UK first as Orchestra takes up residence in Camden comprehensive

OAE play for students at Acland Burghley

OAE play for students at Acland Burghley - Credit: Archant

Innovative Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will teach music lessons, rehearse and give concerts as they take up a permanent base at Acland Burghley in Tufnell Park

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment takes up permanent base at Acland Burghley School

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment takes up permanent base at Acland Burghley School - Credit: Archant

Pupils arriving for the start of term at Acland Burghley were greeted by a new cohort - the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment.

In a UK first, the inernationally renowned orchestra has moved its HQ to the Tufnell Park Comprehensive.

Not only are they paying a commercial rent for offices and use of the school hall, but they will be conducting workshops and music lessons, performing at assemblies and getting pupils involved in their tours and digital output.

Speaking from his new office, chief executive Crispin Woodhead pivots the screen to show the students at break. “We really are in the heart of the school,” he enthuses, delighted they feel able to wander in and eyeball the new arrivals. “Over there is where we rehearse; we have a library to keep all our scores, so everything in one place.” Helping out with music lessons and teaching instruments is “a given,” says Woodhead of the move which is funded - along with a three-year educational programme - by a £120,000 grant from Sainsbury’s The Linbury Trust.

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment takes up permanent base at Acland Burghley School

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment takes up permanent base at Acland Burghley School - Credit: Archant

He’s as excited by the cross-curricular potential of their residency to raise ambition and achievement in all subjects - as witnessed with a similar partnership by Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie in Germany.

And he hopes the next time the OAE flies to New York, they will be joined by pupils who have helped organise, fund and publicise the tour. Headteacher Nicholas John agrees the benefits are not just about equalising access to classical music but to students gaining skills in arts administration and digital recording for the orchestra’s new OAE Player.

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Crispin admits the orchestra, formed in 1986, has past form for “tearing up the rulebook” not least in their democratic, player-led governance and the fact they play on period instruments.

Looking for a new base after leaving their berth at Kings Place in Kings Cross they had a 20-year history of working with Camden’s Music service and issued a plea which was spotted by Acland Burghley’s enterprising director of operations, Kat Miller.

“I really felt that we should not go into a conventional office space. We already had a strong relationship with many Camden primary schools through our education programme so it seemed a good place to start.”

Having previously hired out the school to film TV’s Killing Eve, Miller seized the opportunity. On his first tour, Woodhead was impressed by John’s “vision and enthusiasm” and the Grade II listed assembly hall “in the same brutalist style as the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the right size and acoustic for an orchestra.”

During the tour, a young student came up and insisted on reading his story of King Midas.

“The teacher was trying to stop him but he kept going and it was impossible to resist his unspoilt enthusiasm for the story. It felt like a sign, a thunderbolt; we went straight to the headteacher’s office and said we didn’t just want this to be our new home, we wanted to completely transform our education work and the way we engaged with pupils.”

The school itself has staged an impressive turnaround under John’s leadership from ‘requiring improvement’ in 2013 to an Ofsted good rating in 2018.

Now oversubscribed, the Specialist Arts College has a commitment to finding ways the arts can foster creative thinking in sciences.

OAE leader and violinist Margaret Faultless was impressed at how The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie’s residency improved academic performance, mental health and engagement with music. “As classical musicians, it can often feel we exist in a bubble. We’re all looking forward to this new adventure. We are all used to meeting with people from outside the classical music world, but the value of our new project lies in the long-term work we’ll be doing at the school and the relationship that will hopefully develop between the students, their parents and teachers and the orchestra.

“The Bremen Kammerphilharmonie said their experience actually improved them as an orchestra and I think the same will happen to us over the next five years. It will remind us of the reasons we make music.”

The school is raising £1.3m to refurb its assembly hall: