The Granite City now has its own homegrown symphony orchestra as the Aberdeen Chamber Orchestra expands to meet audience and player demands.
And the organisation will have a name-change to reflect its new status – officially becoming the Aberdeen City Orchestra when it celebrates its 40th anniversary with a glittering gala concert at the Music Hall in June next year.
ACO chairperson, Aden Mazur, said: “As the Aberdeen Chamber Orchestra went from strength-to-strength, with many concerts selling out and more players requesting to join, it became clear that being known as a ‘chamber orchestra’ was no longer appropriate for the concerts we were giving.
“Now regularly performing large works such as Saints-Saens Organ Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, and Brahms Symphony 1, we wanted a new identity which would reflect our growing presence in Aberdeen, but not drift too far from where we came from. And so, the name Aberdeen City Orchestra came to be.”
The large-scale performances mean the chamber orchestra has transformed into a symphony orchestra, growing from its roots when it was formed in 1982 by a group of friends from school and university staging small-scale concerts for the enjoyment of themselves, friends and family.
Name that suits what orchestra has become
Aden said: “A chamber orchestra is mainly up to about 30 musicians and our orchestra has up to 80 or 90 sometimes, depending on how big the piece is – and that’s not including choir.
“That was really what drove us to change the name and rebrand and give us a name that actually suits what we have become. On top of that, we perform in Aberdeen, we give as much as we can to the city, so it makes more sense for us to align ourselves in that way.”
The coronavirus pandemic saw ACO stopped in its tracks, but the members – 89 players are registered with the community orchestra – have still worked on several lockdown projects, including two online video collaborations, performing shorter works.
Aden said: “The orchestra all recorded their parts separately in their homes and sent them to me and I pasted them together into a video. They went down really well. It was a lot of fun making them but a huge amount of work, so we stopped after two. But at that point we had just reached summer and we were wondering if we could rehearse again.”
Unfortunately, the second wave of Covid-19 scuppered any plans for the orchestra to play together – but they plan to remedy that this weekend with an outdoor rehearsal, allowed under the easing of lockdown restrictions, at Bonnymuir Green.
Aden said: “We are meeting on Saturday for the first time since February 2020. That will be absolutely fantastic. We are going to choose some nice music to play together, just to see if we can remember how to do it. And I’m sure there will be someone on hand to take some clips to share with our audience.
“There won’t be an audience of course, because that’s not allowed at the moment. It’s just for the sake of us getting back together and playing… we just need the weather.”
Concerts are engaging and different
Aden said the orchestra can’t wait to start rehearsals properly and resume their series of concerts as soon as possible in their home at Midstocket Parish Church, all working towards their 40th anniversary concert and official name change.
For the event, at the Music Hall on June 25 2022, ACO is pulling out all the stops by staging Carl Orff’s huge work, Carmina Burana, which includes the instantly recognisable choral piece, O Fortuna, heard in countless TV shows and films.
Aden said: “We will be inviting a choir to join us for that piece, we will have four solo singers, and also hoping to, as per Carl Orff’s original version, have dancers on stage as well to act out the drama of the music with us.
“That’s not something you get very often in the classical music world. It’s another thing we pride ourselves on. We work hard to make our concerts engaging and different.”
With so many outstanding orchestras coming to Aberdeen, Aden believes ACO’s different approach – adding dance, or narration or semi-staging works – makes them stand out.
It also helps break down the mistaken perception that classical music is niche or highbrow.
“We want to make classical music accessible. We like to challenge the audience as well, put in bits and bobs they won’t have heard, and allow them access to types of music they wouldn’t have come across before,” said Aden
“But adding elements, like when we did the Peer Gynt suite and added narration, that brings a whole level of new meaning to the work and means people leave the concert understanding what they have just been to.”
Sheer wall of sound
ACO is also a charity and has boosted fundraising for other groups in the city. A previous Music Hall concert brought in more than £8,000 for Friends of Anchor – who will also benefit from the 40th anniversary gala and Aden hopes to raise that much, if not more, again.
As a community orchestra, ACO prides itself on having people from all walks of life, but all of the musicians of a high standard – including professional players and teachers – range in age from 16 to 79. They play for the love of music and are itching to get back in front of live audience when restrictions allow.
Aden, a music teacher, said the best way the people of the Granite City can support their new symphony orchestra is to come and see them – especially if you have never experienced a live classical music concert.
He said: “There is just a sheer wall of sound that comes from a symphony orchestra, which you don’t hear when you have it on the radio, or hearing it in a film. It is a completely different experience so I would urge everyone to make sure they have experienced that and the Aberdeen Chamber Orchestra is a good place to start.”