First of the Year

I started this in the early hours of Thursday morning but for various reasons have not been able to finish it. Here goes.

Last Wednesday, the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra gathered for the first time in 2010, to rehearse for a concert on 30 January at St. James' Church, Piccadilly (info here; tickets can be booked by clicking the 'Booking' link on the top menu).

I hadn't touched my trombone since putting it away after a gig at the Hammersmith Apollo on 20 December. Frankly, I'd spent so much time with it in December I was considering getting an injunction against it.  I'd been glad of the break, but over the last week I'd been highly irritable, and sometimes low. I genuinely wonder if I was suffering music withdrawal symptoms. Yes, there are many other things weighing on my mind, such as my decision to move out of the house, my complete and utter dissatisfaction with my job and more fundamental matters of the heart. At the nub of this, I am sure, is the simple fact that I hadn't participated in any musical activity for well over two weeks.

There is much to love about all the groups I play with in London, but to start the year with Corinthian is a singular pleasure.  This orchestra is justification in itself for writing about amateur music in this city. Since I left the National Youth Orchestra of Wales in 2004, I have never known such a wonderful group of people to make music with.  

The orchestra was formed in 1995 under the leadership of the late Alan Hazeldine (much more on him to come in future posts, I suspect), with, I believe, the intention of gathering together the elite of London's amateur musicians in one orchestra (though if the Salomon orchestra is as good as it claims to be, there may have been other motivations)

My first encounter with Corinthian was in May 2007.  Having moved to London in January of that year, I'd actually done little playing – only one concert with Brent Symphony Orchestra, I think, and a couple of interesting sessions with I Maestri.  I had an old university friend playing in the violin section, who often raved about how good the orchestra was and particularly the Brahms cycle that they'd recently completed.

I must admit to scepticism. My knowledge of amateur orchestras anywhere consisted of stewarding some concerts by Durham Sinfonia (ok but bolstered by a healthy Northern Sinfonia contingent), Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra (just don't….), City of Cardiff Symph (better but uninspiringly led) and Brent Symphony Orchestra, who were pretty scratchy when I joined.  I knew Corinthian was different before getting close to playing a note with them.  No amateur orchestra I ever knew wanted a music CV off me before deciding to give me a go!

I gave myself plenty of time to get to the rehearsal at the British Medical Association – despite it being two minutes from Euston station I knew I'd want to hang around outside until I saw another musician go in. This also gave me the opportunity of practising being a Londoner, by which I mean always looking like you know where you are, and where you are going. (by the way, I believe I've nailed this down to the simple act of never looking upwards)

I recognised three friends in the orchestra straight away.  It was as reassuring a sight as anchovies in a caesar salad, but not because this meant I had someone to talk to, but rather that it further enforced my optimism about the impending music-making.  Those three friends were (indeed, are) seriously excellent musicians and maybe had had more time to be choosy about with whom they shared their passion.

I was only involved in the Overture to Euryanthe by Weber.  It's a simple enough piece in concept and form, but obviously requires some skill to carry it off. Alan rehearsed it for nearly an hour and a half, which baffled me and thrilled me all at once. He worked with a level of precision I had only experienced under Chris Adey before, and the orchestra sounded simply wonderful for it. It was obvious that he and the orchestra had a real bond; and it occurred to me then that part of the ethos of the orchestra's founding members must have been not only to assemble the best amateur players in London, but to knit them together, with one man always at the helm, and create a real musical entity.

Well, that's exactly what's happened.  And even though Alan's cancer finally dragged him under in November 2008, Corinthian Chamber Orchestra continues to play with the greatest accomplishment and joie de vivre I may ever have experienced.

Our next rehearsal is next Wednesday, and I think I'll write about the aftermath of Alan's death and its effect on the orchestra's leadership and direction, which continue to be pertinent and conspicuous issues. Unless something epic happens in the rehearsal (unlikely!)

It's taken me so long to write this post I did a whole Rehearsal Orchestra weekend between starting and finishing it.  So, more to come tomorrow

2 responses to “First of the Year

  1. Fascinating. Look forward to reading more from you!

  2. Thanks Ed. I could get into this!

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