Celebrations reach a crescendo

The City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra. Picture supplied.
The City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra. Picture supplied.
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ONE of Peterborough’s finest musical institutions is pulling out all the stops to celebrate a special anniversary. JENNY CORNISH found out more.

They are planning a spectacular performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, The 
Choral, at Peterborough Cathedral on Saturday, July 3.

Four of Peterborough’s most exciting musical societies, Cantus Polonicus, Gildenburgh Choir, Peterborough Choral Society and St Peter’s Singers will take part in the concert.

Four internationally-renowned solo 
singers, Rachel Nicholls, Susanna Tudor-Thomas, Richard Roberts and Andrew Slater will also join the orchestra.

The event will be directed by the orchestra’s principal conductor, Russell Keable.

He said: “Our chairman has always had this brilliant idea of having landmark concerts and I think it’s a great thing. They stand out over all the other concerts that we do.

“It gives the orchestra an opportunity to really do something special and play even better than they do all the year round.”

This is a fitting way to commemorate the anniversary of one of the city’s jewels – the orchestra has been staging ambitious events since the very beginning.

Its inaugural concert also took place at Peterborough Cathedral way back in 1990.

Steve Osborn, chairman of the orchestra and one of the founder members, said: “The CPSO started very promisingly with a grand concert at Peterborough Cathedral directed by the celebrated musician and broadcaster Antony Hopkins CBE.

“I remember being very excited at the opportunity to play the famous clarinet solos in Rachmaninov’s 2nd Piano Concerto with Anthony Goldstone as the absolutely brilliant piano soloist.”

This impressive beginning was followed by a series of concerts at Peterborough Cathedral with Antony Hopkins as principal conductor.

However the expense of hiring the cathedral and personalities such as Hopkins became difficult and the orchestra had to change tack.

In 1992 Norman Beedie took over as conductor and the orchestra began performing several concerts a year at the new St Mary’s Church, with just one concert a year at the cathedral.

Mr Osborn said: “This was a time of enormous growth and activity. Managing seven concerts per year was a huge undertaking.”

However with Robin Simpson as chairman and Mark Penny as treasurer, the orchestra managed to gain sponsorship from Royal Mail, and later Peterborough Power Station and government funding.

“It is a tribute to the massive amount of hard work that Robin and Mark put in that it was able to happen at all,” said Mr Osborn.

When they moved on, a new approach was needed and the season was reduced down to four concerts per year. A new chairman, David Noble, took charge in 1997 and set out to make the CPSO recognised as the “City’s Orchestra”.

This led to the Music in the City project, where the orchestra was supported by coaching from members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ten years ago, the CPSO celebrated its 10th anniversary by giving the first performance of John Rutter’s full orchestral version of “Feel the Spirit”.

When the new Broadway Theatre opened the CPSO gave the first classical concert at the venue and went on to perform there for the next nine years.

Mr Osborn says that under David Noble, the orchestra became a true “community orchestra”, including professional musicians and a wide range of local players.

“I am really proud that we have succeeded in giving a large number of local musicians the opportunity to develop and raise their own standard of playing in a tolerant atmosphere while remaining sufficiently good to attract really strong players from as far afield as Ipswich and Grimsby to work with us at no cost,” said Mr Osborn.

“Of course we are also sufficiently good to produce really outstanding music for the people of Peterborough.”

In 2002 Norman Beedie resigned as principal conductor after 10 years of service and after a rigorous search Russell Keable was appointed as principal conductor and Pavel Kotla became principal guest conductor.

Mr Osborn took over as chairman in 2005 and has continued the work to develop relationships with the city council and with the musical community of the city.

The orchestra has also continued to work on ambitious projects with a concert in spring 2008 of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony – the Resurrection – which was the biggest single classical music event in Peterborough for more than 15 years.

Mr Osborn said: “It was one of my proudest ever moments to be able to bring 10 trumpets and nine French Horns in one orchestra into Peterborough Cathedral. It was a truly stunning concert.” Extracts of the concert were broadcast on BBC Radio Three later that year.

Mr Keable is now working at Surrey University but still directs the CPSO once a year, with Leicestershire conductor Paul Hilliam taking over the rest of the time.

The fire at the Broadway Theatre meant CPSO had to find another venue, but have now settled in at the Voyager School Concert Hall.

Mr Osborn now hopes the orchestra will go on to have many more years of success, and be supported by the local community.

“The CPSO brings to Peterborough outstanding soloists, some with local connections, as well as a first class musical experience,” he said.

“Audiences are vital to us. We are delighted that so many of our audience followed us to the Voyager, and we are working hard to promote awareness of the CPSO and encourage more people to come and experience our music-making for themselves.”

He is also hoping that the city itself will start to attract more classical music.

Mr Osborn said: “It has always been a great sadness to us that good quality classical music including the best professional performances seem to completely pass Peterborough by and we do not get as many opportunities to experience the best in classical music that places such as King’s Lynn do.

“We very much hope that the new Peterborough Culture and Leisure Trust will improve on that situation but it is starting in difficult economic times and I fear that it will need a fair time yet before it can make an impact.”

Tickets for the concert are on sale at the Tourist Information Centre, Bridge Street, Peterborough, or by calling 01733 452 336, or online at www.cpso.org.uk