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PUBLISHED: 10:12 10 January 2016

Hertfordshire Chamber Orchestra at a recent concert at St Mary-at-Hill Church, Billingsgate in London

Hertfordshire Chamber Orchestra at a recent concert at St Mary-at-Hill Church, Billingsgate in London


Stefan Bown, chairman of Hertfordshire Chamber Orchestra, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year

Hertfordshire Chamber Orchestra is 50 this year. How did it get started?

The orchestra was founded by Peter Smith, a bassoon-playing undergraduate just down from Cambridge. He was part of a group of keen amateur musicians who had enjoyed being part of various university orchestras and they wanted to keep playing after graduation. Peter wanted a concentrated period of rehearsal time with all the players present and practising as many hours as they could to ensure the highest possible standards, so the group started having residential rehearsal weekends. These are still an integral part of our preparations. 
The conductor in the early days was a young Andrew Davis – now the renowned conductor Sir Andrew Davis CBE, knighted for his services to British music.

How has the orchestra developed?

Players were initially recruited through university contacts, and players have continued to recommend and bring along friends – we even have one or two of the original members still playing. Over the years we’ve gone from playing local concerts to performing not only at UK venues like St Paul’s in Covent Garden and taking part in the 20th-anniversary celebration of the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall but across Europe, including Belgium, Greece, Malta and Spain. More recently we’ve even performed in Dubai.

While some of the players work in music education, the majority of players are from a wide variety of professions working in and around London, and we now perform with both experienced professionals and up-and-coming conductors and soloists.

What’s the ethos?

One key thing is that for most of its life the orchestra has run itself rather than being the brainchild of one particular conductor to wax and wane with that individual. That is the same with a number of the best amateur orchestras based in and around London, for example the Salomon Orchestra and the Chelsea Opera Group. These amateur orchestras are run by the players for the players and we can then work with different soloists and conductors, such as our recent collaboration with Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, concert master of the Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as providing opportunities for younger musicians to learn the repertoire.

How are you celebrating the 
orchestra’s golden year?

We have a very full year – starting this month with two concerts to support the Harpenden children’s charity the A-T Society on January 16-17. We’ll be joined by Jennifer Pike, the violinist who was the youngest-ever winner of BBC Young Musician of the Year. Our actual anniversary concerts are in September and will be conducted by our president Edmon Colomer from Barcelona with performances of Brahms’ Symphony No.2 plus works by Verdi, de Falla and Goyescas. This is taking place on September 10 and 11 in both Hertfordshire and London, and will be followed by a special party.

How do people get involved?

We’re always interested to hear of talented and committed amateur players. The best thing is to start by coming along to a concert and introducing yourself to someone in the orchestra.

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