Photo by David Gerrard
For an orchestra to be approaching its centenary in these days of cuts to the arts is quite some achievement. And yet the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra is doing just that. Founded 95 years ago, Brighton’s professional orchestra has been based for all but two of those in the Dome.
As the 2019-2020 season begins, Chairman Nicolas Chisholm is coming to the end of his five-year tenure, but it’s clear that optimism is high at the BPO. He admits their concerts regularly attract over 1000 people, but the aim is to “improve on that and be even more exciting and innovative. Brighton is vibrant and diverse. We want to present programmes that appeal to a wide audience.”
This month’s concert, featuring jazz violinist Christian Garrick and Friends with the Brighton Philharmonic Strings, promises to be an interesting opener to the season. It’s a programme of tango, jazz and gypsy-folk music and includes Astor Piazzolla’s ‘sizzling’ Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (billed as ‘Four Seasons of Brighton Aires’). It’s exciting stuff. But does that mean the orchestra is moving away from its classical roots? Chisholm says not at all. For example in December the programme includes two Haydn symphonies, Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending – “very much our core repertoire,” he explains, “and our New Year’s Eve Gala concert is practically a Brighton institution, pretty much selling out each year.”
But alongside this there are distinct signs that the BPO is determined to stay ahead of the game. “We want to do unusual things.” Chisholm is enthusiastic about a new initiative to showcase the different sections of the orchestra. February’s concert is given over to Brighton Philharmonic Brass with music from the sixteenth century to the present, including Chris Hazell’s Four Cats Suite.
Chisholm acknowledges that today’s audiences often appreciate, even expect a visual element to complement what they’re hearing, so that it becomes not unlike theatre. “We want people to go away thinking ‘wow, that was a real musical experience.’ Later in the season we have virtuoso piano duo Worbey and Farrell returning with one of their own programmes, Rhapsody, which they’ve performed all over the world. They’re showmen as well as fantastic musicians. Many audience members will have seen nothing like it.” This is true – look them up on YouTube!
Things are looking good for a bumper centenary celebration in five years’ time. It’s clear that Chisholm is immensely proud of the BPO’s achievements and the quality of its programmes. “People often don’t realise this is the city’s professional orchestra – all the members play in other orchestras and come together as the BPO. It’s a real jewel in the crown for Brighton.”
Christian Garrick & Friends, Sunday 10th Nov, 2.45pm. brightonphil.org.uk