This is something that I have wanting to get off my chest for a long time. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities, I decided to work out how many amateur orchestras there were in the United Kingdom. After a long, hard search, I managed to calculate that there were over 700 full symphony (including extended string) orchestras in the country. And then it got me thinking...how many of those groups are dedicated to new music? Well, I searched through the descriptions of each group and I was astonished to discover the rich variety of orchestras that there were. There were groups associated with banks, financial institutions, places of work, religion, police forces, gender and sexual orientation, age, nostalgia, historical, racial, geographical and even political affiliations but there was one glaring error, in my opinion, one inconceivable oversight...I could not find any orchestras specifically dedicated to an area that I would have have thought would be essential:
To my knowledge, there are no orchestras in England committed to performing music by composers of the last thirty years.
I know that this is not true in America. The Albany Orchestra, for example, is dedicated to living composers. I also know that this is not true of some professional orchestras. However, it is a startling fact that of seven hundred amateur orchestras probably none would ever think of giving a new music concert. It is my belief that ‘Amateur’ orchestras hold the key to the progression of contemporary music. (Can I say that I prefer the term “voluntary” rather than "amateur" because many of them have adopted professional methods of rehearsal that were introduced in the nineteenth century and some of them can almost produce a ‘professional’ sound.) They have the potential to spearhead the contemporary music scene. They could bring new music to the ears of the general public far more easily than professional orchestras. What is more, I believe voluntary orchestras are missing an excellent opportunity. New composers are very keen to get their music heard. They are more flexible in terms of the practicalities of the music making process - more adaptable. They understand the importance of cost effectiveness and working under financial restraints. The can offer practical advice in terms of performance. Most importantly, they can bring in a new audience. The audience of an voluntary orchestra is often comprised of relatives, friends and supporters. If voluntary orchestras performed the music of new composers it would broaden their audience base; there could even be financial rewards from them as well in terms of extra ticket sales. As I mentioned before, financing a new work shouldn't be a problem. Commissioning composers for new music shouldn't necessarily mean it would cost the orchestra anything. There are other ways in which the composer can recoup financial rewards. A localised commissioning or a localised selection scheme would provide tremendous opportunities for a whole range of composers and provide good local voluntary orchestras with a larger and sometimes younger audience - a real platform for the future, which is quite poignant in a period of time where audience numbers seem to be dwindling.
All it takes is a brave visionary to get the ball rolling...