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Wonder of Christmas 2018

Come and Celebrate the Wonder of Christmas!

Alton’s musicians reunited, on Saturday 15th December at 7.30pm, to perform their annual “Wonder of Christmas” Concert at Alton Maltings Centre. This was a hugely successful concert and we are delighted to have helped raise over £1400 for the charity HomeStart Weywater.

A review can be seen on the Alton Herald website.


Spring Programme 2019

We are excited to announce that for our Spring Concert 2019 we will be performing Beethoven’s Symphony no. 3, the ‘Eroica’, the Svendsen Romance for Violin and Orchestra – which was postponed last Spring due to injury (!) and Dvorak’s Czech Suite.

Our Spring Concert takes place on the 30th March this year at Alton College, Martin Read Hall 7.30pm


Spring Concert Review!

We had a brilliant time on the 21st of April performing our Spring Concert.  Here is a review of the event written by our Chairman:

Alton Concert Orchestra performed their Spring Concert in the Alton Maltings Centre last Saturday 21st April. Attended by the Town Mayor, Cllr Dean-Paul Phillips and over 150 people, Chris Gardner conducted an orchestra of nearly 60 musicians in a programme of concert favourites.  The orchestra (ACO) had just recovered from the mid-week shock of the last-minute absence of their Leader and violin soloist, Christine Meers, due to an unfortunate finger injury. ACO powered forward with an enforced change to their published programme and ably led by Nadine Farris in Christine’s absence.


The opening number was Rossini’s “Thieving Magpie” Overture, announced by the famous snare drum solo, leading into a rousing military march; this was followed by quieter passages of string playing and ravishing woodwind solos and then the inevitable Rossini crescendo leading to the exciting climax of the piece.


Elgar’s “Nimrod” from his Enigma Variations was performed in place of the advertised Svendsen “Romance for Violin and Orchestra”. Despite only having been rehearsed that afternoon, the orchestra showed excellent control of the large dynamic range in the short piece, which was much appreciated by the audience.


After the interval, Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9 “From the New World” reigned supreme. The orchestra clearly loved playing this work, which they had studied earlier in the year at a full day workshop led by two professional musicians. The care taken during rehearsal and preparation showed the orchestra and its conductor at their best. Every section of the orchestra had its share of the spotlight as more and more of Dvorak’s masterful melodic writing unfolded. Lower strings, brass, woodwind and percussion all contributed well-phrased passages, complimenting the eloquent playing of the violin section. Whether driving forward in tutti passages or contributing lyrical solos, the orchestra never lost its momentum as it moved through statement and recapitulation of the themes in the symphony towards the joyous climax at the end of the final movement.


The performance was heralded as one of the best Spring Concerts so far by the Alton Concert Orchestra. Their next appearance will be at the open air “Last Night of the Proms” in Alton Public Gardens on Saturday 14 July. The musical theme for that concert is “Fire and Water”, but let’s hope the elements don’t take that as a cue to participate!


Dr. C. Leggett

Spring Concert 2018

We are looking forward to and busy practising for our Spring Concert, which will take place on Saturday the 21st of April this year…

Tickets are available from orchestra members, from Waterstones Alton and online at:

Do join us for an evening of uplifiting music.



New Year… New Workshop!

*Happy New Year!*

We have an exciting event on the horizon for the beginning of 2018.

Spring Workshop

Sunday 4th March 2018 10am – 5pm

A day of full orchestra & sectional workshops with experienced tutors Nic Fallowfield and Chris Swann.

*Dvorak 9th Symphony From The New World*

Do please come if you can! We need as many players and parts as possible to make the day enjoyable for all and a musical and financial success!  Please see the Coming Up Next tab under ‘News and Events’ for more information.

Here is the flyer for the orchestral workshop:

Spring Workshop Flyer 2018

…We will be performing Dvorak’s 9th Symphony at our Spring Concert on the 21st April.

Festive spirit…

Our Wonder of Christmas concert will be performed with Alton Choral Society and Ancora on the 16th December at 7.30pm, free with a retiring collection raising vital funds for Home-start WeyWater.


Coming up next…

Autumn Term: we are currently working on music to be performed at our Spring concert, making a start on Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Rossini’s Overture The Thieveing Magpie!

Later on this term we will get a bit festive when we unwrap the music for the Wonder of Christmas Concert – held in collaboration with Alton Choral Society, Ancora and the Maltings in Alton. This ia a festive delight not to be missed.. save the date: Sat 16th December 2017.


Following on from our most successful LAST NIGHT OF THE PROMS to date!

Join us for an evening of musical entertainment in the Alton Public Gardens with gates opening at 6pm for the concert at 7.30pm.

The theme for 2017 is – A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES!

A musical selection of well known film favorites from great cinema classics to modern day movies such as

Superman, James Bond, Titanic, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, My Fair Lady, Marriage of Figaro and West Side Story.
Alton’s Last Night of the Proms is brought to you by the Alton Concert Orchestra and Alton Town Council with headline sponsor Specsavers Alton and the support of our Proms Patrons.

For further information please visit –

Orchestra trip to Pertuis

Alton Concert Orchestra visit Pertuis in France!

During the bank holiday at the end of May members of Alton Concert Orchestra (ACO) travelled to Pertuis, Alton’s twin town in France, to perform with the musicians of the Orchestre Garance from the Conservatoire in Pertuis.  After an early start on Saturday we arrived at lunchtime for our first stop in Aix-en-Provence, where we enjoyed an enormous market, numerous picturesque fountains and shady narrow streets to shelter from the Provençal sun.

Our numbers were increased when we arrived in France by our former conductor Graham Cross and his wife Mair.  We arrived in Pertuis to a fantastic welcome from the orchestra and members of the twinning association, with wonderful weather and convivial shared meals with our french hosts during the four days.  After a day of rehearsals, interrupted by a picnic lunch on the Sunday, we once again tackled Smetana’s the Moldau and played Brahms Hungarian Dance No.5 with the Orchestre Garance and a selection of pieces including Vaughan Williams English Folk Songs, the Clog Dance and the Pink Panther.  Some of the ACO’s string players were able to join the Orchestre Garance during their beautiful performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade.  There was a large audience to the concert on Sunday evening, which was even attended by some passing ramblers from Alton!

After a full day of music on Sunday, we had a day trip to the coastal town of Cassis on the Monday, visited the Calenques, inlets, by boat and were able to dip our toes in the Mediterranean.

Tuesday morning was filled with a French brunch, a tour around the picturesque streets of Pertuis and then goodbyes.  Overall, it was a great experience for everyone involved and we would like to thank the twinning associations in Alton and Pertuis for their generous support and to our hosts for giving up so much of their time.  We will hopefully see a return visit from the musicians of Pertuis in a couple of years!  Images from the trip can be seen on the Alton Concert Orchestra Facebook page.

Anniversary Concert Review

The Alton Concert Orchestra celebrated its 25th anniversary in style in the Martin Read Hall at Alton College on Saturday 8th April. The choice of venue was appropriate because it had been in 1992 that Martin, the Director of Music at Alton College, became the orchestra’s first conductor. Martin conducted the orchestra from 1992 to 1995, handing over to Graham Cross, who in turn handed over to David Budd in 2006. David is handing over to Chris Gardner in the Autumn. In those 25 years the orchestra has grown in size and capability, and in addition to its own Spring Concerts, takes part in the highly successful annual events, The Last Night of the Proms in the Town Gardens and The Wonder of Christmas at Alton’s Matlings Centre.

The concert began with Smetana’s Vltava, a symphonic poem which depicts the passage of the Vltava river through Czechoslovakia. Starting as a trickle it flows through many scenes including a hunting party in the woods, a wedding feast, the rapids of St John, the noble city of Prague, before flowing away into the distance towards the Elbe. Under the baton of David Budd the orchestra played with expression and colour which brought the music to life, depicting the scenes and the inexorable ever-growing flow of the mighty river. This was followed by two very different pieces by local composer Philip Andrews. His expressive Late Autumn, preceded by Judith Hepper’s reading of William Allingham’s poem which had inspired the piece, was sensitively  scored for a small orchestra, has a prominent cor anglais part,  played by the orchestra’s long-serving chairman, Chris Leggett.  Philip’s second piece sent the audience into the interval smiling quietly to themselves and humming its memorable tunes. It is a piece of pure light music, and its title, Shooting the Breeze well describes its mood.
Chris Gardner took over the baton for the second half, a performance of Tchaikovsky’s mighty Fourth Symphony. Described by the composer as a titanic struggle between the human spirit and fate, the orchestra rose to the enormous challenge of this piece in the most spectacular way. From the opening statement of the “Fate” theme to the exhilarating finale there was scarcely a moment of respite. In the quietest. most expressive moments one could have heard a pin drop and in the loudest, most exciting ones, the audience were most probably pinned to the backs of their seats. There was excellent playing all round and the performance had a cohesion borne of many weeks of rehearsal and private practice. This was amateur music-making at its best, and if the next 25 years live up to the achievement of the first 25 there are some exciting times ahead.
Comments from Chris Gardner:-
In choosing Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony I was aware that it was probably the most demanding piece the orchestra has ever tackled. There is, however, much more to music-making than playing the right notes in the right order at the right time.  As an amateur ensemble we do not strive towards a “perfect” performance, but we do strive to achieve more as a group than we can as individuals, to achieve something greater than we thought was possible, and to entertain our audience in the process. I believe we did all those things, in buckets, at our anniversary concert.  Music is unbeatable as a communal activity and the health benefits of playing in an orchestra or singing in a choir are now well researched and documented.

An insight into Philip Andrew’s Late Autumn and Shooting the Breeze

For our 25th Anniversary Concert in April we are excited to be playing two pieces composed by local composer Philip Andrews.

Here is an insight into the thinking behind Late Autumn and Shooting the Breeze..

Late Autumn was composed in October 2011 and is based on the poem of the same name by the Irish poet William Allingham (1824–1889). I came across it purely by accident when I was actually looking for another to use as a song setting. As I read the first few lines, pictures immediately started forming in my mind, and I was soon hooked on the idea of creating a piece of music centred on the poem that portrayed such imagery! The first three lines set the tone for me… October – and the skies are cool and gray O’er stubbles emptied of their latest sheaf, Bare meadow, and the slowly falling leaf. With my appetite sufficiently whetted, I was keen to get started while the inspiration was there…it’s not always available when you want it unfortunately! I decided that I would use a small orchestra for this, partly for practical reasons, i.e. slightly easier to get it performed (hopefully) but also because I didn’t want anything overstated that would detract from the essence of the poem. It’s scored for two flutes, cor anglais, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, strings and timpani. The cor anglais has a fairly prominent part throughout the whole piece. I chose to use this rather than an oboe because the cor anglais has a more plaintive and haunting quality. I wanted an instrument that would suggest a lamenting wistfulness, and the cor anglais fitted perfectly with the soundworld I was trying to create. For some reason as I read this poem, all the images conjured up in my mind were in sepia rather than vivid colours, and I could visualise myself looking out across a bleak, austere landscape, partly shrouded in a misty haze. I pictured barren fields, trees shorn of their leaves, and milky sunlight trying its best to penetrate the discoloration of the scenery. A little cheer is added by the occasional song of a robin (flute) somewhere far off and unseen. The dignity of woods in rich decay Accords full well with this majestic grief That clothes our solemn purple hills to-day, Whose afternoon is hush’d, and wintry brief Only a robin sings from any spray. This is an elegiac piece of music, where hopefully the listener will also be able to picture the images mentioned above. Mostly of course, I hope they enjoy the music!

Shooting the Breeze.  For quite a while I’d had an inclination to write a piece of music that was light and easy-going; something straightforward, and without the confines and restrictions of form and development. Although as a composer there is something rewarding and challenging about developing a piece of music, it’s also nice at times to be free of those shackles and just write with freedom, and let the music be given its head so to speak! Prior to this composition I’d recently completed two orchestral rhapsodies, and some other rather deeper and concentrated pieces. Although I had enjoyed writing them – and felt pleased with what I’d produced – I was in the mood for something different; and a piece of ‘happy-go-lucky’ music seemed the ideal solution. This piece was composed at the end of October 2011, and was written as a bit of light relief you could say…deliberately uncomplicated and carefree. The title Shooting the Breeze refers to the origins of the phrase which simply means ‘idle chatter’ or ‘talking in the wind’. I can remember hearing this type of music when I was a child growing up in the 1950s. My mother would have the radio on (wireless as it was then known) while she busied herself carrying out the various everyday jobs around the house, such as ironing, sewing and cleaning up. Meanwhile I played my little games with this light and infectious music playing in the background – a common feature in those days. I didn’t realise it then, but it obviously imprinted itself into my consciousness! The main ingredient for these bright and breezy pieces of music was little more than a good catchy tune and clever orchestration, and that is what I set out to do with Shooting the Breeze. After a lively introduction, the main tune is heard for the first time on the strings. Eight bars later the woodwind, brass and a bit of tuned percussion join in on the fun. Shortly after, another tune is brought in by clarinets, bassoons, violas and celli. This second tune acts as a counter melody to the first tune as the piece progresses, and eventually the whole thing is brought to a lively and boisterous finale. Hopefully this is an enjoyable and fun piece for both the performers and audience alike.

Philip Andrews

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