Orchestra celebrates 70 years of hitting the right notes

Wessex Concert Orchestra today

Wessex Concert Orchestra today

A WILTSHIRE orchestra is celebrating 70 years of hitting all the right notes with an anniversary concert this November in the market town where it was founded.

The celebration concert at Chippenham’s Neeld Hall on Saturday, November 20 will feature pieces of music from Wessex Concert Orchestra’s early repertoire, when founding musicians performed on national BBC radio.

The performance, before 250 concert-goers, will feature Moussorgky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as well as some of the pieces played by the orchestra 70 years ago, and a journey through film music from the 1940s to today.

The Westinghouse Concert Orchestra, pictured in August 1945

The Westinghouse Concert Orchestra, pictured in August 1945

Musical director Andrew Baatz, who has researched the history of the orchestra, said: “The orchestra was formed by workers at Westinghouse Brake Company Ltd in 1940, and for much of its life was called the Westinghouse Concert Orchestra.

“The musicians, taken from the hundreds of workers who helped the war effort by manufacturing munitions at the Chippenham factory – many of whom had been evacuated from the factories of London – rehearsed in the works canteen, and performed around the county.

“The company’s managing director was very supportive of the orchestra in its early years, and it is possible that some of the workers were employed as much for their musical prowess as for their talents on the factory floor.”

Within its first few years, the Westinghouse Concert Orchestra upped its game when a professional conductor and musician, Grenville Townsend, was drafted in to work at the factory.

Townsend was a military musician and had been trained at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, Twickenham. The conductor brought in Bath-based music teacher Alois Sigl, leader of the Bath Philharmonic Orchestra, as concertmaster.

The Radio Times from October 31, 1945. Works Wonders was at 12.30pm

The Radio Times from October 31, 1945. Works Wonders was at 12.30pm

Before long, the Westinghouse Concert Orchestra was making a name for itself nationally. It performed on the BBC’s Works Wonders in August 1945, and by popular demand was invited back in October of the same year.
The orchestra gave a performance for American troops based at Corsham, and also undertook tours of village halls around the county.

It had a loyal and enthusiastic following, with fans flocking to hear a repertoire that included light classics and film scores, like the music from Disney’s Snow White.

After the war, the Westinghouse Concert Orchestra continued to flourish. Large concerts will held in venues across the county, including Chippenham’s Neeld Hall, while guest soloists came from London to perform with the orchestra.

But over the decades membership dwindled. By 2004, when Andrew Baatz joined, the orchestra had just eight regular members.

“They were an orchestra in search of a conductor, and I was a conductor in search of an orchestra,” Andrew explained. “There were very few members, but they were enthusiastic. I could see real potential.”

Andrew undertook a re-launch of the orchestra, including a re-branding to Wessex Concert Orchestra – a different name with the same initials. The re-launch immediately doubled the numbers, and the orchestra has continued to grow.

Today it has 50 regular performing members. The orchestra even boasts a harpist, bass clarinet, contra bassoon and a tuba player.

And the orchestra is even gaining an international reputation. On 12 March 2011 the Hungarian viola player Eniko Magyar will be performing with the orchestra at Malmesbury Abbey.
WCO performs three major concerts a year, which generally rotate through its core areas in and around Devizes, Swindon, Malmesbury and Chippenham.

Last Night of the Proms at Sutton Benger – soprano Linda Thomas with Wessex Concert Orchestra director Andrew Baatz conducting

Last Night of the Proms at Sutton Benger – soprano Linda Thomas with Wessex Concert Orchestra director Andrew Baatz conducting

The orchestra’s biggest audiences so far have been at two Proms-style extravaganzas in Sutton Benger, before crowds of 800 people, in 2006 and 2007.

And in 2008 the orchestra performed with professionals from the renowned Orchestra of the Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon, a collaboration that came about through a BBC initiative called Listen Up, which brought amateur and professional musicians together.

Many WCO musicians benefited from rehearsal sessions with their professional counterparts before the two orchestras combined to perform Errollyn Wallen’s exciting contemporary Spirit Symphony and Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Meanwhile, the orchestra, renowned as one of the friendliest in the region, is always on the look-out for new players of Grade 5 standard or above.

For more information about performances, buying tickets or joining the orchestra, log on to www.wco.org.uk


Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man

Mussorgsky (arr Ravel): Pictures at an Exhibition

Coates: Dam Busters

1945 Broadcast music:

Ancliffe: Nights of Gladness

Texidor: Amparito Roca

Bernstein: West Side Story

Gershwin: An American in Paris

Badelt: Pirates of the Caribbean

Williams: Raiders March

This entry was posted in Classical music. Bookmark the permalink.