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?
. 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?
. 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?
. 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?
. 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.
. 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?
. 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?
. 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?
. 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?
. 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.