The Great Orchestra Challenge so far...

Have you missed an episode of All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge? Do you need a reminder of what's happened so far? You're in the right place...

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The Great Orchestra Challenge so far...
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Before you read any further, please be aware that this article contains spoilers for new BBC series All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge.

Five amateur orchestras are hoping to be crowned Britain's most inspirational amateur orchestra in the brand new BBC TV series All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challange, but only one can be victorious. Read on to find out which orchestras have made the cut, and to whom we've bid a fond farewell.

 

Episode One: The Symphony

In the first episode of The Great Orchestra Challenge, we meet each of the five competing orchestras as they take on conductor Paul Daniel's first musical task: the symphony. Daniel has chosen five very different works for each of the orchestras to tackle, by five very different composers. And, to introduce each orchestra to their piece, Daniel goes on a tour around the country to see them all, accompanied by presenter Katie Derham and mentor Chi-Chi Nwanoku.

The Stirling Orchestra are first up, with the finale from Dvořák's Symphony No. 9, 'From the New World'. Daniel conducts the first ten minutes of rehearsal, pelting off at top speed with the orchestra looking slightly bewildered at the pace. 'You know you're good, but you don't do what's in the parts', admonishes Daniel genially. 'You're not letting the sound come from the bottom, which is where all good sound comes from.'

Meanwhile, around the country, the other orchestras are receiving their symphonies. The London Gay Symphony Orchestra (LGSO) is given Tchaikovsky No. 6, the North Devon Sinfonia gets Beethoven's Fifth, the Slaithwaite Philharmonic receives Rachmaninov No. 2 and The People's Orchestra is allocated Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique.

After Daniel spends time with each of the orchestras, mentor Chi-Chi Nwanoku 'enters the fray' for more specialised masterclasses. The most entertaining of these is with The People's Orchestra in a Birmingham pub, pint of ale in hand.

We get a sense of how important the ensembles are to individuals within the orchestras. Gardener Paula Goodwin was helped to come out as transgender while a member of the LGSO ('Nobody cares, as long as I don't play loud, wrong notes!'), and Annie Hill uses her percussion playing as a way of escaping the stress of caring for her husband, who has multiple sclerosis. 

All of the orchestras are given quite different advice, from The People's Orchestra (accuracy and balance) to the Slaithwaite Orchestra (energy and excitement). The North Devon Sinfonia's conductor Emma Kent has a one-on-one masterclass with Nwanoku, to get her to engage more with the orchestra rather than hiding behind her music. 

Before we know it, finals week arrives. All five orchestras descend on the BBC's Maida Vale studios in London, the home of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. They'll give one final performance before judge Paul Daniel decides who will be leaving the competition at this stage. 

'The most important thing is to enjoy it...' is amateur conductor Stephen Broad's pep talk to the Stirling Orchestra, 'and the second most important thing is not to give up, whatever happens'. All of the players seem quite nervous ahead of their performances, but manage to give good performances nonetheless. North Devon's conductor Emma Kent has decided to conduct without her score, so there is no chance of hiding behind it.

Finally, decision time. Paul Daniel gives positive and negative feedback to all five orchestras, each represented by their conductor and a member of the orchestra.

But who is leaving the competition?

It's the Slaithwaite Philharmonic. Despite being technically the most proficient of all the orchestras, Daniel says that they weren't able to communicate their passion in their performance.

Do you agree with his decision? Comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #GreatOrchestraChallenge.

 

Episode Two: Opera

To watch the episode on BBC iPlayer click here.

This week, the amateur orchestras are tackling opera. As conductor and judge Paul Daniel says: ‘it’s not just about playing as an orchestra for yourself, it’s about accompanying a human voice – and it’s a very big challenge for any orchestra’.

With the help of mentor and double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, the remaining four orchestras are still battling for the chance to perform at the BBC Proms in the Park. However, this week another orchestra will be eliminated – so who will it be? In order to decide, the groups are tested by the seductive mastery of Bizet, Puccini and Tchaikovsky.

The People’s Orchestra (TPO) is from Birmingham. ‘For some people, it is like a second family. It’s their orchestra family, they love coming to it, and it really fulfils a part of their lives,’ says Sarah Marshall, the founder of TPO. According to Daniel, they have ‘spirit, enthusiasm and excitement by the bucket load’, and he channels this fresh vigour into the Toreador Song from Carmen. The piece tests the TPO on its precision. To help the TPO musicians in their understanding of the Spanish culture that Bizet immersed himself in before composing the opera, Nwanoku arranges a flamenco dancing session for some of its members.

The London Gay Symphony Orchestra (LGSO) is inspired by watching a performance by cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the winner of this year's BBC Young Musician of the Year. We watch as the LGSO try to emulate his proficiency and elegance in a performance of 'Musetta’s Waltz' from Puccini's La bohéme. Undoubtedly one of the most ravishing arias in all Italian opera, the orchestra must endeavour to express Puccini’s might through tender execution.

The emphasis is on music as a ‘de-stresser’ suggests Sarah, a clarinettist from the North Devon Sinfonia. She notes the difficulty of reading a score while both watching the conductor and listening to a singer. In this instance it is tenor Peter Aisher from the Royal College of Music who is singing a Lensky aria from Eugene Onegin. As the piece focuses on the woodwind section of the orchestra, Nwanoku takes the wind players to a dark tunnel. She positions them away from one another, in different parts of the tunnel, in order to assess their ability to listen to each other while playing.

For the Stirling Orchestra, Daniel selects a Butterfly aria from Puccini’s masterpiece, Madam Butterfly, that will truly test their expressive power. Nwanoku takes them to the university cinema for a performance of the opera, and all come away feeling emotionally exhausted. For such a heartbreaking piece, Stirling will have to pay special attention to the soprano to ensure a precise performance.

As the orchestras retire for a while, there’s nothing more they can do. Paul Daniel critiques their skills to each conductor in turn, before voicing his decision...

But who is leaving this week?

This time it’s The People’s Orchestra who are going home. Daniel expresses what a great pleasure it has been to work with them, but that the group didn’t perform quite as well as he’d hoped with regards to precision.

Do you agree with his decision? Comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #GreatOrchestraChallenge.

By Edward Christian-Hare

 

Episode Three: Concerto

To watch this week's episode, click here.

Three orchestras now remain of the five that began The Great Orchestra Challenge, and this week they’ve been challenged to produce a concerto.

In a departure from previous weeks, the orchestras have been given free reign to choose their repertoire, and must nominate a soloist from within their ranks. They’ll also be presenting their first public concert, in their own hometowns.

Trombonist and music teacher Simon Robillard will be taking centre stage with North Devon Sinfonia, performing a concerto by local composer Derek Bourgeois. Simon has chosen the third movement, which is devilishly quick, and neither he nor the orchestra have played it before. Hiding from his children in his van to get some practice time, Simon admits he is feeling the pressure. ‘When I was at college I failed my final year recital, which was a real shock. I have to do this for myself, if no-one else.’

Paul Daniel has certainly stepped up the judging this week. ‘Emma!’ he yells across the orchestra. ‘It’s all a bit higgledy-piggledy’. Daniel gets Emma to step away from the podium to force the orchestra to listen to each other, which work remarkably.

Back to the big smoke to meet the London Gay Symphony Orchestra and their soloist Nathan Evans, who will be performing Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. He’ll be dedicating his performance to partner Justin. ‘I think the way I feel about Justin will be expressed in the way I play the music. For me it is like a love song without words.’ This certainly bodes well, as the orchestra have previously been criticised for a lack of expression.

Daniel’s back. ‘It’s very choppy,’ he chides the violins. ‘Nathan doesn’t chop it up at all, it’s like a river. You sound like the logs on the river.’

Meanwhile, Chi-Chi is on the hunt for mentors for each of the soloists. First up is Devon’s trombonist Simon, who will be working with Carol Jarvis, a regular with the London Symphony orchestra who has also recorded with Queen, Sting, and Amy Winehouse. She gets Simon to sing for us, which absolutely transforms his playing. ‘It’s got to be really cocky, you’re the soloist!’ she says.

Up in Scotland, Stirling reveal they’ve gone for a concerto with a Scottish twist. Reticent flautist Douglas Lawson will be taking on the role of soloist, but not with the flute.

It’s the bagpipes, of course, and Peter Maxwell Davies’s An Orkney Wedding. Though not technically a concerto, it has one of the few bagpipes solos written with orchestral accompaniment. ‘What an amazing noise’ says conductor Stephen Broad. ‘Nowhere near’ says Daniel.

Now they’ve all performed to Daniel, it’s time to go on a venue-hunt. While the LGSO and Stirling orchestras are going for standard music venues, Devon are on the hunt for something a bit different. Will it be a garden centre or a lifeboat station?

Renowned oboist Nick Daniel, who is a personal hero for LGSO’s soloist Nathan, will be the next mentor. ‘He inspired me to take the oboe seriously’ says Nathan.

For a bagpipe mentor, Chi-Chi turns to Rob Jordan, who played Maxwell-Davies’s work in 2014 at the BBC Proms. They visit the beach to get inspired, and practice playing while walking, which proves quite a challenge.

All three orchestras are putting extra effort into their marketing and decorations, making bunting, biscuits and more to help the concert’s success. But it all comes down to the playing.

As the last rehearsals start the orchestras are in different states of preparedness. North Devon’s trombonist Simon has sped up the piece to an almost impossible pace, and the orchestra are struggling to get through it in one. ‘We’re not on it, he’s not quite on it’ says conductor Emma, ‘and the result is carnage.’

The LGSO are first up. ‘Despite the amazing array of tea and cakes, we aren’t judging them on that says Katie Derham, resisting a good Bake off joke. Nathan’s performance is genuinely moving for many in the audience, including partner Justin, and mum Glenda who has travelled from Brittany to hear Nathan play for the first time in over 20 years.

The North Devon Sinfonia are performing at Ilfracombe’s lifeboat station. Within the first few bars of the piece Simon makes a bit mistake on his entry, but manages to recover well enough. ‘I’m not happy at all’ he tells us afterwards.

And, finally, Stirling Orchestra. They are performing to a packed Dunblaine Cathedral, who give their performance of An Orkney Wedding a huge round of applause. Douglas does an impressive job, though he rather rushes his procession to the front. ‘I’d be happy enough to go through to the next round’ he tells the camera mildly.

Decision time. Daniel gives his usual feedback to all three orchestras, before revealing who would be leaving the competition. It is the London Gay Symphony Orchestra whose journey has ended.

Do you agree with his decision? Comment below, or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #GreatOrchestraChallenge.

By Elinor Cooper

 

Episode Four: Variations

Catch up on iPlayer here.

 

Read more:

• Meet the competitors...

• Competitors for the Great Orchestra Challenge announced

 

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