THE STAFFORD ORCHESTRA

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In December 1964, under the musical directorship of John Devenport, the English Electric Orchestra was founded as part of the EE Sports & Social Organization. It soon flourished, staging sixty musicians for its first public concert at the New Theatre Hall, Stychfields in 1965. In December 1965 the orchestra attracted a big audience at its birthday concert. Stychfields Hall was to remain the orchestra's rehearsal venue for 31 years, until moving to St Leonard's Social Club, in April 1995.

By 1969 the Orchestra was performing regularly. One musician was John Dunn, a lecturer at North Staffordshire Polytechnic, who played recorder and violin. At one Stychfields concert that year John Dunn played a recorder concerto.

In 1977 Trevor Stokes became Musical Director, being succeeded in 1981 by Leslie Smith. When Leslie left in 1993 to concentrate on his work with Stafford Choral Society his place was taken by Andrew Baker, the well-known Stafford Music Librarian and Composer. Andrew made great efforts to publicise the Orchestra and to recruit new players but, as ever, it proved difficult to attract a sufficient balance of good string players.

By then times were changing: English Electric had been absorbed into Lord Weinstock's then-mighty and cost-conscious GEC empire in 1968. Still later the company was sold to Alsthom, and renamed GEC ALSTHOM. This resulted in diminishing Company financial support until, in March 1995, the company sold Stychfields Hall to Stafford Borough Council. The Orchestra was left to finance itself and to find a new home as an independent organisation at St Leonard's Club. At the same time, it was retitled the Stafford Orchestral Society.

The enthusiastic Bob Birchall took over as Musical Director that year at the tender age of 35. Although he remained in the post for only sixteen months, he did much to change the focus of the orchestra away from "company band" to a Stafford town centred organization.

Tony Preece took over as Musical Director in August 1996, and through his contacts with Salt Parish Church and Sandon Church established those villages as regular concert venues. A joint concert in 2005 with Stafford Concert Band at St Michael's, Penkridge, which started as a one-off fundraiser for the Asian Tsunami, became so popular that it was a repeated venture. Every Christmas the orchestra joined forces with the English Electric Company Choir (presently The Stafford Singers) for a concert which was later broadcast on Stafford Hospital Radio. From the 1990s another annual event has been the MacMillan Cancer Relief concert held in Staffordshire County Council Buildings: this has been a regular feature of the orchestra's concert year since the early 1990s and has largely been due to the organising abilities of Eileen O'Dempsey.

Tony Preece injected a note of novelty into the orchestra's normal light classical repertoire with his skilful parodies of well known pieces, including the Strauss send-ups Tales from the Doxey Marshes and Bootle's Waltz, the Brandyberg Concerto (including the sleigh ride), and a send-up of the Last Night of the Proms number, the Plump and Circumspect March. Finally the orchestra has been renamed The Stafford Orchestra, to reflect its close association with the town.

In November 2009 Anthony Rose was appointed Musical Director of Uttoxeter Choral Society and also Musical Director of The Stafford Orchestra. He graduated with a BA (Hons) from Durham University, where he was Organ Scholar at Hatfield College. With the choir of Hatfield College he has directed services in Durham Cathedral, York Minster, Gloucester Cathedral and St Albans. While still an undergraduate he founded Durham Baroque Ensemble and Players and performed concerts throughout the North East. Specialising in Early Music, Anthony is deeply involved in early music revival and Baroque aesthetics. He is also a keen composer and has been involved with Conductors and Composers workshops with the Northern Sinfonia, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Brian Ferneyhough and Martyn Harry. His work Expediency saves the Day was performed by the Northern Sinfonia at a Durham Composers' Concert in Newcastle in 2003.

At this time our leader was Peter Norris; apart from our principal clarinet Andrew Gulley, other long-serving members of the orchestra included Jim Seddon, 1st violin; Bob Foster, principal viola; Russti Taylor, bass; and Mary Appleyard, 2nd viola. Founder member Bunty Palmer (flute) retired in 2006. The folowing members had notched up over ten years service: Gill Baskett, horn; Dave Hawkins, flute; Helena Grealish, violin; Frances Melville, principal flute; and Dennis Boon, trumpet.

2018 The Stafford Orchestra

Conductor: Adam Whittaker
Leader: Peter Norris

Violin:
Peter Norris
Helena Grealish
Rod Grealish
Rebecca Hopkins
Patricia Lain
Dave Marriott
Neville Pollard
Liz Street

Viola:
Alex Cameron
Bob Foster
Chris Washington

Cello:
Phillip Cockerton
John Outram
Frances Paget
Mary Pollard

Flute/Piccolo:
Frances Melville
Angela Whittaker

Oboe:
Antony Davis
David Porter

Clarinet/Saxophone:
Bridget Ashley
David Beauchamp

Horn:
Jim Appleford
Gillian Baskett

Trumpet:
Dennis Boon

Percussion:
Arline Wilson

In 2015 Adam Whittaker became the Musical Director and Conductor of The Stafford Orchestra. Adam is an experienced conductor, lecturer, and musicologist. He has conducted a variety of ensembles including the University of Nottingham Wind Orchestra and the Wollaton Singers. His repertoire is wide ranging, with recent highlights including Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Nigel Clarke’s Gagarin, Eric Whitacre’s Godzilla Eats Las Vegas!, and Paul Hart’s Cartoon.

Adam graduated from the University of Nottingham with a first-class music degree in 2012, and has more recently completed a PhD in music at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. He is also an accomplished pianist and accompanist, having accompanied a number of choirs and degree recitals with programmes ranging across Mozart arias, Olivier Messiaen’s Le merle noir, and premieres of new works.

Adam is also active as a musical academic, publishing on music education, music and media, and the history of music theory, a subject on which he is regularly invited to talk upon at international conferences and seminar series. He currently holds a post at Birmingham City University as a key member of the music education research team, and is engaged in a number of national music evaluation projects.

Orchestra Liaison with Stafford Singers is by Arline Wilson.



The Stafford Orchestra rehearses at Doxey Church every Wednesday evening at 7.30pm.

Here is a video of the Stafford Orchestra performing Feast by Michael Revell in St Mary's Collegiate Church on 23.05.2015 conducted by Paul Nevins. This piece was commissioned by Stafford District Arts Council for the Orchestra's 50th Anniversary and was part of the Stafford Music Festival 2015.


Here is a photo of the Stafford Orchestra with Stafford Singers at the Doxey Church Carol Concert on 16.12.2015.

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Send all comments, updates and queries for The Stafford Singers Stafford Orchestra Page to John Wilcock


Version: 08 03 January 2019 updated by John Wilcock