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You are in: Somerset > Made In England > Somerset County Orchestra “Bringing music to the community”


SCO has played in over 40 venues

Somerset County Orchestra “Bringing music to the community”

Somerset County Orchestra (SCO) is believed to be the longest continually running amateur orchestra in England. Sue Goodman from the orchestra celebrates the orchestra's history.

Music wasn't top priority in Somerset immediately after World War II – until Sidney Hollyoak was appointed Music Adviser to Somerset Rural Community Council in 1945.  His aim in life was to make music at any and every level; he was full of enthusiasm, and inspired everyone who played for him. 

Soon after his arrival in Somerset, a number of keen local players, struck by his energy, suggested he form a county orchestra (there was already a Taunton Orchestral Society).  Sidney organised an amateur Orchestral Day in 1946, the first of many, and that's taken as the Orchestra's starting point.  We think we might be the longest continuously active amateur symphony orchestra in the country.

Somerset County Orchestra

It was founded in 1945

The first public concert that we know of was given in Bridgwater in 1954; the orchestra was strings only, and the programme included pieces by Handel, Bach and Percy Grainger. 

Sidney conducted, as he did until his retirement in 1958, and Dorothy Edwards was Leader, a position she kept until 1961.  At least two other founder members continued playing well into the 1960s.

'Still waving a mean baton'

During the 1950s and 1960s the Orchestra expanded and its repertoire broadened.  It played three or four concerts a year, and heavyweights such as Beethoven, Wagner and Tchaikovsky started to appear in programmes. 

SCO celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1970 with a fanfare by Peter Wishart, commissioned by Cicely Hollyoak in memory of her late husband.

Brian Cresswell was appointed musical director in 1976, and brought a new surge of excitement to the Orchestra's music-making. The repertoire expanded further, to encompass both opera and audience-participation Prom concerts. 

Sidney Hollyoak

Sidney Hollyoak founded it in 1946

SCO reached the age of 40 in 1984/85 with a playing membership of around 100, with plenty of financial sponsorship, and a record of success in many ventures. 

Ten years later, Brian was still waving a mean baton, but several others now shared the conducting.  New challenges included playing for staged performances of ballet and Shakespeare.  As a crowning accolade, Brian received the prestigious Sir Charles Groves Award in 1999, for services to music in the community.

Brian Cresswell completed 25 seasons as artistic director of SCO and retired in 2002, and the new Principal Conductor is David Hedges. 

Over 60 years, SCO has played in about 40 venues, indoors and out, and has totted up about 160 orchestral and chamber concerts – plus choral concerts, opera, ballet and informal repertoire sessions. 

The orchestra’s concerts continue to attract reasonable audiences and good reviews, and we always seek to engage up-and-coming young soloists.  

The repertoire continues to expand, covering everything from Bach to Bernstein, and so does the age range of the players - talented musicians as young as nine have taken part in concerts.  Live music lives!

SCO's next concert, where they will be playing Wagner's Meistersingers Overture, Respighi's Fountains of Rome and Sibelius' Valse Triste and Symphony No. 1  is on 7 June, at St James Church, Taunton, starting 7.30pm. 

last updated: 05/05/2008 at 17:25
created: 22/04/2008

You are in: Somerset > Made In England > Somerset County Orchestra “Bringing music to the community”

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