Paula Muldoon chats with London Gay Symphony Orchestra chairman and flautist Pete Reynolds about finding soloists through Encore and appearing on the BBC's All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge
You worked with Encore to find soloists for your 16/17 season. Why did you use Encore instead of going with a more traditional route?
LGSO has never been one for traditional routes! We have always tried to advertise our concerto competition as widely as possible, but are usually fairly restricted to music college mailouts and Facebook posts. Having used Encore a couple of times myself to fix players for other things, I thought I’d give it a shot and the response was astounding – over 200 applicants, including our two fantastic winners.
Can you talk about the BBC competition?
All Together Now: the Great Orchestra Challenge is a BBC television show. Think of it as Strictly Come Dancing for classical music! Five orchestras were chosen to compete, with challenges in a variety of classical music genres and the winner getting to play in the Proms in the Park.
I can’t say much more than that at this stage, but we feel really lucky to have been picked as one of the final five orchestras. It's also been a huge challenge to prepare so much music so quickly. As we were finishing our season and going on an international tour at the same time, at one point we had two full concert programmes and the BBC challenge on our plate...that’s a lot of notes! Needless to say however, it was a lot of fun and we can’t wait to see it on screen.
Is the orchestra excited to receive mentoring from Chi-Chi Nwanoku?
The orchestra absolutely erupted with excitement when we found out Chi-Chi was involved with the BBC competition! We’ve already had a couple of sessions with her, and she is really great to work with and full of wonderful advice. Not to mention being absolutely lovely!
What are the LGSO's goals for the competition?
More than winning, the main reason I wanted us to enter is that I feel that amateur music in the UK is underrepresented. Thousands of people across the country spend their free time making music together and it’s about time the nation saw that; it’s a highly important part of our national culture and is something that really deserves to be celebrated.
Furthermore, one of the LGSO’s key aims is project a positive image of LGBT people out to the world; we want to show everyone that being gay isn’t just about bars, clubs, and taking drugs as the media would often have you believe. Being on a show like this gives us the chance to normalise LGBT people, showing the world that have hobbies and interests just like anyone else.
The LGSO members all say there's a really great vibe in the group. How would you describe the atmosphere?
LGSO is unlike any other amateur orchestra I’ve played in. It's like an extended family, and I know that it has been a great support to many members: those new to the city, or those struggling with their sexuality or gender. Because the group is so supportive and non-judgemental, everyone can comfortably be themselves.
How is the LGSO structured?
We are a non-auditioning group, as we expect players to self-moderate. We have a number of people, particularly in the strings, who might play most of the time but perhaps sit out if something really tricky comes up. This flexibility is one of the great things about the group.
We have to be a little stricter in the wind section for obvious reasons, but we do rotate players in and out; when your members all have day jobs there will always be the odd concert they can’t do so we keep a healthy bank of deps.
We rehearse three hours a week for six weeks before each concert and have five concerts a season, so are pretty much rehearsing most of the time!
What are some of your best memories of the orchestra?
Highlights for me have included playing in the Royal Festival Hall for the first time in 2009, tours to Paris & Cologne and meeting our counterpart orchestras in both cities, an outdoor concert in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens with a ton of fireworks. The BBC competition has been great, and most importantly I've met some of the best friends I’ll ever have.
What are you most looking forward to in the orchestra's future?
The orchestra turns 21 in 2017 and we’re having a big concert at St John’s Smith Square to celebrate; we’ve commissioned a new work from Michael Finnissy to mark the occasion and I’m really excited to see how that turns out. Otherwise, I’m just excited to see how the next 21 years goes, what the outcome of the BBC competition might bring, working with more wonderfully talented musicians and making lots more wonderful new friends!
All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge will follow five amateur orchestras as they take part in master classes and stage their own concerts. Conductor Paul Daniel will select a winner who will perform at the BBC Proms in the Park. The show, hosted by Katie Derham, will be broadcast on BBC Four starting in late August 2016, with the grand final broadcast on BBC Two.
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