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It was in 1998 that I was asked to provide players for the New English Concert Orchestra little realising it was the beginning of a happy and rewarding twenty year’s association, managing the orchestra. The orchestra provides the musical programme for the iconic Battle Proms in the grounds of stately homes as well as accompanying choral societies and giving concerts in its own right in prestigious venues.

As ‘Fixer’ or Orchestra Manager, I am required to make sure we have the requisite number of players in each section for the differing venues. I am a trained violinist and for forty years was a principal first violin member with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and together with Stuart Essenhigh Assistant Orchestra Manger, a freelance international trumpet player with a wealth of experience, we engage the right player for the demands of a particular concert programme. It is basically, knowing the strengths of individual players – in other words “horses for courses”.

Essentially we use freelance players, however, we have, year on year, a very loyal and committed nucleus of regular players who contribute to the raisin d'être of the orchestra.

One of the strengths of our orchestra lies in its constitution which is a carefully balanced complement of very experienced, mature players supported by young, vital, talented players learning the repertoire. Our mature players are much in demand by all the major UK orchestras and small ensembles.

Because of the unique nature of the Battle Proms (achieving the 100th performance at Highclere Castle 4 August 2018), the NECO is the only orchestra in the history of music to perform the Battle Symphony by Beethoven adhering to his requirements of a full complement of 193 live cannons. The synchronising of the cannons with the music has been achieved with accuracy using state of the art electronic wizardry and many kilometres of cable. The operation of firing the cannons is entrusted to one of our percussion players, who has become highly skilled, considering that the cannons can be several hundred metres away from the stage, the epicentre of the operation. Distance and the time lag in actual electronic firing of the cannons, make the operation for the player stressful, requiring finely tuned anticipatory skills. Further factors in this mix are the fluctuations in temperature, wind and the position of trees, all of which can affect the conditions and have a significant bearing on time lag.

The New English Concert Orchestra has a most important role in providing an opportunity for young, aspiring instrumental soloists, usually in their final year at college, to play with a professional orchestra especially in front of a real fee -paying audience – a most valuable experience. Although the orchestra’s primary function is with larger numbers used for the Battle Proms, currently fifty two players, nevertheless accompanying choirs, and smaller wind or string groups remain well within its compass, offering a flexible group for any engager of the orchestra’s services.