We came, we played, we conquered
On Saturday afternoon I took the train through to Glasgow to take part in this event, which was great fun (though over all too soon: we started at 1400 and it was all over by 1530).
The Vaughan Williams Concerto Grosso for String Orchestra was written to be playable by a mixed-ability ensemble. Each section of strings (Violin 1/Violin 2/Viola/Cello/Bass) is subdivided into three groups. at the front we had a "concertino" section who played the delicate soloistic stuff. Behind them came the "tutti" group (including me in the first violins) who provided the body of sound, and whose music was standard orchestral stuff. Finally we had the "ad lib" group. Conductor Matthias Pintscher reckoned that name made them sound too expendable so suggested instead that they be labelled fundamentals". "Rude mechanicals" might have worked too: these were the beginners, whose parts consisted of very simple notes. (Though as the Violin 1 ad libs started immediately behind my seat I noticed in at least one place they had a tune when we had off-beat pizzicati. Sometimes being able to play more complex stuff means playing accompaniments!) Each sub-group had a "minder" from the BBCSSO keeping them ion order and resolving any problems.
We rehearsed for an hour, then had a short break after which we played through the whole piece. It went pretty well. I don't know the exact count but there were more than a hundred players there (which made keeping the whole thing together quite hard). The beginners were extremely enthusiastic, as well they might be: playing proper music, in a proper orchestra, with a fairly famous conductor. It will be interesting to look at the group photograph when it's published to confirm my impression, but I suspect the orchestra was at least two-thirds female. Just behind me was a tiny girl in a party frock who was obviously having a great time. Another at the back of the seconds had a bright blue violin (as one of the professional players said, I'm jealous).
I hadn't known the piece before so enjoyed having the chance to play it. One wonders how they'll follow it up if (as they seem to intend) this becomes a regular event.
Here is a video of a performance combining the English Symphony Orchestra and Herefordshire schoolchildren.