BIG READ: Classical music is Bach in fashion as orchestras grow

Meon Valley Orchestra
Meon Valley Orchestra

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For centuries, people have gathered to listen to musical masterpieces.  Beethoven, Mozart, Bach – there are thousands of pieces for enthusiasts to lose themselves in.   

Listening to a symphony can take you on an emotional rollercoaster.

But imagine having the talent to perform a piece by Mahler or Rachmaninov with an orchestra?

Many of our readers lead double lives, working in normal jobs by day and performing in amateur orchestras by night. 

Small amateur orchestras are delighting classical music fans with concerts in village halls and schools. On almost any weekend music lovers can catch a classical performance of works by the likes of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven.

And they are attracting big-name soloists. 

In the past few months alone internationally-renowned one-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy joined Havant Symphony Orchestra for Ravel.

Meanwhile Chichester Symphony Orchestra performed Schubert and Mozart with pianist Yasmin Rowe. 

Increasing numbers of musicians of all abilities are joining orchestras – which means even more opportunities for music fans to enjoy classical concerts. 

Lorraine Masson, musical director for the Meon Valley Orchestra, believes this is down to orchestras becoming more accepting of people with a range of skills.

She says: 'There isn't any kind of test to join our orchestra. In fact, it is the complete opposite of that.

'We have a wide range of players – from the very experienced, to beginners – but absolutely everyone is welcome.

'Sometimes we actually adjust parts of the music that are difficult for some of our players, but we put them in elsewhere so the audience isn't missing out. It makes it inclusive for everyone.

'I genuinely love the fact we don't turn anyone who can play an orchestral instrument away.

'We are all amateurs in some form. Quite a few people are beginners but everyone is so friendly and welcoming of musicians of all abilities.

'We have a fantastic atmosphere and I think what makes it so special is that everyone is so encouraging of one another.

'Some people can become anxious at the thought of performing on a stage but the support network here is so great that it naturally builds people's confidence.'

As with anything, the key to a successful orchestra is regular practice.

Lorraine adds: 'We rehearse every Thursday morning, from 9.45am until midday.

'Of course, there has to be a couple of tea breaks in there – that might even be the key to our success!

'We do one big performance each year, that is coming up next month.

'A lot of practice goes into major concerts but we all look forward to the big day.

'On top of that, we also do a number of other performances throughout the year. We like to keep ourselves busy with concerts because that is our passion, and we love doing it.'

According to Lorraine, the popularity of classical music has risen dramatically in the last few years.

She says: 'The audiences at concerts seem to be getting much bigger now, which is obviously great to see.

'But we're also seeing more musicians come forward asking to join too.

'The hall we rehearse in is starting to look quite full now because we have more than 40 musicians.

'It is growing very quickly, it is a really exciting time to be a classical musician.'

Stella Scott, administrator of the Havant Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, believes the huge array of compositions is the reason why orchestras are growing.

She says: 'I think it is fantastic for people lucky enough to play an instrument to be able to get together with other people and perform these wonderful musical pieces.

'There's a huge repertoire of music that is still being written and added to today, and I think that's amazing.

'We often go back to the old composers like Bach and Mozart, but there is such a vast amount of music that we can have a go at anytime we want.'

Like many people, Stella's love of music came at a young age, and has been with her throughout her life.

She says: 'I have been playing the cello since I was seven years old. I was in my local youth orchestra and have played in orchestras all my life.

'There is always a local orchestra for people to join, no matter where they are or what their musical abilities. I think that's why the size of orchestras is also growing.

'Being part of an orchestra is a great way of meeting people when you move to a new area – that's what happened with me when I moved down here and the Havant orchestras were so welcoming.

'I think it is the emotional power of the music, which really is enhanced when playing in a group.

'Most people who play a classical instrument find the music affects them emotionally. To perform these pieces as part of an orchestra, to feel the music swelling as it fills the room, is particularly special.'

For all orchestras all across the region – from the Portsmouth Light Orchestra to the two Havant orchestras – there are certainly exciting times ahead.

The growth and resurgence of the desire to watch classical music performed live has come at a time when musicians' passion to perform is at a high.  

WHERE CAN I GET INVOLVED? 

Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1997, is comprised of more than 65 members from all walks of life. The orchestra presents four main concerts each season at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, along with numerous chamber music and school concerts throughout the year.

The Havant Symphony and Chamber Orchestras were both established in the 1960s. While the Symphony Orchestra offers a full range of instruments, the Chamber Orchestra cuts out most of the big brass, with a sound better suited for smaller venues.

The Meon Valley Orchestra started out as a small folk band, practicing in Annabelle Armstrong's living room. But it soon swelled to a full orchestra, and first performed in March 2016. nFor university students, there is the University of Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra plays three programmes a year, with music ranging from film scores, to dance to more traditional classical compositions such as Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Records of the tradition in Chichester of an amateur orchestra reach back at least to the late 18th century, making it the oldest existing orchestra in the surrounding area. Still an amateur orchestra to this day, the group offers three concerts a year at venues in Chichester, with the annual summer concert usually coinciding with the city's festival.

Additional reporting by Thomas WarburtonSmith and Stuart Reed

THE CLASSIC FM EFFECT AND ITS IMPACT ON CLASSICAL MUSIC AUDIENCES

It started 25 years ago as a niche station for people who loved classical music.

Since then, Classic FM, owned by Global Radio, has gone on to become the most successful commercial radio station in the UK, eclipsing the BBC’s dedicated classical music station, Radio 3 – which is more for classical music purists. More than five million people tune into Classic FM every week – online and through their radios. But the biggest increase in listener share for the station has been with the under-35s. The latest figures show Classic FM’s audience rose by 242,000 in the year to May 2017. Almost one million of its weekly listeners are under 35. A big attraction is the station’s focus on popular classics played by presenters including Aled Jones. I