Aldworth Philharmonic Orchestra, based in Berkshire, is a truly outgoing and inventive non-professional ensemble. Rather than meeting weekly, they meet for projects, this winning formula helping them overcome a familiar challenge for such groups in engaging a strong proportion of younger players. They actively care about young audiences too, with their free fan club for 5 to 15 year olds, and they draw in other newcomers with their ‘Concert Virgin’ scheme, offering free tickets to anyone who has never heard a live orchestra before.
Their track record in commissioning new music rivals many professional orchestras too: so far almost 30 new works have come from their annual Young Composers Award. In lockdown they have been no less adventurous. At a time when many ensembles struggled to do much, they found ways to keep commissioning this year, inviting composer Derri Joseph Lewis to write the aptly-titled ‘Joy’ and cellist and viral-internet-sensation Samara Ginsberg to reinvent 19th century composer Emilie Mayer’s Faust Overture: continuing their commendable commitment to female composers past and present.
Also in lockdown, they collaborated with the young instrumentalists of Berkshire Maestros, performed in a memorial for those who lost their lives in the 2020 Reading knife attack, generated a series of podcasts on current musical issues, continued to find ways to support local freelance professional players whom they would usually pay to boost their ranks, and set their non-professional players a series of workshops and challenges to keep up their stamina, technique and morale.
‘Aldworth Philharmonic has been a huge part of my life since 2004, creating purpose and the place I’m with my best friends. This year, it was incredible to engage in innovative solutions to play and socialise together still feeling like an orchestral team. From online Zoom workshops playing challenging orchestral works, spending a day videoing and sharing myself playing, to opportunities to be in the heart of our community at an emotional memorial service and an exciting collaboration with our local music hub, they have given me resilience and strength and kept me close to what matters – my friends.'
Becky Stewardson, violin
‘Aldworth Philharmonic is my creative family: a continual source of community interaction, in lockdown, through online rehearsals, quizzes, and diverse projects. These include: continuing our support of young composers by commissioning Derri Lewis to compose Joy, a piece we could rehearse online, then in small groups, and eventually as a full orchestra; crowdfunding for professional orchestral players to perform a future concert, providing them with income during lockdown; and online sectional rehearsals with pro orchestral players.’
Helen Julia Minors, trumpet
Public voting for the 2021 RPS Inspiration Award has now closed and the winner will be announced at the RPS Awards at Wigmore Hall on Monday 1 November. Here you can read about the other five shortlistees: