Read the latest news about Manchester Camerata and the Classical world including concerts, learning, partnerships and other events.
THERE cannot be many top-class chamber orchestras to have been created by a local radio station. But that was the origin of Manchester Camerata. Today, 40 years on, it is used to audiences who make their own videos and send tweets while listening.
It was the brainchild of Raphael Gonley, BBC Radio Manchester’s first music producer, and gave its first series concert on 30 September 1972. The new venture, a series of five public concerts in the city, was intended ‘to stimulate the profession outside the regular full-time orchestras’.
It certainly did that. Everybody wanted concerts in the varied centres that make up Greater Manchester, and it soon had an eight-month season, with the then Greater Manchester Council providing the lion’s share of its grant income. Principal conductors and music directors since have included Szymon Goldberg, Manoug Parikian, Nicholas Braithwaite, Nicholas Kraemer (who has enjoyed a continuous relationship with the Camerata from 1982 to the present), Carlo Rizzi, Sachio Fujioka and Douglas Boyd. Sir Charles Groves was president from 1984 until his death in 1992, and conducted regularly.
Concerts have been given in almost every auditorium Greater Manchester offers and in many places beyond, with long-running series in Nantwich and Crewe in Cheshire, in Colne (and more recently Ulverston, Stafford and Doncaster), as well as at the Royal Northern College of Music, Free Trade Hall and Bridgewater Hall.
Highpoints in the past have included a residency at the Buxton Festival from 1979 to 1993, a yearly pilgrimage to Moura Lympany’s festival at Rasiguères in the foothills of the Pyrenees from 1981 to 1992, and annual open-air fireworks concerts at Cholmondeley Hall in Cheshire from 1991 to the present.
The financial road has been long and winding, and at times rocky. Self-promotions such as fireworks events were sometimes lucrative but also high-risk, and since the demise of the GMC in 1985 income from local authorities was unpredictable.
But the start of its fifth decade sees Manchester Camerata in good shape and assured of its place in the UK orchestral spectrum. It is orchestra-in-residence at the RNCM, with administration based there. It’s under the stewardship of chief executive Bob Riley (in a line including Gavin Reid, Lucy Potter and John Whibley) and intensely proud of new music director Gábor Takács-Nagy and new leader Giovanni Guzzo.
Takács-Nagy is former concertmaster and now principal guest conductor of Iván Fischer’s Budapest Festival Orchestra, and music director of the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. He teaches at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, but calls Lancashire home as well, as he’s married to a Burnley lass, Lesley, and has joined the RNCM as International Chair in Chamber Music.
Giovanni Guzzo, born in Venezuela, is a close collaborator – he studied at the RAM and is an internationally in-demand soloist. He is beginning the Camerata season as the proud possessor of a ‘golden period’ Strad made in 1709, newly loaned to the orchestra by the philanthropist Jonathan Moulds.
In its fifth decade, things are changing for Manchester Camerata as rapidly as in the past. It’s just acquired a new chairman, in the person of Paul Flowers, chair of the Co-operative Bank and senior deputy chair of the Co-op group (among a host of linked appointments in the Co-operative movement at home and abroad). Unusually for a top boss in the commercial world, he is a Methodist minister.
Fortieth anniversary celebrations begin with a special event at Manchester Town Hall on 12 September, when Takács-Nagy and the orchestra previews its season, with principal Naomi Atherton the soloist in Mozart’s Horn Concerto no 4 K495. The Manchester series is built around Mozart piano concertos and Haydn symphonies at the RNCM, set against Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich and Schnittke.
On 2 December (3pm) at the RNCM, Nicholas Kraemer has a pre-Christmas slot, and there will be nostalgia in mind as Kraemer and principal bassoon Laurence Perkins get together to reminisce before the concert.
The Camerata was part of the recent successful bid by Telford and Wrekin Music for a new In Harmony Sistema England project (one of four). ‘The Stafford music hub has brought us together with the CBSO,’ says Bob Riley. ‘It’s based on our strong links with Stafford, where we have performed for the past 10 years.’ Its extensive learning programme includes a project for young Neets in Greater Manchester, a programme for children with Asperger’s/ASD in Manchester funded by Children in Need, and individual projects with a school in Moss Side and two special schools in Wigan plus a community opera and film project in Chester.
Four times in the season the orchestra’s principals go to two non-traditional city venues – the Manchester Deaf Institute and the Anthony Burgess Foundation – and perform for audiences the conventional classical world is unlikely to reach, in a series called UpClose. It’s already included jazz and theatre elements, and this time singer and visual artist John Hyatt is working with them.
‘It’s bringing music to a different and younger audience,’ says Camerata’s marketing manager Paul Davies. ‘It’s great to get people tweeting about what they hear, taking their own videos of the performance, and becoming part of the experience.’