Local ‘golden oldie’ orchestra gears up for autumn season

Still riding high after its 50th anniversary last year, the Dorchester-based Orchestra of St John’s has a busy autumn ahead both in Oxford and London.

The orchestra was founded by conductor John Lubbock in 1968 while he was still a student at the Royal Academy of Music.

if anyone fancies a trip to London, the OSJ’s My Music series is at the Wigmore Hall from September with guests including Kevin Whately, Kitty Whately, Nicholas Parsons, Sir Roy Strong and Alan Titchmarsh

Now the OSJ’s General Administrator, Simon Payne, is on a mission to make a bit more noise about the orchestra that has been widely described as “one of classical music’s best kept secrets”.

“We’re trying to portray OSJ as having three strands of equal importance,” he says.

“There’s the concert work, which has been going for 50 years and still has some wonderful players. Every concert is a musical treat. It’s a very closely-knit ensemble.

“Then there’s Music for Autism, which is being drawn under the OSJ umbrella. In the past that hasn’t had much publicity. 

“Once in a blue moon John goes on Radio 4 or has an article in one of the nationals, but really it is kept quiet – he hides his light under a bushel.

“Thirdly, there’s our community projects. We’re lucky to have Cayenna Ponchione as Associate Conductor, and she’s got the same idea that John has always had – that music is a good way of helping people. It’s not just about concerts – you have to get out and draw people in.”

The autumn concert season kicks off in Dorchester on 21stSeptember with the first concert in the popular Music in the Abbey series. 

The programme includes Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, five Bruckner motets and Brahms’ stirring Violin Concerto in D major, featuring OSJ leader Jan Schmolck as the soloist.

There’s a treat in store in October with Rossini’s glorious Petite Messe Solennelle– the mass often described as being neither small nor solemn – with Ilona Domnich (soprano), Ellie Edmunds (alto), Xavier Hetherington (tenor), Fraser Scott (bass), Catherine Edwards (piano) and Howard Moody (organ).

The final concert in the series, on 23rdNovember, has an operatic flavour with the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, the Prelude from Verdi’s La Traviataand Bizet’s Carmen Suite.

There’s also Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2with popular local pianist Maki Sekiya and Rosauro’s Marimba Concertowith soloist Gregor Thomson.

Interspersed between these concerts is the OSJ Ashmolean Prom series, now in its eighth season, featuring classical music favourites such as Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascendingand Delius’ On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring.

As Christmas approaches there will be the traditional carol concerts at Dorchester Abbey and the Ashmolean, as well as Handel’s Messiahand a New Year’s Eve Concert in Dorchester.

And if anyone fancies a trip to London, the OSJ’s My Music series is at the Wigmore Hall from September with guests including Kevin Whately, Kitty Whately, Nicholas Parsons, Sir Roy Strong and Alan Titchmarsh.

Simon explains: “It’s like Desert Island Discs. We do an hour-long lunchtime concert once a month, and John arranges their choices of music for chamber orchestra. We normally have a singer and perhaps one other soloist, and it fits the size and atmosphere of the Wigmore very well.”

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Meanwhile, the community work continues, including maintaining links with the Afghan Women’s Orchestra following their week-long residency in Oxford earlier this year.

“We want to keep supporting them long-term,” Simon says. “The way we do that at the moment is by distance music lessons on Skype. Various members of the orchestra and Cayenna are giving lessons to students in Kabul, and I think that’s very valuable.

“The idea is to train the older students to be able to help the younger students, because they don’t have many staff. 

“So that’s a good example of the sort of thing we want to support.”

With the OSJ’s ethos of bringing music to the community, Simon believes the orchestra has carved a unique path for itself.

“It’s what makes us different, special, unique, all those sort of words that are overused!” he chuckles. 

“If you try to write down what you’re trying to do that makes your orchestra different, you use all the words that everyone uses. But I think it’s quite special that John’s been doing what he does for 50 years.”

Nicola Lisle

For more information, visit www.osj.org.uk

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