’ choir, bringing together influential figures such as judges, civil servants and business leaders to expand their understan-ding of choral work.
The choir’s far-reaching projects in primary schools, as well as secondary schools and conservatoires, is all part
of a plan to attract the best talent to the ranks of the choir, and to safeguard the company against any impending budget cuts.
‘We’ve not been too badly affected,’ says Halsey, ‘but we know a cold wind is blowing for the future. We’re working extremely hard so that we’re in the affections of Berliners long before they’re deciding who gets cut.’
The rest of this season will be demanding for the choir. Performances in Geneva with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande under Marek Janowski; in Liechtenstein’s Vaduzer-Saal alongside mezzo-soprano Barbara Kind; and with the Berliner Philharmoniker under Yannick Nézet-Séguin, are all lined up for the next couple of months.
Next season kicks off with the second international conducting master class, following its success in 2010. Taking place from 24-30 August in cooperation with Yale University, the nine chosen candidates will be given eight days of training intended to aid them in the transition from good work with amateur choir, to working with a professional choir, which, Halsey says, is a totally different discipline.