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  1. Wealth
March 19, 2012

Orion Orchestra

By Spear's

To form a new orchestra and nurture its growth during a recession is certainly challenging, some would say foolish

TO FORM A new orchestra and nurture its growth during a recession is certainly challenging, some would say foolish, but surprisingly two new British orchestras have been thriving beyond expectations, despite the tightening of charitable purse strings.

A few years ago when I was in Beirut singing at the Al Bustan Festival, a newly formed orchestra going by the name of Aurora had been invited to play. Their founder, the charming and innovative conductor Nicholas Collon, developed a fresh vibrant sound and is the driving force behind this band of talented instrumentalists.

Their success has been phenomenal; a versatile and outward looking repertoire which through educational projects has had commissions for dance collaborations, scoring of animated films, a premiere of Chris Willis music at the BBC Proms in 2012, a residency at Kings Place and a CD release with Decca Classics.

With more international touring planned, this orchestra is now firmly on the map possessing all-round splendid reviews and a global reputation. Speaking to Nicholas Collon one things is resoundingly clear – the need of patronage and support: “Without the leg up we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere and thanks to that support we are now in a more stable position.”

Aurora was lucky. During a time when grants were being slashed, they secured Arts Council funding primarily through their educational work and desire to bring classical music to a new audience, through cross-arts collaborations. ‘Cross-arts’ is the buzzword, by the way, as it manages to involve new and otherwise untapped audiences. It’s a popular angle now with musicians now performing at Jazz and rock venues across London to tap in to a new generation of musical lovers.
HOT ON THE heels of Aurora is the recently formed Orion Orchestra with the energetic Toby Purser at the helm. I have just seen them play an ambitious programme of Wagner, Brahms and Mendelssohn at Cadogan Hall with the superb young Italian violinist Giovanni Guzzo wowing me with a stunning rendition of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto.

Guzzo’s intonation was superb and his involvement and delivery of the music captivating. A Young Concert Artist Trust finalist and leader of the Manchester Camerata Orchestra, I’m tipping Giovanni Guzzo as a huge star of the future.

Conductor Toby Purser has launched the Orion orchestra with slightly more chutzpah than Collon’s slowly but surely approach. It is larger in size – a symphony orchestra, in fact – and has been well supported by a strong hold of well-connected individuals. It also has the support of Grange Park Opera and its supernova ball of energy artistic director Wasfi Kani.

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Purser is a talented conductor who is going places. Daring with his use of dynamics, he succeeded in bringing out some sensational sounds from his colourfully dressed band of international players. The Mendelssohn was the highlight of the evening and you could feel the warmth and camaraderie the players have for each other.

The energy and enthusiasm is far-reaching and although the Brahms may have been a little testing at times, the level of musicianship is so high that you can imagine nothing is beyond their capabilities. Orion possesses a strong string section, a charismatic first violinist and Purser’s connection with his young players is wonderful to watch.
ORION FOCUSES ON charity performances for organizations such as Peace and Prosperity in the Middle East and homeless charity The Passage. Purser is adamant that the repertoire should encompass those famous symphonies that musicians will be playing in the future. He is keen to play lost works, rediscover forgotten masterpieces and sees his orchestra as that stepping stone between leaving college and joining a more established orchestra like the RPO or Philharmonia. Funding of course though is always a problem and with ten concerts already planned for next year his resourcefulness is impressive.

“Tickets sales have certainly been more difficult as you would expect but paradoxically individuals have become more generous, perhaps because of their sensitivity to the financial climate.”

Heavenly Bodies is Orion’s patronage system where patrons can join an exclusive club where short recitals followed by a cocktail party are hosted in beautiful private houses across London. There is lots of socialising and with Princess Michael of Kent as their newly appointed patron and Lady Solti as president, there are sure to be some glamorous and interesting guests.  

“I didn’t expect to be making canapés and ordering champagne,” says Toby when I ask him about his role as artistic director, but the parties have proved popular and he has raised enough money to do a few self-standing concerts.

Orion is now orchestra in residence at the Aberysthwyth Festival and is concentrating on a series of concerts comprising of Latin American fusion and British music for the autumn season to celebrate the jubilee.

by Melinda Hughes

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