All you need to know about Lancaster’s Haffner Orchestra

Helen Bardsley (left) and Mary Gibson in Dalton Square, Lancaster.

Helen Bardsley (left) and Mary Gibson in Dalton Square, Lancaster. - Credit: Archant

Helen Price answers questions about one of Lancashire’s musical treasures and reveals a special date this month

In The Borough bar: John Whittaker, Christine Hughes, Nigel Atkinson, Jane Dutton, Alex Phillips, He

In The Borough bar: John Whittaker, Christine Hughes, Nigel Atkinson, Jane Dutton, Alex Phillips, Helen Bardsley, Mary Gibson and Stephen Pendlebury - Credit: Archant

Tell us about the orchestra

Natalia Luis-Bassa in rehearsal

Natalia Luis-Bassa in rehearsal - Credit: Archant

The Haffner is Lancaster’s very own symphony orchestra – a great resource for the city. We perform three concerts a year - in February, June and November. The players – there are about 40 of us - are amateurs and good players. The orchestra has changed enormously since it started 36 years ago. In those days we were a chamber orchestra. Our concerts were held in the Princess Margaretha Hall in St. Martin’s College, as it was then. Now we perform to packed houses in the Great Hall, Lancaster University, and the Ashton Hall in the city centre, and people comment on the fact they no longer need to go to Manchester or Liverpool for excellent concerts. Incidentally, the name Haffner comes from one of Mozart’s patrons in Salzburg.

What sort of response do you get?

New people coming to our concerts are surprised. A comment in November was: ‘We were blown away. We will be coming to all your concerts in the future!’ A reviewer wrote: ‘At the end there was a real sense of elation in the hall. Everybody went home feeling good and making a mental note to check the date of the next Haffner concert.’

What’s so special about 2014?

Our conductor Natalia Luis-Bassa has been with us for ten years. She is dynamic and charismatic, and the audience and players love the way she brings music alive. She studied oboe at the world famous El Sistema in Venezuela and became the first person to obtain a degree in Orchestral Conducting in her native country. She said recently: ‘One of the things that makes the Haffner so successful is its members and all the love and passion they give. This is something I admire and respect about the Haffner.’ She is a Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music, and is also Music Director of the National Children’s Orchestra (London).

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Natalia had appeared on BBC 2’s ‘Maestro’, teaching the actor David Soul how to conduct, and she gave us an evening during which she showed us some of the tricks of the trade. Novices were able to have a try.

How will you mark Natalia’s anniversary?

We are having a really special concert. Kathryn Stott is coming to play Shostakovich’s second piano concerto with us on Saturday February 15th. Born in Lancashire, she is internationally recognised as one of Britain’s most versatile and imaginative musicians and is frequently heard on BBC Radio 3. Kathryn recently chose the new Steinway piano for Lancaster University, and it’s great that she will be playing the very piano she fell in love with.

Do you ever have guest conductors?

Yes, quite often and this keeps us on our toes and gives us a different perspective. Recently, we have enjoyed concerts with Justin Doyle, who is originally from Lancaster and whose enthusiasm has inspired us.

What’s it like being a member?

Players often say that the Haffner is like a family, and that it is welcoming, well organised, stable, and ‘an orchestra with a spark.’ Along with the concerts, we organise a variety of workshops and masterclasses. Our President, the internationally famous cellist Raphael Wallfisch, has held two masterclasses for us in recent years, which have included open tuition for young players.

Do you attract young people to concerts?

Yes. Here are comments from two at a recent concert.

Sarah, aged 10: ‘This is way better than listening to the radio!’

Henry, aged 9, after Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony: ‘It was great!’

It didn’t cost them a penny to hear us. If you’re 18 or under, Haffner Orchestra concerts are free.

How do you find the money to run the orchestra?

We get no grants but we are a registered charity. Ticket sales don’t cover the costs but we have patrons who make a very valuable contribution to our funds. We hold fundraising events, and orchestra members pay a subscription. As this year is special for us, being Natalia’s tenth anniversary, we have been lucky enough to find four local businesses who are supporting us for the year: Oglethorpe Sturton Gillibrand Solicitors, Sanlam Private Investments, Reid Hamilton Insurance Brokers and Armstrong Watson Accountants. Atkinsons of Lancaster have also provided a venue for a fund-raising musical evening, and a hamper of fine tea and coffee. Thanks!

Where do we get tickets?

For more information about the orchestra, visit our website For tickets, buy online or ring 01524 582394.