A brilliant young Egyptian musician has held a masterclass with the principal cellist of the London Symphony Orchestra. Nothing extraordinary about that. Except Rebecca Gilliver was in a studio in England - while 17-year-old Marcelinno Safwat was sat in a videoconferencing suite in Cairo.
The four-hour music lesson was one of the fruits of an ongoing relationship between BT Innovate & Design (BTID) and world-renowned music and arts centre Aldeburgh Music.
In 2010, Aldeburgh Music approached BT to help them find ways of discovering and nurturing talent that would increase their reach across the globe but not increase their carbon footprint. It was part of its preparation for the Aldeburgh World Orchestra (AWO) programme that would bring together 124 of the most talented young musicians from across the globe.
“The solution was a Polycom videoconferencing system that has excellent audio quality,” said Doug Williams from BTID. “To overcome the very limited bandwidth available at Snape Maltings - the home of Aldeburgh Music – we installed four BT ADSL broadband lines and then bonded these together to support HD video calls.”
And it was this technology that was used for Marcello’s masterclass at the British Council’s offices in Cairo.
Marie Bennell is the manager for Artist Development & Aldeburgh World Orchestra Manager. As she explains, the lesson was not without its moments.
“As Marcellino is young and has not had lots of orchestral exposure outside Cairo, I set up a lesson for him using the British Council Polycom System in Cairo and our system here at Aldeburgh Music.
“AWO cello tutor, Rebecca Gilliver - principal cellist of the London Symphony Orchestra - came to Aldeburgh Music for the day and worked with Marcellino on some of the AWO repertoire,” said Maria.
Thanks to the technology, both student and tutor were able to work on a number of technical issues such as hand positions.
“We have a long way to go but it was invaluable for Marcellino to have this contact time,” said Maria. “If it were not for this system, he would never otherwise have had the opportunity to work with someone of Rebecca’s calibre, especially considering current geographical limitations.”
What makes this story even more amazing is that Marcellino was 20 minutes late for his lesson because he had difficulty getting through riots in the street of Cairo.
Despite local difficulties, this fusion of technology and the arts isn’t a one-off. The British Council is also working with Aldeburgh to set up other remote lessons for other young artists from the Middle East. And for Doug and his colleagues at BTID, this is music to their ears.