About the Orchestra...

The York Guildhall Orchestra was founded in 1980 in response to the suggestion that there were a number of very talented players in the York area who would enjoy the experience of exploring the repertoire of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - and that there was an audience who would enjoy the experience of listening to such a repertoire.

At the time of its inauguration by John Hastie (see Reflections), the orchestra’s home was the Guildhall in York - hence the orchestra’s name.  Since then it has given a great many concerts, most of them in York but also in Halifax, Richmond, Beverley, Scunthorpe and Ampleforth.  In 1993, the orchestra was featured in two concerts at Fountains Abbey in their Music by Moonlight series.  It has also been engaged for several private functions and concerts.

In 1992 when Simon Wright took over the baton from John Hastie, the band became the official orchestra of the City of York - changing its name to the York Guildhall Orchestra.  Due to an ever-increasing audience size, the orchestra had outgrown the Guildhall; following negotiations with the City of York, it transferred to the then brand new York Barbican Centre.

The size and most certainly the standard of playing has grown throughout the intervening years and is now comparable with many professional bands.  The orchestra has both comissioned and premiered several works; for example, in 1993 it premi√©red David Gow’s Marimba Concerto with Dame Evelyn Glennie as soloist.  Local composer Dick Blackford has written several pieces for us as well.

The orchestra continually works with distinguished national and international soloists.  Indeed, it has been the case that our orchestra has been sought out by soloists as a vehicle for them to play in York.  Visit the Soloists Page of this web site to see a full listing of the soloists who have appeared with the orchestra.

The repertoire is very wide ranging, as evidenced by the list on the Repertoire Page of this web site.  One of our claims to fame is probably being the only orchestra to have ever played all ten of Mahler’s symphonies in chronological order!  Quite a feat - there are very few professional players who could ever make that claim. The orchestra has tackled some notoriously difficult works, such as Stravinsky’s The rite of Spring, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Strauss’ notorious tone poem Don Juan - none of these are taken lightly, even by professional groups.

The orchestra has featured as part of the Ryedale Festival and has performed some notable concerts, including the truly spectacular Berlioz Grande Messe des Mort, with its huge orchestra of over 120 players, an enormous choir of over 300 voices (the Hall√© Choir, the Leeds Festival Chorus and the Sheffield Philharmonic Choir) and four brass bands.  Performed in York Minster in 1999, it is still talked about!  More recently, in 2011, there was a fabulous performance of Mahler’s enormous 8th Symphony - named Symphony of a Thousand - which required enormous forces including nearly 400 in the choir, 130 orchestra players and 8 top class soloists!!  Never performed in York before (and may not be again for a long while) this was quite a feat of logistics and planning.

Popular music concerts have included concerts for younger listeners, such as one with Brian Kay as narrator in various pieces, including a musical version of The Musicians of Bremen commissioned by the orchestra from local composer Richard Shephard.  The orchestra was a central feature in a concert in 2014 to commemorate the memory of local composer John Barry - a wonderful dedication to a fantastic composer performed to a full house in the Barbican.

The orchestra is a registered charity and is run by an elected committee.  Although none of the regular orchestral players are paid (apart from the 5 principle string players) and the chairman and elected committee give of their time voluntarily, the costs of running the orchestra are quite considerable.  Soloist fees, music hire, conductor's fees, rehearsal hall hire, hire of the Barbican, PRS fees, and all other costs associated with running a large organisation, are considerable and ongoing.  Audience numbers took a hit when the Barbican was closed for a few years, but now that the orchestra has returned efforts are being made to get audiences up to the 1000 mark - with some considerable success.