A ground-breaking cross-over orchestra aims to establish Leeds as an innovative and inclusive hub for young classical musicians – and their at-risk instruments.
Paradox Orchestra is forging new opportunities for classically-trained musicians in the city, while keeping alive ‘extinct’ classical instruments.
Homegrown in Leeds, Paradox Orchestra gives the classical treatment to pop hits and iconic rock tracks, while safeguarding the hard-won skills of classical musicians in the city.
Playing Pet Shop Boys instead of Puccini, Rock rather than Rachmaninov, and Ed Sheeran over Strauss, the orchestra has just announced major new concert dates, performing Pink Floyd by candlelight this autumn at Leeds Minster.
Often seen as the ‘preserve of the privileged,’ the classical music sector has also been rocked by funding cuts.
The 40-strong orchestra was created by 32-year-old Michael Sluman in 2020 to create a commercially viable and inclusive platform for classically-trained musicians in Leeds. It’s an approach that safeguards classical musicians’ livelihoods in a precarious sector, while attracting younger and new audiences.
A rarity in the sector, Michael grew up in a mining town near Sheffield in a working-class family. His dad was a porter and mum a health-care assistant. Michael spent his twenties playing guest principal oboe in professional orchestras all over the world. A graduate of Leeds Conservatoire and BBC Next Generation Artist, he is currently studying for a PhD at the Royal Academy of Music.
Michael said: “I was of that last generation in the ‘80s when state schools offered free music lessons through their local council.”
Formed mainly of graduates from Leeds Conservatoire, the musicians forming Paradox Orchestra have already diversified to survive, playing with some of the biggest acts in pop, including Ed Sheeran, Marc Almond, Little Mix, Craig David, Sugarbabes, and Louis Tomlinson.
Michael said: “Leeds hasn’t had the opportunity of scale for orchestra players that London has, or even Manchester and Birmingham. I want to be the proactive change to that. So far, we have employed over a hundred local musicians in the last three years, whilst promoting inclusiveness, diversity, accessibility, and equal opportunity.”
Accessibility in the industry has long been under threat. Research shows young people from higher income families are significantly overrepresented across the industry’s elite training opportunities. A six-year study by Arts Council England, Creating a More Inclusive Classical Music, found just a fraction of people working in classical music emerged from Yorkshire, with almost half hailing from London. The report also found barriers for ethnic minorities, women, the disabled, and LGBTQ+ communities.
What’s more, Paradox Orchestra is helping to save ‘extinct’ instruments, by breathing new life, and opportunities, for instruments such as the Bass Oboe.
Michael said: “Playing pop, rock and popular tracks is a great way to introduce new audiences to classical instruments, including the rarer symphonic instruments considered extinct, such as the Bass oboe, bass trumpet and contra-bass clarinet. It also offers a way for audiences to enjoy the music they love, while supporting the classical profession.”
Paradox Orchestra performs Pink Floyd by candlelight at Leeds Minster on 11 November, 7.30pm. Sign up for presale firstname.lastname@example.org
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