MEDIA RELEASE – March 5th 2012

Your Wirral helps WSO achieve Alpine heights


The Wirral Symphony Orchestra {WSO} held its annual “Play Day” over the weekend of January 27th-29th 2012 and is greatly indebted to Your Wirral for the grant which made this ambitious event possible.
This year the special choice was Richard Strauss’s “An Alpine Symphony” which is a fabulous work – a tale of a climb up an Alpine mountain (from twilight just before dawn to the following nightfall).
The need for this large numbers of players is one of the reasons that the work is rarely performed by amateur orchestras, even though it is such a magnificent composition that the experience can be life changing for many. The musicians too journey through a mountain world in all its moods from sunrise to sunset: mysterious, pastoral, tender, savage, childlike and awesomely grand.
It is one of Strauss’s largest non-operatic works in terms of performers: the score calls for about 125 players in total. These are huge orchestral forces, even by Strauss’s standards, bolstered by a (usually off-stage) ‘hunting party’ of 12 horns, two trumpets and two trombones, multiple woodwind, an organ, two harps and an array of percussion.
The Your Wirral Grant was obtained six months in advance in July 2011 as this was critical for the event to go ahead and such an event needed a lot of planning. The award enabled us to turn our dream into a reality and to start to make bookings and to make plans. The music arrived in December to give the participants a chance to study beforehand.
Jonathan Small (principal oboist of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the WSO’s Conductor since 2008) was our inspiring conductor for the weekend. Such a monumental and technically difficult work required a professional musician of his standard, and he put in many hours of work in advance, both studying the score, planning the weekend and solving the many technical and instrumental issues that arose.
Another reason is the complexity of the music – which for an amateur orchestra necessitated the help of professional players to lead each string section – and the hire of special instruments, for example a Heckelphone (similar to a bass oboe), wind and thunder machines/effects, and cowbells.
As it was such a large event the extended orchestra got together on the Friday evening (January 27th) at Heswall Hall for a preliminary look at the work. The delight of the players even at this stage was clear to see. We played though the work {there are 22 sections performed without a break} and started to study small tricky parts. This first joining of forces gave us insight into which sections could do with more practice before the Sunday.
On the Sunday (January 29th) the orchestra met at Thornton Hall Hotel in their large conference suite, when the seven professional players joined us. Jonathan and the WSO key organiser Viv May had carefully prepared the layout and seating plan. The first play-through of the work took under an hour, quite an accomplishment in itself.
We even managed to fit the Brass hunting party ‘offstage’ – out of sight (in the bar) with the help from an assistant conductor. Jonathan then rehearsed the more complex and energetic sections for the rest of the morning session. After lunch we rehearsed some more tricky passages and practised the more delicate parts, before finishing the day by giving a free concert, open to all.
These days when there are so many cutbacks sometimes the arts and culture are often the first to go. Your Wirral’s grant enabled the WSO to realise a dream, lifting our spirits and inspiring us to look further and achieve greater things. It was an unforgettable experience for us all.