Twentieth anniversary sound of Britten Sinfonia

As the Britten Sinfonia prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday, one of its leaders, Thomas Gould explains to ABIGAIL SALTMARSH why its musicians are looking forward to performing 'at home' in Norwich.

Thomas Gould feels privileged to be a professional violinist, relishes playing across the world and is simply thrilled to be returning to Norwich with The Britten Sinfonia.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the orchestra's founding and the series of celebratory concerts to mark the occasion will highlight it at its peak.

'It is exciting to be playing in Norwich as the city has always been one of our principal homes,' he says. 'It is one of the places where we have a residency and where we have become really popular.

'We have a really loyal audience in Norwich who seem to enjoy coming along to almost anything we perform – and because this anniversary concert will be vary slightly from what we normally do, I think it will go down very well indeed.'

Founded in 1992, The Britten Sinfonia was inspired by the ethos of Benjamin Britten through world-class performances and distinctive programmes. It is one of the world's most celebrated and pioneering ensembles, which breaks the mould by not having a principal conductor or director, instead choosing to collaborate with a range of the finest international guest artists from across the musical spectrum.

To mark its anniversary, concerts are to be held in London and Cambridge this month as well as in Norwich on October 23.

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'We have a new home at The Barbican, in London, and this will be one of the first big concerts we have performed there. It is exciting to be part of such a world-class institution,' says Thomas, 29.

The programme for the anniversary concerts will mix classic works with newly commissioned concertos and will see the orchestra join forces once with one of Europe's most influential and inspirational violinists, Pekka Kuusisto.

'I am very excited about playing Tippett's Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli, with Pekka Kuusisto, who everyone knows and loves as a maverick violinist,' says Thomas.

'I think there is going to be such a great atmosphere – in fact it will feel as close to a party as a concert can do!'

The birthday concert programme also features another specially-commissioned piece – One, by established composer James MacMillan. James was awarded a CBE for his outstanding works and was both the composer and conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 2000 to 2009.

Other pieces in the concert include Rakastava by Sibelius, Bach's Concerto for Oboe and Violin, and Prokofiev's Symphony No 1, as well as a specially commissioned piece by rising composer Alissa Firsova, from The Britten Sinfonia's academy of talented young musicians from the East of England.

'It is really important that this piece has been included – I am really looking forward to directing it,' Thomas continues. 'For the past 20 years, The Britten Sinfonia has been commissioning new music and this really is central to the whole ethos of the orchestra.'

Thomas himself loves the variety of the music played by The Britten Sinfonia. In recent times he has also appeared as soloist with the Aurora Orchestra, Bath Philharmonia, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Hall� Orchestra, London Contemporary Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Orchestra of Opera North, Orchestra da Camera, Orchestra of the Swan and Sinfonia Viva.

His international engagements have included playing with Australian Chamber Orchestra, Camerata Z�rich, G�vle Symfoniorkester, Kammerphilharmonie Graz, Kosovo Philharmony, McGill Chamber Orchestra and Sinfonietta Riga.

'I do love classical music but I also play jazz and electronic. I like 1970s prog rock as much as Schubert!' he admits. 'I think I am quite representative of people of my age in having very diverse music tastes – in terms of both what I listen to and what I enjoy playing.'

An associate of the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied with Gy�rgy Pauk, Thomas first picked up a violin at the age of just three years-old.

'That is about as young as it gets but although my parents weren't musical, my older sister Clio was, and when I was growing up I could hear her practising upstairs when she got home from school and I was always taken along to her concerts.

'Today she is the leader of The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.'

As a professional musician, Thomas gets to travel a great deal. Often, however, the pace is such that he sees little more than the inside of his hotel room when he's not performing.

Norwich, however, he knows well and, with friends here, he is looking forward to spending some time out in the city and dining at a good restaurant or two.

'It is a busy life but I do feel so lucky to be able to perform, and to have made the transition from studying into fledgling musician fairly seamlessly,' he says.

'There is not enough work out there for all the great violinists there are and I feel it is a complete luxury to be able to be professional and to perform with orchestras like The Britten Sinfonia.'

t Britten Sinfonia 20th Birthday Concert, Norwich Theatre Royal, October 23, �26-�6.50, 01603 630000,