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How to Build an Orchestra
Thomas Hull, Ruth Rogers, Julian Lloyd-Webber and the Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra
Filmed, edited and directed by Sheila Hayman
Filmed 2015
Region Code: All (PAL)
Picture format: 16:9
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0

Chipping Campden is a lovely little town in the Gloucestershire part of the Cotswolds. Indeed, in appearance it is the quintessential Cotswold town or village. (The word Chipping is derived from an old English word denoting a market or marketplace.) The parish church of St James is a fine example of a medieval English wool church built, I believe, in the perpendicular style. The town has some 2,500 inhabitants and is a favourite tourist destination. Since 2002 it has played host to a music festival, held annually in May, and the majority of the concerts in this two-week festival are given in the airy, spacious setting of St James church.

The Festival was the brainchild of Charlie Bennett, who is still its Director and who appears in the film. In a relatively short period of time the Festival has become well respected on the British festival circuit. The renowned pianist, Paul Lewis is the Festival President and is far more than a figurehead: he performs there almost every year. Indeed, artists of the highest calibre are regularly engaged.

In 2008 the Festival took a major step by founding the Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra. This ensemble comprises an equal number of experienced professional orchestral players and students; the latter are either very advanced students or recent graduates. This film, based around the 2015 Festival, explains how the Academy Orchestra works.

The orchestra is conducted each year by Thomas Hull and is led by his wife, Ruth Rogers, who is clearly a violinist of significant accomplishment: during part of the film we see her rehearsing and performing the Tchaikovsky concerto with the orchestra. Both of them are heavily involved in the London auditions for the student musicians, which take place in January. Later in the film we get some insights into how local residents rally round to make the festival happen each year, including offering accommodation to the visiting musicians. There’s a strong community spirit in evidence: it’s all very English – a comment I mean in the nicest possible way. One of the ladies who plays host to the young musicians makes a telling comment: “The Festival brings the village to life and fills the town with youth, noise and vibrancy.”

There’s quite a bit of footage shot at rehearsals during the week that the orchestra is in residence; the music on which they work includes Brahms (Symphony No 4), Dvořák (Symphony No 8) and Wagner (Siegfried Idyll). The rehearsals take place in the local primary school and there’s a very nice scene when some of the children are allowed in to observe a rehearsal in progress: they’re transfixed by the sights and sounds.

Julian Lloyd-Webber is the Festival’s Patron of Education. As he explains, a key aim of the Academy Orchestra is to give the young players a strong insight into what it’s like to be part of a professional orchestra; this is achieved through them sitting side by side with seasoned professionals, which is a great idea. As one of the players puts it, the result is a “marriage of experience and energy”. It’s evident that a lot of fun is had along the way – but a great deal of hard work also. Just as important is the mission to give the young players an insight into the social skills that are needed by orchestral musicians; it’s essential that they are team members. There are some sequences towards the end of the film when we see the orchestra in concert and the broad smiles all round at the end of the performances testify to the enjoyment and camaraderie that this week of intensive music-making in the Cotswolds engenders.

I’ve reviewed a number of concerts at the Festival over the years for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard. To my regret I’ve not so far taken in one of the Academy Orchestra concerts though reviews I’ve read by my late colleague, Roger Jones, have regularly attested to the high level of accomplishment. I’m looking forward to rectifying this omission in May at one of their two concerts. On that occasion they’ll play Sibelius’ Second Symphony and also accompany baritone Roderick Williams in his own orchestration of the Vaughan Williams song cycle The House of Life.

This film is nicely made and includes many fetching shots of the delightful environment of Chipping Campden itself. It’s an attractive film, featuring good camera work and sound. I enjoyed it though I wonder how many times one would wish to view it. However, it’s an enjoyable introduction both to the Festival itself and, above all, to its excellent resident orchestra.

The 2017 Chipping Campden Music Festival takes place between 14 and 27 May. For more information visit the Festival website.

John Quinn



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