Orchestral manoeuvres of COA

JON WELCH It aims to refresh the parts other orchestras cannot reach, taking music to out-of-the-way places and giving talented young musicians the chance to work with professionals. Chamber Orchestra Anglia celebrates its fifth birthday with a celebratory concert this Thursday.


Every performance an event” - that's the motto of East Anglia's own professional orchestra, which marks its fifth birthday this Thursday, November 16, with a gala concert in Norwich.

But while Chamber Orchestra Anglia has chosen a city centre location for its big celebration, it was set up with the aim of taking classical music to all corners of the region, presenting its concerts to new audiences, in new places, in new ways.

It has built an enthusiastic following around Norfolk, winning a reputation for imaginative programming and working with leading conductors such as Sir Colin Davis (London Symphony Orchestra) and Jiri Belohlavek (BBC Symphony Orchestra).

The idea for the orchestra came from Vincent Watts, the former UEA vice-chancellor, who envisaged a professional orchestra for the region with not only an innovative approach to performance, but also to taking its music to communities currently deprived of orchestral music and working in musical education.

“Students were pretty impoverished when it came to witnessing professional music-making,” says Sharon Andrea Choa, the orchestra's artistic director and director of performance studies at UEA's School of Music.

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The orchestra aimed to put that right by attracting top musicians to the region, and giving talented young musicians the chance to play with, and learn from, them through its coCOA scheme.

“What is unique is we're allowing young people aged 11 to sit side-by-side with professionals,” she says.

“They play alongside a really top set of players and conductors. They are doing the same job as they are. They are challenged and pushed to rise to the occasion.”

The orchestra puts on three workshops a year for the young musicians, aged from 11 to 25.

Simon Fairclough, the orchestra's general manager, adds: “The overall aim is to develop these young people to a professional standard. We're accelerating their learning.”

The orchestra's debut concert was at Norwich's newly-opened Forum in May 2001, and it has since played at venues including the Riverside at Loddon; the Sainsbury Centre; the John Innes Centre; and Wymondham Abbey.

It prides itself on bringing different disciplines together: for instance, drama, dance and humour. One concert at Norwich Playhouse in 2002, called Jesting With Art, featured narration by comedian Griff Rhys Jones.

And a concert at September's BA Festival in Norwich explored the maths of music, and the links between music and genetics, with a panel of distinguished guest speakers which included Professor Michael McIntyre (Cambridge University) and Sir Walter Bodmer (Oxford University).

Maths and music might seem like unlikely bedfellows, but Simon says: “There are a lot of similarities. Composers do use a lot of patterns that are akin to mathematical concepts for structuring their works.”

This Thursday, the orchestra will perform a concert at Norwich Playhouse. It will feature the world premiere of a specially-commissioned piece by Norwich-based composer Jonathan Impett, which will act as a celebratory curtain-raiser to the programme.

He has written a short birthday ode, inspired by Stravinsky's Greeting Prelude which was written for conductor Pierre Monteux's 80th birthday in 1955.

“We have quite a commitment to commissioning new music,” says Hong Kong-born Sharon, the inspiration behind Chamber Orchestra Anglia.

The orchestra is funded mainly by private donations, although it has had some support from Norwich City Council and Norfolk County Council, and will soon be looking for Arts Council funding.

It also plans to stage more performances in unusual venues across the region.

“We're committed to touring the region and getting into deepest darkest Norfolk and Suffolk and places where there isn't music,” says Sharon.

Simon adds: “There are a lot of places where there isn't access to these kinds of things. We are committed to taking what we do here and taking it out to wherever people want to hear it. We like the idea of being in more public places.”

So what of the future? “The future is bright,” says Sharon. “I have been there from the beginning. We're developing the visions and they are coming into reality: these ideas of working with young musicians and presenting music so it's enlightening for the audience.”

Chamber Orchestra Anglia's Fifth Birthday Gala Concert is at Norwich Playhouse this Thursday, November 16, at 7.30pm. On the programme is Copland's Appalachian Spring; Janacek's Suite For String; Schubert's “Unfinished” Symphony; Haydn's Symphony No 6 “Le Matin”; and Impett's Birthday Ode (world premiere). The conductor is Sharon Andrea Choa and the presenter is Christopher Cook, of BBC Radio 3. Tickets, priced £18 and £15 (concessions) are available from the Theatre Royal box office on 01603 598598.

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