London's Amateur Orchestras

Beautiful Cacophonies that need to be heard

It’s no secret that London is home to some of the most famous performing arts venues in the world. From the Royal Albert Hall to the Round House, The National Theatre and the entirety of the West End, London is the ultimate destination for live music, theatre, and dance. Of this, there is certainly no question.

But there is a catch, for even many lifelong residents, much less those visiting London, have never experienced the unparalleled cultural activities happening all around them, every day of the year. And unfortunately, that reason is cost.
Anybody who has had even a whiff of London on the breeze can recognise that living here is not cheap and neither is the high-end entertainment advertised on billboards and buses across town. But fear not, for there is a way to get your dose of culture and class on a budget, after having spent the bulk of your holiday cash on the airfare or train just to get here.

One of the best-kept secrets of the world famous London music scene is its “amateur orchestras.” And don’t be fooled by the word ‘amateur,’ for a fraction of the cost of dressing up and shelling out boatloads of cash, even for the cheap seats at the London Symphony Orchestra, you can have a far more intimate experience with some of London’s most accomplished classical musicians as they play for friends, family and classical music junkies alike.

the finest ‘non-professional symphony orchestra in the UK
- Amati Orchestra Mission Statement

One such amateur orchestra putting on three concerts a year at the historic St.James’s Church of Sussex Gardens between Paddington and Lancaster Gate is the Amati Orchestra. Lead by First Violin and soloist Edouard Alexandre Wood, along with Artistic Director Leo Patsalides, who will gladly share his vision of turning Amati into "the finest ‘non-professional symphony orchestra in the UK."

So with that in mind, Amati Orchestra has forged ahead for five years now, and recently they celebrated this anniversary by holding an open day at their concert space as part of BBC Music: Get Playing, a BBC program designed to get amateur musicians from all over the UK to come together for the love of music. It seems to be working, as musicians from all over London were welcome to attend and they came out in force. Two-year veteran cellist, Pauline Chetail, expressed her love for London’s Amateur Orchestras, of which she is a member of two other groups.

“It’s a great opportunity to dust off my cello and play exciting pieces,” says Pauline. “Like Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and Brahms Hungarian Dances, all in a relaxed setting.”

It’s a great opportunity to dust off my cello and play exciting pieces
- veteran cellist, Pauline Chetail

As a number of passing tourists discovered when they wandered in, attracted by the sound of music wafting out into the street, this orchestra’s talent leaves you wanting more. At the same time, many part-time musicians love the opportunity to rub shoulders with professionals like orchestra member Vashti Hunter, the first British Cellist to earn a prize at the International Cello Competition, “Prague Spring,” in the 65 years the competition has been around. Or perhaps former piano soloist, Tom Hicks, who amongst other honours, was awarded first prize in the Canolfan Gerdd William Mathias Piano Competition, first prize in the European Piano Teachers’ Association, first prize in the EPTA UK Piano Competition and the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Junior Intercollegiate Competition. Again, just to name a few.

Another up and coming orchestra currently making a splash in the classical music scene is the Central London Orchestra (CLO). Although a newer addition to the list, CLO is lead by Oxford School of Music Alum and Assistant Conductor Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Ed Whitehead. CLO is also made up of musicians from various other, more established groups, making their membership equally as interesting as any other group around town. In fact, they’ve already proven their ability to draw the talent of renowned soloists, such as oboist Felicity Cliffe, a member of the BBC Elstree Concert Band and the Women of the World Orchestra.

labelling an orchestra as ‘amateur’ is simply a way of describing those who perform for the love of the music
- Cais Jurgens

CLO can be found rehearsing at St Botolph-without-Aldersgate on Aldersgate St in the City of London. Featuring Strauss’s Kaiser-Waltzer, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Waldteufel’s Les Patineurs, CLO’S next concert will be held early next yearh.

Perhaps one of the oldest and most respected orchestras in all of London is the Brent Symphony Orchestra. Having celebrated 100 years in 2011, this 70 piece orchestra has been rehearsing and performing for Londoners and London visitors alike through out the 20th Century. Through world wars, coronations and austerity, they’ve soldiered on and will be putting on their next concerts relatively soon. You can find them at St Martin's Church on Mortimer Road in London near Kensal Rise tube station. They’ll be performing Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Dvořák’s The Golden Spinning Wheel, and Brahms’ Symphony No.2.

So in a way, labelling an orchestra as ‘amateur’ is simply a way of describing those who perform for the love of the music, along with other, like-minded musicians and often as a way to refine their skills from the high-pressure world of ‘professional orchestras.’
If you’re interested, Amati’s next concert will be Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, and Nicolai’s Overture and Merry Wives of Windsor. The featured soloist will be the great Vashti Hunter. Tickets are £10 for students and £12 otherwise. They can be purchased ahead of time or at the door. Traditionally, the musicians of this very London hidden gem and their audience members end up mingling at one of the nearby pubs following the concert so if you're into stimulating conversation with some of London's finest musicians, follow the pack of men and women weighed down by instruments to the nearest watering hole and you’ll come away with a uniquely London tale to tell.