Classical Events

Classical Events Newsletter

14 October 2015


Jonathan Heaton (Classical Events) interviews Stephen Hemsted (Marketing Officer) and Matthew Willis (Music Director).

When was the TPS founded and by whom? Was there an existing or previous organisation(s) from which it evolved?

Stephen Hemstead. The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society comprises a choir and orchestra and has been performing high-quality music since it was formed in 1946. Initially formed as a choir, the orchestra was subsequently formed in 1958 and TPS remain to this day one of the few societies with both a chorus and orchestra. Extracts from the early Minute books of the Society explain reasons for its creation “On Friday 7th June 1946 a Public Meeting was held to inaugurate ‘a Tonbridge Philharmonic Choral Society’". The Vicar of Tonbridge presided and outlined the purpose of the meeting – to build into a strong, virile (sic) fellowship all who valued the practise and performance of great Choral Works.”

In general terms what is the background of your orchestral players and how large is the orchestra's catchment area?

Stephen Hemsted. Our players come from all walks of life. They are enthusiastic talented amateur musicians, often also playing in other musical ensembles. Most are from the Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells area, showing the level of musical ability in the local community.

How do you recruit and retain orchestral players? Is there an audition for both the instrumentalists and singers?

Stephen Hemsted. We recruit orchestral players mainly though word of mouth, press and also via our website and social media. We have a core of players and singers who have been with the society for many years, and we regularly welcome new members. The orchestra is currently looking for strings particularly violinists and double bass players of a good standard, as well as trumpet and trombone players. Percussion players are also needed from time to time. We are currently approaching school alumni associations and local music departments.

We do not conduct auditions for either choir or orchestra. Our policy is inclusive, though we expect those who join us to show a commitment to the Society’s aims to provide high performance standards, and we currently offer choral members the opportunity to attend extra vocal training sessions.

What is your key repertoire and how is your season of concerts chosen?

Stephen Hemsted. The Society presents a regular programme of choral and orchestral concerts of a high standard, employing established quality and rising professional soloists. The Society has an extensive repertoire spanning a wide range of music, including most of the major choral and many less well-known works, orchestral pieces and commissions.

Matthew Willis. My repertoire choices focus on presenting some of the musical greats, giving a fresh perspective on them to our audiences.

How do your audiences respond to contemporary classical music?

Stephen Hemsted. The society have in the past worked with contemporary locally based composers that has been well received. Our aim is to ensure works are accessible to our audiences, with some challenge to the society members to perform.

What is the most memorable performance since you joined and why?

Matthew Willis. In the Spring this year, the society choir and orchestra performed Haydn’s Creation – and I felt musically we got to a higher level in terms of confidence and musical direction, the choir and orchestra engaging with, and expressing, their musicality. And our spectacular soloists created a sense of drama, that helped lift the Biblical text off the page.

When you joined the TPS in 2014 what were your main objectives?

Matthew Willis. To raise performance standards and fulfil the society’s potential – exceeding their expectations – and attracting new members to the society.

In a nutshell what's the key to the success of working with a music society with an orchestra and a choir?

Matthew Willis. Working through the challenges of a piece of music together – tackling and making those challenges achievable, within the limited rehearsal time, and then knitting all the elements successfully together in the performance.

The Tonbridge Philharmonic Society perform Beethoven's Missa Solemnis conducted by Matthew Willis (above), on Saturday 21st November at Tonbridge School.

Visit their website for further information about the Society.

Forthcoming Events

Malvern Concert Club: Schubert Ensemble.

On the 15th October the Schubert Ensemble perform Schumann, Enescu and Schubert at The Forum, Malvern Theatres.

The Busch Ensemble perform in the opening concert of the Cheltenham Chamber Music season on the 21st October.

Since their formation in 2012, this young trio have won a succession of international prizes. Their recent Wigmore Hall debut received considerable critical acclaim and was hailed as a “memorable performance showing The Busch Ensemble’s incredible unity, abundant facility and deep musical understanding” “A piano trio bursting with far more than promise” - The Times.

The London chamber choir Londinium opens its tenth-anniversary season on the 23rd October at St Sepulchre-Without-Newgate Church.

The opening concert marks the 150 years since the births of two great Nordic composers, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen. Although known primarily for their symphonies, both wrote beautiful and characterful choral music; the selection includes Sibelius' haunting Rakastava (The Lover) and Nielsen's intense Tre Motetter. Alongside these works Londinium performs ravishing music by Peter Lange-Müller, Wilhelm Stenhammar and Toivo Kuula - composers hardly known to UK audiences - before concluding the programme with the classic Lorca Suite by Einojuhani Rautavaara.

'Music for Remembrance' at St Werburgh's R C Church, Chester. The Chester Bach Singers concert on 24th October includes Duruflé’s Requiem, Parry’s Songs of Farewell and Pizetti's Requiem.

On the 24th October the Bloomsbury Chamber Orchestra features works associated with the First World War. George Butterworth's orchestral rhapsody 'A Shropshire Lad' opens the programme. The Shropshire Girls Choir join the Orchestra in Michael Turner's 'War Songs Medley'. The second half is given over to Vaughan Williams Pastoral Symphony in which the composer reminiscences about his time in the Great War. The concert takes place at St John the Baptist Church, Bishops Castle.

The 31st October opens the Beethoven Orchestra season at the Holy Innocents Church in Fallowfield with a programme of English music.

The first item is by Joseph Holbrooke who is little known today but his Variations on 'Three Blind Mice' will be a welcome introduction to his compositions. Vaughan Williams ever popular 'The Lark Ascending' follows and the programme finishes with the grandeur and memorable themes of Elgar’s Second Symphony.

Natalie Clien's concert on the 7th November is part of 'Soirees at Breinton'. This concert series is held in a private home near Woking. She will be performing three Bach cello suites: No.1 in G major, No.6 in D major and No.2 in D minor.

The Antara Duo: Tom Hancox and Rachel Wick, perform at the St Mary's Centre in Chester on the 11th November. They are promoted by the Chester Music Society whose season of concerts with Classical Events runs from 14th October 2015 to 16th May 2016.

St George's Chamber Orchestra begins it's 12th Season on the 14th November with a programme of symphonies by Mozart and Haydn. The concert is at St George's Church, Beckenham, London.

Katy Woolley, the wonderful young principal horn of the Philharmonia Orchestra, joins the orchestra to play the fun 2nd horn concerto by Mozart. The fun continues with Alex Neal, usually our timpanist but on this occasion our conductor, leading the way in the wonderful Toy Symphony.

Smetana: Má Vlast - The Cycle of Six Symphonic Poems

A evening of Smetana with the WSO on 14 November at Hoylake Chapel, Hoylake, Merseyside. Their conductor, Jonathan Small, is the Principal Oboe of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

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