I am writing as Director of the British Council, New Zealand.
In 2009 we led a project called ‘People in Your Neighbourhood’ as part of our Creative Cities initiative. The project took the best of UK talent and paired them with a group of diverse local musicians. The primary outcomes were 2 shows (one in Auckland at the Transmission Room and one at WOMAD NZ in Taranaki) and a giveaway album.
The UK group we selected were the Urban Soul Orchestra (USO). Aside from being excellent musicians, USO Director Stephen Hussey also played a pivotal role as Assistant MD and the feedback from the participating local artists was that their professionalism increased as a result of working with the USO. USO Manager Natasha Beckman was also very instrumental in setting up the tour and managed the musicians very professionally.
During their time in New Zealand, the USO also performed at three recording sessions with local artists. Again, the feedback from these artists regarding their experience with the USO was excellent. USO also took the initiative to organise a group of Maori and Pacific Island children from an orchestra at a low decile school in South Auckland to come along to the rehearsal where the USO involved them in a talk and workshop. CEO of Chamber Music New Zealand, Euan Murdcoh, witnessed the session and reported back that he found it very inspiring.
Overall, our experience with USO was extremely positive, not only as musicians but also as project managers, collaborators and mentors. We would definitely work with them in the future.
I give USO my very highest recommendation for their artistic excellence and professionalism as a partner organisation.
Ingrid Leary, Country Director, British Council, New Zealand.