Oldham Symphony Orchestra has been established for nearly fifty years. It was founded in 1963 by the Whittaker brothers as the Oldham Amateur Orchestra. Locally born composer Sir William Walton was one of its patrons. Tom Whittaker remains principal clarinet to this day.
The orchestra was renamed Oldham Symphony Orchestra in 1973.
The orchestra rehearses weekly throughout the school year and gives concerts three times a year in Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester.
The orchestra supports itself almost exclusively through membership subscriptions, a patronage scheme and ticket sales. We are also a registered charity. These sources of income are unlikely in the long run to sustain the orchestra, as each concert leads to a reduction in our reserves. We are actively seeking sponsorship, which will help us to maintain our aims and improve standards.
We aim to offer a varied repertoire, including the standard symphonic works and others that are less well known.
The orchestra performs an important function for the community by giving an opportunity for school leavers to continue musical performance into adult life and by providing a platform for young soloists.
OSO in the community
The orchestra is working to involve the community in orchestral music.
Recent ventures to attract new audience members have included a film music concert, and children's concerts, which include Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, narrated by local journalist and musician Joe Dawson. Each instrument in turn is introduced and has it’s own theme depicting a character in the story.
Children and adults can learn about musical instruments with which they may not have been familiar and learn to appreciate musical culture, thus helping to ensure not only a long-term audience membership for classical music, but hopefully inspire a new generation of musicians as well.
Our family concerts include childrens' quizes with prizes.
We have also performed to raise funds for the Rotary Club.
Our most ambitious collaborative project is probably the recent concert in association with the Manchester Astronomical Society.
Accomplishments and Ambitions for the Future
The OSO aims to introduce to its players and audiences works which they would rarely encounter elsewhere if at all. Some of these pieces are aurally challenging like Messiaen’s L’Ascension, Milhaud’s Saudades do Brazil and Arnold’s Fantasia on a Theme of John Field. Others have been unjustifiably neglected works such as Balakirev’s First and Kodaly’s Symphony, written in the composer’s eightieth year.
The first British performance of Grøndahl’s Bassoon Concerto was the ninth in the world.
Local composer Jordan Hunt was eighteen at the time of his composition Fantasia on a Theme of Arne and studied composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Cortège: Riley’s Reward by local Graham Marshall was written for the funeral of the late Margaret Riley, former Mayor of Oldham, on Thursday February 5th 2004. Marshall says of the work:
I had been invited to play the organ for the service in Oldham parish church, which was filled with worshippers gathered to celebrate the life of one of Oldham’s well-known and much-loved characters in the spheres of education and politics. Having been asked to play something suitably solemn yet regal as Margaret’s body was brought into church, I thought the occasion deserved to be marked by a specially composed Cortège, hence this little Riley’s Reward, which, in its orchestral version may, I hope, serve as a concert piece on appropriate occasions.
It had its World premier with the OSO on 11th July 2004.
The OSO would like to continue to support young and local composers by commissioning new works from them, giving them a platform for their work and experience working with an orchestra; money raised by sponsorship would enable us to provide a valuable experience for composer, orchestra and audience alike, and help keep music alive today.
Panufnik’s Sinfonia Sacra, with its four trumpets situated at the corners of the auditorium is rarely performed and in the Grange Arts Centre, Oldham was particularly effective.
Works which have fallen from fashion such as Sullivan’s Irish Symphony, the lovely First Symphony by the ‘Russian Schubert’ Kalinnikov and Delius’s evocative Florida Suite illustrate yet another of our programme planning.
Orchestrations of works that were originally intended for other instruments have also featured. Szell’s reworking of Smetana’s From My Life string quartet and Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet (some wit crossed out the word orchestration in one of the parts and subtitled castration) have been performed.
OSO has also produced some large-scale works such as Orff’s Carmina Burana with a large choir and soloists and Holst’s The Planets, which featured a talk from the Manchester Astronomical Society, together with image projections during the performance courtesy of a local astronomer and a barrage of percussionists. We would like to embrace similarly ambitious works such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with choir and soloists amongst others.