British Paraorchestra break musical boundaries

3 September 2012, 11:22 | Updated: 4 September 2012, 17:47

In the spirit of the Paralympics, a diverse group of UK performers came together with conductor Charles Hazlewood to champion extraordinary disabled musicians.

The British Paraorchestra made their London debut as part of the Unlimted Festival at the Southbank Centre on Friday night, performing with Dame Evelyn Glennie and the Marc Brew Company of dancers. They aim to challenge perceptions of disability by showcasing their musical abilities in spite of any challenges they may face.

The players performed three pieces, including improvisations on Ravel’s Bolero and Greensleeves. Improvisation is a key feature of their performances, as many of them play by ear and are able to attune themselves acutely to the other players.

Charles Hazlewood, the conductor behind the orchestra said this was just the first step towards complete musical equality for disabled performers, who he wants to see in professional orchestras throughout the world.

"The best thing about being here is that every person has mentioned music, and has not mentioned disability once," he said. "We think of Handel the musician not the blind man, or Beethoven the composer, not Beethoven the deaf man."

Pianist and violinist Abi Baker went blind after a cataract operation. She said playing in the Paraorchestra was a wonderful experience.

“I didn’t know the kind of help that would be available for me at the Royal College of Music,” she said. “I read music in Braille and I learn music by ear.”

She added: “Aside from the fact the venue is amazing, this concert is a perfect way of saying: ‘we’re disabled people, this is what we can do’. It’s so wonderful.”

Violinist Takashi Kikuchi said playing with the Paraorchestra helped him grow as a confident ensemble player.

“Not being able to see the music before I play it is a huge barrier for me,” he said. “But rather than focusing on our disabilities, playing together enables everyone to focus on our abilities.”

It seems their hard work has paid off. The musicians are rumoured to be playing alongside Coldplay at the Paralympics Closing Ceremony.