For the latest amateur classical music listings in and around Portsmouth, including Fareham, Petersfield, Chichester, Havant and Hayling Island

Profile: Stuart Reed

Violinist Stuart Reed has an unconventional history. After learning to play from music, Stuart spent many years playing by ear. He’d be the first to confide that even though he plays in four amateur orchestras at the age of 78 his sight reading is still less than perfect. He envies the ability of his fellow musicians who’ve played from notation all their lives and can play note-perfect at a glance. However, some of them say they wish they could extemporise like him.

Like many of his fellow musicians, Stuart began learning the violin young. He began at eleven. After three years he was leading his grammar school orchestra and also playing in Sunderland Youth Orchestra in his native County Durham.

In his early twenties Stuart met a guitarist in a music shop in Newcastle who asked him to join a Country and Western band called the Nebraskans. The Nebraskans all had day jobs but played most weekends in working men’s clubs throughout the North East. They also played every week in the legendary Balmbra’s Music Hall in the centre of the city. None of the members could read music. They played by ear, learning their repertoire from listening to vinyl records.

Stuart moved to London to develop his Civil Service career in the early 70’s. He played briefly with Wimbledon Symphony Orchestra but was soon drawn into playing fiddle with hillbilly Bluegrass bands on the metropolis’ barn dance circuit. Bands with rustic American names like Barnstorm, Betsey Jefferson and the Ridge Runners, Hoedown and Orange Blossom Sound had full diaries of lucrative engagements. Saturday night dances were their bread and butter activity but Jewish synagogues gave them work on Sunday nights too.

Stuart appeared on Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks in 1963 after composing a song for Plant a Tree Year. He played in European folk festivals and did week-long tours of Belgium and Switzerland performing with the bands and selling their albums.

Stuart worked in Whitehall throughout the 70’s and 80’s as a Government Information Officer with the Ministry of Defence. His work also took him overseas so he took his violin with him. He’s played in Bush dances in Australia, a floating hotel on the Mekong River, the Arctic Hotel in Murmansk, dockside bars in downtown Belfast, army camps in Bosnia, in warships at sea and with the Army in the Arabian Desert during the Gulf War.

For ten years Stuart led Squinty McGinty, a highly successful band specialising in Irish music. The band still plays at Goodwood Races every year and has two popular CD’s to its credit. Squinty McGinty was going from strength to strength but Stuart wanted to return to formal, classical playing.

In his late fifties, to make up for neglecting sight reading for so many years, Stuart took up formal violin lessons with professional teacher Lorraine Masson. He threw himself into playing with the Havant Symphony Orchestra, the Portsmouth Light Orchestra, the Meon Valley Orchestra and the Charity Symphony Orchestra. Stuart is a regular player at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Rusty Musicians days and string tuition weekends at Hawkwood College in the Cotswolds as well as Winchester Summer Music Courses and Julia Bishop’s Baroque tuition days in Lewes.

Stuart privately admits that he feels a bit like the grasshopper in Aesop’s ant and grasshopper fable with the added twist that after a lifetime of musical fun and frolics he hopes it’s never too late to knuckle down to some hard work.

Stuart writes many of the pieces on The Noticeboard.


Profile: Lucy Armstrong – Composer

Take a bow, Lucy Armstrong. Lucy cheerfully stepped in to conduct the Meon Valley Orchestra for its appearance at the Meonstoke Christmas Fair. With hardly any notice and without prior rehearsal, Lucy deputised for the MVO’s conductor Lorrain Masson who was committed to a gig elsewhere.

Admittedly, the repertoire was only made up of standard Christmas carols. These were pretty straightforward, Yuletide numbers designed to create the right ambience for adults and children wandering round the stalls loaded with cakes, toys, books, bottles of Christmas cheer and so forth. After the more challenging music which the Orchestra has been rehearsing this year the ensemble was having a great time playing this simple stuff.

Wearing Santa hats and with music stands festooned with tinsel, the MVO were in fine fettle. Lucy’s infectious jollity got the band playing with festive bounce from the very start. Her clear conducting style left nothing to chance. She brought every section in right on cue getting the most out of the entire ensemble.

No wonder the carols were a piece of cake for Lucy. Although only in her mid-twenties, she is already an accomplished musician, conductor and busy composer.

Flute was her first instrument but she plays piano and violin. She previously studied at the Royal Northern School of Music and is currently at the Guildhall School of Music studying under Adam Gorb and Gary Carpenter.

Lucy was recently commissioned by the Bergen National Opera to write the chamber opera, Nadja’s Song. It was premiered in Bergen but was subsequently performed at the Tête à Tête Opera Festival in London and later in Bogota in Colombia. Other recent commissions include the Size Zero Opera, the Piccadilly Symphony Orchestra, the Borealis Saxophone Quartet and A4 Brass.

Lucy Armstrong is the daughter of saxophonist and fiddle player Annabel Armstrong, one of the founders of the Meon Valley Orchestra. It began as a handful of folk musicians who called themselves the Meonstoke Village Band. As musicians continued to come and join from further afield this expanded into a full-blown orchestra. At the Meonstoke Christmas Fair on the eighth of December the MVO had come back to its roots.


From Busker to Maestro – Roy Theaker and Peter Craddock

Stuart Reed writes:

A young busker from Chichester who became a violin maestro has paid tribute to the man who put him on the road to a distinguished musical career.

“In the 1990’s Peter Craddock heard me busking in the streets of Chichester and kindly gave me his phone number. I invited him to hear me play at the Chichester Festival. The following year he offered me a concerto opportunity with the Havant Symphony Orchestra,” said Roy Theaker who is now the Artistic Director of Stonnington Symphony Orchestra – Melbourne’s foremost community orchestra.

“It was exactly the kind of outreach, support and encouragement from which countless musicians have benefitted from over the years,” he added. “Following Peter’s example, I’m now in a position to do the same for up and coming players.”

Roy left the UK to front a Chamber Orchestra in the Algarve, Portugal. Subsequently, he was the Concertmaster of the prestigious Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for five years. Now based in Australia with his family, he also tours worldwide as a guest leader and orchestral conductor.

Peter Craddock BEM, who died in 2017, founded the Havant Orchestras in Hampshire and ran them successfully for fifty years. The Havant Symphony Orchestra and Havant Chamber Orchestras are joining forces to perform a concert to celebrate the life and work of Peter Craddock at 2.30 pm on Sunday 3rd March 2019. The venue is Oaklands School, Stakes Hill Road, Waterlooville, PO7 7BW.

The combined orchestras will perform some of Peter Craddock’s favourite works including the Merry Wives of Windsor by Nicolai, Brahms’ Double Concerto for violin and ‘cello, The Walk in the Paradise Garden by Delius, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture and the finale from Maurice Blower’s Symphony in C.

Two internationally renowned conductors, Mark Wigglesworth and Toby Purser, who were also encouraged by Peter Craddock, will perform at the concert. Stefano Boccacci from Bogota, Colombia, who is currently developing his skills with the Havant Symphony Orchestra, will also take to the rostrum. Past and present musicians who gained orchestral experience from the Bob Harding Bursary Scheme, which Peter Craddock co-founded, will swell the ranks of the combined ensembles.

Peter Craddock’s widow, Sandra, said, “I’m delighted by this salute to Peter and his work. It will be a joyous occasion. When he started the Havant Symphony Orchestra some doubted it would last. Fifty years later it was still going and continues to this day.”


Profile: Julia Bishop, expert in Baroque music

Read a profile of Julia on Music in Portsmouth.

It’s about fifty-six miles from Portsmouth to Lewes so some people would think twice before making the trip. However, for string players in our area, there’s no better reason to go there other than to meet Julia Bishop.

Statuesque and stylish, Julia is a violinist who specialises in Baroque music, which flourished in Europe from the early seventeenth century until the mid-eighteenth century.

Julia played in the English Concert for six years. She co-founded a group called Red Priest named after the prolific Venetian composer Vivaldi. She’s also been with the Hanover Band, taught Baroque violin techniques at the Royal Academy of Music in London and led the Gabrieli Consort and Players. Currently, she’s a tutor at Chichester University.

Without a doubt, Julia is a brilliant teacher. Extremely knowledgeable and sympathetically patient, she demonstrates this ornate and sometimes extravagant style of music by telling it like it is or by playing on her violin.

Owners of modern violins and bows need not go to the expense of buying valuable period instruments to appreciate the benefits of studying Baroque playing. There’s a lot to learn for all string players.

At first glance, some of the music looks pretty simple. Unlike today’s players, Baroque violinists rarely have to leave the first and third positions. But there are subtleties in rhythm, tricky counting, strange manuscript markings and unfamiliar harmonies to get to grips with.

Above all, the use of the bow is where students can find techniques which are nothing less than gold nuggets for string musicians. As everyone knows the bow is the business end of the instrument. The left hand finds the note while the right hand brings it to life. Full bows, half bows, playing at the nut, tip or middle, coming off the string, using the wrist or elbow: there’s no end to the useful stuff which can be learnt.

Julia organises Baroque monthly workshops on Wednesdays and Saturdays at St Thomas à Becket Church in Cliffe, Lewes. There are three-hour morning sessions on Saturdays and longer morning and afternoon sessions on Wednesdays. The modest fees are great value for money. Julia also coaches individuals and small groups. Email her at Julia@redpriest.com for more information.

Portsmouth to Lewes by road is a fair old trip but it really is well worth the journey to meet this first-class teacher.

Vivaldi Seminar – September 2020


Profile: Wayne Mayor

Stuart Reed writes:

If you want to know anything about restoring violin, viola, ‘cello or any other sort of bows, speak to Wayne Mayor.

After a lifetime of working in wood as a craftsman carpenter, joiner and cabinet maker, now at the age of sixty, Wayne has moved into in the field of bow and instrument restoring.

When you speak to him, make sure you’ve got time to spare. He’s the relatively new boy on the block and his enthusiasm knows no bounds. No detail is too small to escape his attention.

Stemming from a suggestion by Malcolm Porter, conductor of Northwood Strings and professional viola player, Wayne was encouraged to study at Merton College in South East London. This led on to work experience at an established musical instrument dealers and repairers in Lisson Grove, North West London. The firm was impressed and Wayne emerged with flying colours. They regularly commission him to restore and re-hair bows.

Now, a year on, Wayne has a workshop at his home in Shirley, Southampton. It’s a woodworker’s Aladdin’s Cave, packed with materials of all description. There is Mongolian and Siberian horse hair. Some of it is black and some is white. There are bits of precious wood, silver solder, fine wire, plastic and bone, French polish, oils and varnishes.

Wayne also has stocks of mammoth ivory, which unlike elephant ivory, is perfectly legal. The bone and plastic are for the tips of bows or for adorning the heel. There is mother-of-pearl for Parisian Eye decorations. There are tools of all description too: razor-sharp chisels, drills, specialist planes, vices and cramps. The rest of the workshop is filled with instruments like double basses, ukuleles, violins, ‘cellos or violas in various stages of repair.

Wayne Mayor is building up a reputation for careful, exacting work at prices which are par for the course. To check out Wayne Mayor’s bow restoration service, phone him on 07733 328933. Alternatively, email waynemayor@btinternet.com to schedule a visit to his fascinating workshop.


Portsmouth Philharmonic Chair steps down after nine years’ service

Flautist Anne White (pictured), the driving force behind the creation of the Portsmouth Philharmonic, has stepped down as Chair of the orchestra after nine years in the role.

Her replacement as Chair is Di Lloyd, a ‘cellist, who joined the orchestra in 2014.

Since 2009 the orchestra has gone from strength to strength, raising more than £15,000 for local charities and providing musicians in Portsmouth with the chance to perform orchestral pieces in venues across the city and beyond.

Read more: https://portsmouthphilharmonic.org/home/blog/chair-steps-down-after-nine-years-service


Stefano Boccacci wins the latest Bob Harding Bursary for Young Conductors

Ay caramba! If any of the players of the Havant Symphony Orchestra possess sombreros they’d better hang on them when the latest Bob Harding Bursary holder arrives from South America.

He is Stefano Boccacci, a young man from Colombia, who already holds a bachelor’s degree in conducting, gained at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota.

Stefano won the most prestigious young performers’ prize in Colombia conducting the Orquesta de Cámara Tutta Forza. Stefano also went to the Colegio Italiano Leonardo Da Vinci. He’s studied at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and also plays piano and guitar. Somewhat surprisingly, Stefano is the proud owner of a Les Paul electric guitar and likes to play jazz with the Nashville Big Band in Bogota. He’s conducted it too. The Band can be found on YouTube.

On the night of the Bursary audition Stefano showed real passion for classical music. He used the time allotted wisely, interacting with the players in a jovial yet business-like way. It’s fair to say the orchestra really warmed to him.

The Bob Harding Bursary scheme gives up-and-coming conductors the chance to stand in front of the orchestra, take charge and arrange a concert.

Each year the candidates have come from far and wide. There have been successful candidates from Singapore, Japan, Germany, Portugal and, of course, the UK. The Havant Symphony Orchestra has helped many an aspiring conductor develop his or her skills and, in several cases, put them on the road to international fame.

It looks like Stefano Boccacci will be good for the Havant Symphony Orchestra and the HSO will be good for him.

Read more about Stefano on the Havant Orchestras website: http://www.havantorchestras.org.uk/bursary1819.php

Read more about the Bursary here: http://www.havantorchestras.org.uk/bursary.php


Portsmouth Festival Choir appoints a new conductor

Portsmouth Festival Choir is looking forward to their new season with a new conductor. They are fortunate to have acquired the services of dynamic young musician, Ben Lathbury, as their Musical Director.

Not only is Ben the conductor of several local musical groups and founder of the Music in Bosham recital series, but is also a considerable pianist. He gives recitals all over the UK, specialising in 20th century American music. Last year he was nominated as for the Portsmouth News’ Best Classical Music Act award for his performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Ben will be preparing the choir for a performance on November 17th of Haydn’s stirring “Nelson” Mass and several Coronation anthems by Handel including the popular Zadok the Priest.

The Choir will begin their rehearsals for this concert on Monday 3rd September. They meet at Portsmouth Academy (next to St Mary’s Church in Fratton) at 7 p.m. New members are always welcome to join the choir. Interested singers should contact Hilary Munro on 02392 470532 or just come along on the night for a trial session.


Profile: Jake Barlow

Jake Barlow is someone with a song in his heart. He’s a man of many parts and he’s extremely busy. He’s a singer, conductor and teacher based in Chichester. He’s also a Lay Vicar at Chichester Cathedral, a member of the cathedral choir and he sings eight choral services a week, goes on tour conducting and singing, takes part in festivals in the UK and abroad, broadcasts and makes recordings. Jake’s also a member of the Festival of Chichester Committee. He conducts the St Richard Singers too. It is a highly reputable chamber choir in Chichester.

Jake sang with the National Northern Youth Boys Choir when he was a lad and has a string of academic qualifications to his name. He studied Greek and Latin at Oxford and has appeared as a soloist with the BBC Philharmonic and several top-notch ensembles.

Jake Barlow is not just an average, run-of-the-mill singer. He’s that rare breed of vocalist, a countertenor.

Countertenors date back to the days of the Renaissance when the Catholic Church banned women from singing in church. So, men were needed to sing the highest parts in liturgical music. Some sang falsetto while others were doctored to become castrati. Joseph Haydn narrowly missed that fate. Thankfully, that barbaric custom has long-since died out.

Jake’s a professional singer and teacher of music theory but he has lots of amateur interests and hobbies. With his customary hands-on approach, he started the Noviomagus Ensemble which he conducts. This enterprise involves a seventeen-piece orchestra and forty singers in the guise of the St Richard Singers.

They are working up to a grand concert entitled “A Royal Summer” at 7.30pm on 2nd July at St George’s Whyke Church, Cleveland Rd, Chichester, PO19 7AD. They will perform Henry Purcell’s Come Ye Sons of Art. This was an ode written in 1694 for Queen Mary the Second’s birthday.

Although Jake is an academic, he and his girlfriend are lovers of Barbershop, that close-harmony singing which is really big in the USA. Surprisingly, it also has a big following in the Northwest of England. Jake’s originally from Stockport which is a hub of this popular vocal entertainment, so naturally he’s a big fan of the multi award-winning Cottontown Chorus from Bolton.


Profile: Antonia Kent

Antonia Kent is graceful, tall, and talented. Known as Toni to her friends, her life is awash with musical activity. For a start, she is a very accomplished saxophonist and a first-class double bass player.

Educated at Gravesend Grammar School, Toni began learning the piano aged eight but was soon drawn towards the saxophone as her favourite instrument. She gained a master’s degree in music at Chichester University where her tutor, ace clarinettist Spencer Bundy, still regards her as one of his star pupils.

Toni plays the double bass in the Havant Symphony Orchestra, Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chichester Symphony Orchestra. She also plays tenor saxophone in the Changing Winds Quartet and the Auster Quartet. The Auster Quartet also has the option of combining the clarinet, flute and bassoon within the ensemble making it highly popular as a weddings and functions band.

A Performance Administrator at Chichester University in her professional life, Toni organises students’ instrumental/vocal lessons and exams. She also deals with general queries from students and staff. As if that were not enough, she is heavily into orchestral management. Currently, she is involved with the Hanover Band, one of Britain’s finest period instrument orchestras. It’s named after the Hanoverian period of British history (1714 to 1830) and has toured all over the Northern Hemisphere from China to Canada and from Mexico to Manchester. The Band and its Schubert Octet have concerts in East and West Sussex this year.

Toni is also a dab hand at baking. Her fancy cupcakes and imaginatively decorated, mouth-watering gateaux are to die for.  Cakes and classical music; what a treat for the senses!


Profile: Penny Gordon, baritone saxophonist

For the last three years, Penny Gordon has played the baritone saxophone in the Meon Valley Orchestra. Her husband Lionel, a Royal Navy Surgeon Rear Admiral, bought the instrument for her. When she was younger she played the clarinet in the Teesside County Orchestra. She’s played smaller saxophones but she’s thrilled with this impressive, larger member of the woodwind family.

A vivacious blonde with a ready sense of humour, Penny often gets the tuba parts to play in arrangements of classical works with the MVO. She takes these challenges all in her stride and the baritone makes a significant contribution to the full sound of the orchestra.

Penny Gordon is also a medical professional – a highly qualified doctor. She was headhunted from her consultant radiologist post at Haslar Hospital to head up medical leadership and education in a state-of-the-art set of hospitals in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar. Based in Doha, the capital, she spent two and a half years as the Chief Medical Officer for the whole country.

Like several Arabic Gulf states, Qatar has a vastly different culture from the UK. There are diverse customs, different traditions and rules of behaviour. Some are baffling to Europeans who must tread warily in their professional and social lives. Penny’s book “800 Days in Doha” (ISBN 978-1-911105-32-9) is an amusing, exciting and captivating account of days spent in Qatar.  It is published by Chaplin Books and all royalties are going towards that most worthy of charities, the Order of St John.


Profile: John Elder – a bass clarinettist

For the last two and a half years, John Elder has played an E flat contrabass clarinet. He’s a highly valued member of the Meon Valley Orchestra and the Alton Concert Band and lives in Selbourne.

A retired geophysicist, John worked most of his life in the oil and gas industry. He spent ten years in the Middle East and eleven years in Borneo, a country he loves. He says he spent years and years extracting oil and gas from the earth, and years and years putting it back to store it for future use.

As a youngster John played the clarinet but like many amateur musicians he had a gap of not playing while work, family life and other interests took priority. In John’s case it was an interval of thirty-five years.

As retirement loomed, his wife suggested that he either start playing again or sell his collection of clarinets. He decided to return to the clarinet as a hobby. On a visit to a music shop he was advised that bass clarinettists were much sought after. So he sold his clutch of shorter instruments and took up the bass versions. This opened up new playing opportunities. However, he privately admits that his collection of newly-found instruments has started to grow again.


Simon Wilkins appointed the new conductor of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra

Simon Wilkins MMus DipABRSM is enjoying his first term at the Chichester Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and preparing the orchestra for his first concert on 17 March 2018.

The CSO is focused around repertoire from the classical period, expanding to perform Romantic era music in some concerts.

Simon currently works as an instrumental teacher of both cello and piano, teaching music technology and other keyboard accompanying work, conducting, composing and arranging. Besides conducting the CSO, Simon also conducts the Marchwood Orchestra in Southampton.

Read more at the link below.

Also read: New directions and new challenges for Chichester Symphony Orchestra


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