Sale Chamber Orchestra set to premier new work

Sale Chamber Orchestra

Sale Chamber Orchestra - Credit: Archant

This month Sale Chamber Orchestra reach a major milestone as they perform the world premiere of a piece written for them by a composition graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music

What brings together people such as an ex-Army officer, a doctor, a management consultant, a church organist and those from a variety of other walks of life in happy harmony every week, and has done for the past 45 years?

The answer is Sale Chamber Orchestra – a group of string players who practise together every week and perform three times a year on ‘home ground’ (St Paul’s Church, Sale, though they rehearse at St Martin’s, Ashton-on-Mersey) and annually in aid of the United Nations Association in Stockport. They’ve given concerts from Keswick and Cartmel to Shropshire, with venues in between including Warrington’s Parr Hall, Stockport Town Hall, Bramhall and Nantwich.

This month they reach a major milestone as they perform the world premiere of a piece specially written for them by Emily Wright, a composition graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music.

‘We commissioned short pieces for string orchestra from three north west composers in our 2010-11 season,’ says orchestra member Beth Evens. ‘Rehearsing and performing these new pieces was highly rewarding, and now we have appointed Emily as our composer-in-residence. She came to hear us play and talk with us about her music and what we like. We also played a piece she wrote some time ago, and the orchestra fell in love with that.’

Sale Chamber Orchestra’s conductor is Richard Howarth – leader, until recently, of Manchester Camerata. A brilliant violinist, he was asked to pick up the baton six years ago.

Now he works with half a dozen other amateur groups. ‘They’re all different,’ he says, ‘but these people are really nice. We have a laugh as well as working hard, and there’s a social life, too, including a New Year dinner.

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‘I’ve worked with some high-quality musicians in my career, and always enjoyed giving something back, as it were. I enjoy trying to balance enjoyment with work – and they’re very keen to learn.’

Philip Geiger, 55, plays the violin in the SCO and is a management consultant. ‘Music has always been a passion for me,’ he says. He joined 12 years ago and adds: ‘Most members have been with us quite a long time, but there are always new ones coming along.’

It was during an ‘end-of-term’ party in their church hall rehearsal room that Philip and Richard came up with the idea of working with composers ‘in residence’. Funding came from the Ida Carroll Trust and Sale’s Mayoral Fund, and the project was helped along by Royal Northern College of Music head of composition Adam Gorb.

Viola player Diana Kelly, 65, with her first husband, John Walker-Jones (he died in 1985) founded the orchestra. ‘At that time there was very little enabling adults in this area to get together,’ she says. ‘We started off in a very small way, and over the years it’s improved and grown.’

David Graham, 65, violinist and chairman of the orchestra, until recently was in senior management with Landis + Gyr, Stockport-based makers of ‘smart’ gas meters. ‘I’ve been either chairman or secretary for the past 20 years,’ he says, and introduces Ingrid Fichardt, 52, a local GP whom he introduced to the orchestra as a by-product of being her patient.

Ingrid joined in 2001 and plays the cello – an instrument she gave up as a teenager but has returned to. ‘Being in the orchestra gives me a reason to keep practising,’ she says – ‘and it’s a place of friendship and the fun of playing music together.’

An unexpected ‘other life’ emerges as I talk to cellist Chris Hemingway, 55, whose present job is teaching guitar in an Oldham primary school. He was formerly Lieut-Col. Hemingway, in the British Army for 32 years, finishing in charge of food supply for all three armed forces, a role which saw him visiting Afghanistan and other war theatres. He took up the cello aged 38.

And the orchestra has fostered at least one romance across the music stands. Philip Archer, 61, and Jan, 53, met through joining it and are now married.

Philip is a violin maker (as well as violinist) and Jan, a violist, is organist and choir director at St Martin’s, Ashton-on-Mersey. They’re respectively librarian and treasurer of the orchestra. ‘The social side is very important,’ says Philip. ‘It’s like a family.’ The orchestra does not audition potential members in a formal sense. ‘You have to come along for two or three weeks and sit next to a section leader. If they think you’re up to it, you can become a member,’ says Jan.

Players clearly treasure their ‘away gigs’. But a member told me: ‘You never quite know what conditions you’re going to find.

‘One venue had no heating and we all nearly froze to death. There was another where we played for the local Ladies’ Circle, run by a fearsome woman – but they knew what they were doing, as we had a huge crowd and they had the town’s car park closed specially for us.’

Sale Chamber Orchestra perform at St Paul’s Church, Sale, on Saturday November 23rd, including the world premiere of a new work by Emily Wright