Festival of Cecilia

The independent UK charity, Help Musicians supports professional musicians of all genres. They hold an annual musical festival in the beautiful setting of Westminster Abbey each November. However, in 2020 the event needed to be held virtually, here’s how we helped them continue the magic of orchestral and chamber music whilst stepping in a new direction.

The event was open to all those who are supported by Help Musicians as well as other members of the public who have an interest in this style of music.

Our brief was to recreate the atmosphere their audience has come to expect, whilst retaining the considered and sophisticated tone of this yearly event. The filming had to be arranged around considerations such as daily church and abbey services, Government restrictions and the choir children’s school schedules! There were many moving parts to carefully plan  but we relished the opportunity to capture this incredible charity at work.

Traditionally, the festival would be hosted by Ambassadors or world-renowned musicians, just because this incarnation of the event would be online, it would be no different.  We set about filming with composer and conductor, John Rutter CBE within the stunning St Giles Cripplegate Church, London, for an opening message to the audience.  With some additional lighting and shallow depth of field, we were able to make John the main focus but still using the impressive surroundings as an integral part of the framing and background, therefore, setting the scene of the rest of the event. Similar commentary and interviews were also filmed using this framing and set up to ensure continuity throughout.

The client wanted to use the fact this event would be filmed to their advantage creating as many opportunities for movement as possible, something you wouldn’t get at the live, in-person event. We did this by using camera operators whose backgrounds lie in shooting musical performances, meaning they understand exactly what is appropriate for our client; remaining sympathetic to the tone of the music.   A mixture of a 360-degree camera, 3 axis stabilisation gimbal and a slider meant that we could ensure each shot was smooth, steady and appears effortless, just like the music.  

We also used these techniques whilst filming the Westminster Cathedral Choir in Westminster Abbey as well as the solo performance of soprano and charity Ambassador, Natalya Romaniw accompanied by her very talented pianist.  

Of course, the vital component of any musical performance is the sound.  Early discussions with the client, centred around the best way to record so that the sound is just as impressive and beautiful as if you were sat in the pews.  Our very experienced Sound Engineer, therefore, mix the music live to ensure that the clarity of each piece was respected and could enable the audience to fully immerse themselves into the event through their devices.

We then completed the brief by recording testimonials with some of the charities other ambassadors via video conferencing software as they could not attend in person and received additional footage filmed elsewhere to include into the final video.

The approach we took with the filming and editing was very well received by the client, the video was broadcast live and remains viewable via the charity’s Facebook and YouTube pages as well as on Classic FM’s Facebook page. It has been viewed more than 50,000 times worldwide.  

We enjoyed this project immensely, particularly as our background has long been in live, musical events.  Transferring a live event into virtual may seem like a challenge to many but we know what makes a video immersive and how audiences can be affected by them if you use the right techniques.  

Knowing our clients’ mission, audience and style inside out meant that we could make our client’s new territory into a safe and familiar ground for them and their audience alike.