In defence of the Orpheus Sinfonia

Thomas CarrollWed 3rd July 2013

Don't misunderstand our aims, says artistic director

Musicians dedicate years of study, discipline and commitment to perfecting their art. Leaving music college is often a daunting time of auditions and sporadic freelancing which can be demoralising and frustrating before a young person finds full-employment or a way to support themselves independently.

Sometimes it’s misunderstood what a delicate balance Orpheus Sinfonia and Foundation faces – providing opportunities for young musicians and generating a sustainable income. Without public grants it is tough for Orpheus and other young orchestras to compete commercially in the subsidised sector. We are even more exposed to market forces, but have no safety net to fall back on. The atmosphere within Orpheus is one of shared purpose embracing this entrepreneurial spirit.

Our generation is facing the worst recession since the 1920s where arts funding has been reduced by 40% over the last 5 years which has resulted in redundancies across the industry, closures, and in many areas full eradication of music provision in schools. There are fewer opportunities for young people to teach in schools and to secure full-time posts in an orchestra.

We young musicians at Orpheus Sinfonia could sit and wait for the situation to ease but we want to give something back and create our own opportunities. Many of us have to be resourceful, juggling other work, and I often find myself balancing my career as a cellist, chamber musician, teacher and conductor.

Most British orchestras rely on short rehearsal periods to keep costs down. They are also mostly highly experienced and know the repertoire backwards. We at the Orpheus Sinfonia are committed to rehearse more than the average professional orchestra to give our best on the concert platform. We use our time to learn new repertoire and commission new work to stretch ourselves.

Stephen Goss has been our composer-in-residence this season and we’ve performed several new works by him – the most recent performance of his Piano Concerto saw us innovating with iPads in the audience, much to the surprise of the classical music establishment. For his new Triple Concerto on Thursday 11 July at Cadogan Hall, pianist Graham Caskie, the saxophonist Pete Whyman and myself on cello will be sharing the stage with a special appearance from the double-bass player Lawrence Unglass and the violinist Max Baillie, led by guest conductor Toby Purser.

This, coupled with the culmination of our Beethoven cycle, gives players invaluable orchestral experience. There can surely be no better cycle of symphonies for a young orchestra to learn and perform. For Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, we are thrilled to have four brilliant soloists: Charmian Bedford (soprano), Katherine Sayles (alto), Adrian Ward (tenor) and James Birchall (bass), will be joining forces with us and our newly inaugurated Orpheus Sinfonia Chorus.

Orpheus Foundation supports the finest young musicians on the brink of entering the profession. We’ve also been lucky enough to work with professional musicians including Tasmin Little, who generously performed with us to support the orchestra. Many of our musicians are already on trial in the most well-known orchestras in the UK. This energy always makes the concerts somehow more special, as every single member of the orchestra plays with their full passion – a thrilling coming together of skill matched with drive.

We are aware there might be more lucrative careers available to us, but we are proud to have chosen to make music our profession. Orpheus is a fantastic vehicle for us to gain experience and hone our skills and I’ve willingly given over my own conductor’s fee on occasions to help a young soloist. It would not exist without the support of the Board of Orpheus Foundation, who works tirelessly pro bono, and the many commercial and private sponsors who give so generously to support Orpheus’s objectives and all its activities. Together we all make up for limited resources with enthusiasm, camaraderie and aspiration. Schiller couldn’t have put it better in Beethoven’s Ninth:

'Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,


Your magic power unites what strict custom has divided;


All men [will] become brothers


where your gentle wing rests.'

Thomas Carroll's picture

Thomas Carroll

Thomas Carroll is a distinguished cellist who studied with Melissa Phelps at the Yehudi Menuhin School and with Heinrich Schiff in Austria. He is currently a Professor at the Royal College of Music in London and the Yehudi Menuhin School. He is artistic director of the Orpheus Foundation.

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