Profile: Joe Jolliffe, conductor of the Southeast-Hampshire Youth Orchestra

Simon O’Hea and Joe Jolliffe are in conversation about the forthcoming Southeast-Hampshire Youth Orchestra concert at Oaklands School on Sunday 30 June.

Simon

I was talking with Adam Denman a few weeks ago about the formation of the Youth Orchestra and he referred me to you. Tell me a bit more about it.

Joe

Well, to start from the beginning for the Youth Orchestra: at the end of year 11, I first conducted a school concert. My music teacher after that said, “you should keep doing this and you could set up a small ensemble” and I thought it was a crazy idea at the time, thinking that there probably wouldn’t be enough musicians to make that possible. After that the thought was in my mind over the whole summer after I’d taken my GCSEs. In September, I was still thinking about it when I started A level music. So I mentioned it to my A level music teacher and she knew Adam Denman, so she suggested I meet with Adam. We both had the same idea that the Southeast-Hampshire area was in need of a youth orchestra. Our first meeting was back in September 2023, which feels like a long time ago now.

After that, I met Becky Hill at a community music meeting, who’s chair of the Havant Orchestras. After many meetings together with the three of us we got everything together and announced that we were going to have a first rehearsal in January. So I began preparing the scores for that, and eventually we had about 25 students at that rehearsal, which was really great. And it’s all developed from there really.

It’s been wonderful to work with so many other musicians my age achieving great musical results together. It’s been amazing to see how enthusiastic everyone has been!

Simon

Did you set up the orchestra?

Joe

Yes, with a lot of crucial help from Adam and Becky!

Simon

And what instruments do you play?

Joe

I play piano and violin but I mainly compose as well as conducting.

Simon

Please give us a bit more of a feel for the things that you like composing before we talk about the conducting side of things.

Joe

I was a Martin Read Foundation composer in 2023 and this year. Last year I composed a piece for cello. And this year I composed for solo percussion, which was quite a challenge! This year I am pleased to be composing for ORA Singers, a professional chamber choir. And I recently composed an orchestral piece which the Youth Orchestra, in combination with Havant Symphony Orchestra, rehearsed in a joint rehearsal.

Simon

How did you make contact with ORA Singers?

Joe

Someone from Hampshire Music Service very kindly thought of me as they knew I was a composer and sent me the link to apply for the young composer’s scheme. I was pleasantly surprised to be accepted!

Simon

That’s fantastic. And how do you work as a composer? Is there some sort of way that you work that would be helpful for other composers to know about?

Joe

Well, for this piece specifically, we had to reflect on a piece of renaissance choral music and we could reflect on it in any way, either taking the lyrics or the musical content. I was struggling a bit with the lyrics from the original piece, so I’ve mostly used thematic material from it and then set it to the new lyrics from a poem that I found easier to set. This was my first time composing choral music, and I found out that setting the music effectively to the text is the most challenging part.

Simon

What’s the piece going to be called?

Joe

It’s called The Shepherd because it’s based on the poem of the same name by William Blake.

Simon

When is it going to be performed?

Joe

On the 2nd of August at Worcester Cathedral in the Three Choirs Festival.

Simon

That’s very exciting. And is that your first published work or have you done other compositions that have been published?

Joe

The Martin Read Foundation pieces haven’t been published, but they have all been performed.

Simon

And can you give me an idea how someone might be able to come across those? I mean, are they on Spotify or is there any other way we could hear them?

Joe

No, unfortunately they’re not, however my composition for ORA Singers will be livestreamed on the 2nd of August, so hopefully that is available to listen to!

Simon

Are there any composers or types of works that you particularly relate to when framing your compositions, or is there particular music that you like to base your compositions on?

Joe

Well, I’ve gone through a lot of phases of loving different composers! Perhaps the longest phase has been Mahler. Prokofiev has also exerted an important influence. My composition teacher described my orchestral piece as having influences from Hindemith, which I found a very interesting observation. Since then I’ve gone through and listened to a lot of Hindemith and found some really eerie similarities to my own music, even though I don’t think I had listened to Hindemith in any detail until after composing the piece!

This orchestral composition entitled Premonition is going to feature in the Youth Orchestra concert on the 30th of June. It was commissioned by the Youth Orchestra and Havant Symphony Orchestra. The piece has a constant sense that it is building towards something, although the piece is not explicitly programmatic.

Simon

Yes. Would you like to tell me a bit more about what brought it into being?

Joe

I knew that once the Youth Orchestra was set up, I might be able to compose for it. And Becky suggested that I could compose something ahead of the joint rehearsal, which was towards the end of May.

Simon

Fantastic. So how long have you been rehearsing it?

Joe

Well I had about 25 minutes with the combined orchestras in the joint rehearsal. And then we’ll have time again on Sunday the 30th of June during our rehearsals before the concert at 7pm.

Simon

What if someone wants to come and play in the Youth Orchestra? What do they need to do, and what standard do they need to be at?

Joe

The standard is grade 6 and above, although if there are any younger students who are close to that standard, we’d be more than happy to look into them joining us as well. It’s open to all students in full time education. So that’s 18 and under up to the last year of sixth form, and anyone is welcome to join ahead of the concert because everything will be rehearsed on the day, even though it’s already been somewhat rehearsed. And then they can join either just for that concert, if they’re in year 13 (so then they’ll be too old in September) or if they just can’t commit permanently, but obviously longer term we’d like as many people to join ahead of September when we will have more rehearsals and more concerts going into next year.

Simon

Just tell me about those rehearsals. How often do you rehearse and where do you rehearse at what time?

Joe

Well, at the moment it’s been on a from scratch basis: rehearsals have always been on Sundays, but we’ve only actually had two rehearsals so far. The first one was for three hours, and then we did a full day of rehearsals in March for about 6 hours (with plenty of breaks)!

At the end of the rehearsals, we’ve had a short informal performance to showcase what we’ve worked on during the day. We rehearse at the Pallant Centre in Havant, and the rehearsal and concert will be at Oaklands on the 30th of June.

We have also had two joint-rehearsals with Havant Symphony Orchestra, where myself and James Thomas, last year’s HSO Bursary Conductor, have conducted a range of repertoire. The opportunity to conduct HSO in combination with SHYO has been amazing, and I’m looking forward to hopefully having some more of these next year!

We are working on dates and repertoire for next year. We have a concert planned for Saturday 28th September at Horndean Technology College, which is a Southern Music Project fundraiser concert jointly with Horndean Band.

Simon

You’ll be doing A levels next summer. Do you have any aspirations after you leave school?

Joe

I’d like to study composition at a Conservatoire, so I’ll be applying for that in October, which is quite scary: I’m doing a lot of composing to prepare for my application.

Simon

Finally, tell me about the repertoire for the 30th.

Joe

This is the lineup:

Bizet: Carmen Suite No.1. Then Grieg’s Piano Concerto (1st movement). I’m especially looking forward to doing this with Jasim Rahman who is a student soloist also in year 12, who plays second violin in the orchestra. It’ll be his first time playing a concerto with orchestra! Then Sibelius’ Finlandia, my own piece (Premonition), and finally Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (3rd and 4th movements).

If you know of any young musicians who might be interested in joining SHYO on June 30th, please ask them to get in touch with me. We are still short of all strings (particularly viola, cello, and bass), French horns, oboes, and bassoons at the moment! Contact the Southeast-Hampshire Youth Orchestra.

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