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'Finished Symphony'

Preview by Charlotte Perkins, Bristol 24/7

Finished Symphony  How do you go about founding an orchestra? Charlotte Perkins asks the people behind the Bristol Symphony Orchestra, which makes its debut at the High Sheriff's Concert on June 18.

Bristol is a vibrant hub for the classical music scene, with regular performances from top professional ensembles: the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic and the English Baroque Soloists, not to mention the amateur groups packing out venues across the city. So is there room for a new, Bristol-based ensemble? The Bristol Symphony Orchestra think so, and with their determined, positive attitude to all of the challenges of setting up a new group, they promise to be the start of Bristol’s own top notch resident orchestra.

So how do you go about setting up a new ensemble? You must find rehearsal venues, players, and organise concerts; set up committees, find funds, decide on repertoire and on the values of the group you want to create.

The Bristol Symphony Orchestra is a model of how to successfully give life to an orchestra. Pamela Bell, leader of the ensemble and a founding member, says that along with fellow violinists Robert Tulloh and Aimee Cottam, she decided to “form a new orchestra in Bristol to give William Goodchild scope to give free rein to his talents and fully explore his musical vision.” A renowned and prolific composer, Goodchild specialises in scoring for film and documentaries, and has won multiple awards for his work with the BBC, Channel 4 and National Geographic International.


So, having found a conductor and an aim for the group, what comes next? Audition notices are put up, friends informed, the musical community alerted to new opportunities. And even though the audition standard is extremely high the group has gained 56 members since their formation in mid-January. With a minimum Grade 8 standard, the orchestra has drawn from the best of what Bristol has to offer. Among their number they count music teachers and even a few professionals, not to mention numerous composers and arrangers, with a diverse background from jazz to electronica.

So rehearsals begin, and the music has to be chosen.  As well as performing Goodchild’s pieces, the orchestra aims to showcase other works by contemporary composers; in contrast to this the other half of their repertoire is the symphonic works of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is no wonder that the standard has to be so high to get into this group. Not only are they taking on the intricate detail of modern compositions, but are also tackling the true greats of symphonic repertoire: Beethoven, Shostakovich, Dvorak. And as if that wasn’t enough, they are also performing an entire evening of film music. The ambition of the ensemble at this early stage is impressive, especially since they have managed to avoid the elitist atmosphere that so often accompanies musicians performing at this standard.

Finally, having raised enough money to book a venue, the orchestra faces one of its biggest difficulties: promoting its concert. They have to draw enough attention to bring in an audience - the programme has to be diverse and eye-catching, and a lot of work goes into pushing the concert into the public image. This seems to be an obstacle that BriSO have waltzed over – they have already been nominated for the Regional Awards ‘New Business Award’, which Goodchild puts down to being “lucky enough to have a designer who has created all our branding and a fresh and contemporary website.” They also have a very active social media awareness, with Twitter (@BristolSymphony), Facebook, and Instagram all promoting the players and upcoming concerts.

The Bristol Symphony Orchestra really gives the impression of being invested in the community. From open rehearsals to supporting local businesses and their entirely Bristol-based members, they aim not only to play music but to share it with the people around them, and inspire others with their music making.

Their highly anticipated launch will be at the High Sherriff’s Concert, where they will premiere a Concerto for Kora and Orchestra commissioned by the High Sherriff, Helen Wilde, written by Goodchild in collaboration with Mamadou Cissokho, among other works. They will perform at St. George’s Bristol on the 18th of June, in the first concert of what promises to be a long and successful career.

Charlotte Perkins, Music Reviewer

Bristol 24/7

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