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June 20th 2012 - Press Preview The Bucks Herald

Conductor's farewell concert

Jacques Cohen will lead the Aylesbury Symphony Orchestra for the final time on Sunday. The internationally renowned London-based conductor has led the group for the last 10 years. He is stepping down because of other commitments  and will be replaced by another up-and-coming conductor, Ben Palmer, later this year.

Orchestra spokesman Paul Ramsell said "The concert is full of well known classics and is aimed at people who might not normally come to one of our more traditional classical concerts".

The show is at St Mary's Church at 3.30pm. For details visit

February 5th 2012 - Press Preview The Bucks Herald

MUSIC from Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings will be performed in a special one-off concert by Aylesbury Orchestra in the new year. 

West End theatre conductor John Beswick has been brought in to bring the show together, and also co-ordinate the extra musicians being drafted in to make it happen. Other tunes being performed include music from E.T., The Dambusters and Gone With The Wind.

Mark Warner, leader of the orchestra since 2003, said: “What we normally do is classical ‘standard’ concerts. We thought it would be nice to try and attract a different audience, people that might not normally come to one of our shows. It is really designed to be a concert that anyone can come to, with a programme of popular music that people are familiar with. We will also have it compered by our conductor John Beswick, who is from Berkhamsted. We are very lucky to have John who has conducted lots of West End shows. He is great to work with.”

Beswick has conducted shows including Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Blur frontman Damon Albarn’s ‘pop’ opera, The Full Monty and Phantom Of The Opera.

Aylesbury orchestra was formed in 1949 and usually performs three main concerts a year. The show on February 5 will feature at least 70 musicians. It takes place at 3.30pm at St Mary’s Church, which can seat an audience of 250 music fans. 

The group started rehearsing for the show at the start of November. Mr Warner says: “So far there has been a very positive reaction to the idea. It is something that people feel a lot more able to attend. It is a much more accessible thing to do.”

He admits that getting hold of the music from the films was ‘difficult’, saying: “All the music is quite hard to source, we have the original music for Star Wars and E.T. and they are hard to find. A lot of the time you can only find the one part for the film. There are lots of people that have taken the time to arrange a cut down version, but we have the original versions so they will sound really like they do on a CD."

May 8th 2011

Sunday’s concert by the Aylesbury Orchestra, the final one in this season, opened unusually with a major symphony and the concerto was given as the final item in the concert. 

Certainly the Danish composer Nielsen’s First Symphony made an impression and received a welcome from the audience. Jacques Cohen, conducting, brought out the gritty feel of the first movement (marked as Allegrio orgogolosio (!). The following movements were also played in appropriate style. Nielsen is not heard often nowadays and the Orchestra should be complimented for taking up a composer whose works deserve to be heard in concert more regularly. 

This though was not a one piece item concert and we heard from Tchaikovsky, his Fantasia Romeo and Juliet, as well as Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. The pianist was Karl Lutchmayer, born in London and trained at the Royal College of Music and also spent some time at the Moscow Conservatoire. His dramatic performance made a striking effect.  

As ever the ASO came up trumps in this concert and it is worthwhile to look out for its 11/12 programme when it is published in late summer.

Michael Eardley


November 8th 2010

AYLESBURY Orchestra’s first programme this season brought a full house to St Mary’s Church on Sunday November 7.

The opener was Walton’s Spitfire Prelude and Fugue, an apt choice this year. The orchestra soon got into their stride in this stirring and evocative piece.

Next there was a real treat with Elgar’s glorious Sea Songs, five very different songs written for the contralto voice. The singer was the immensely talented Mae Heydorn who not only has a stunning voice but an exceptionally expressive one that perfectly captured every mood from dreamy to dramatic. It was a very physic performance too, as she almost acted out each song:  Ms Heydorn is only just starting out on her professional career, but is surely bound for the world’s greatest opera houses.

The main work of the evening was the Symphony No 3 in B minor by Aylesbury’s very own Rutland Boughton, who was born here in 1878. Phenomenally successful and well regarded in his day - Elgar and George Bernard Shaw were particular fans – his work is seldom heard today, quite unjustly judging by this performance. If the Glastonbury Festival conjures up images of mud and scary lavatories, you might not know that the first Glastonbury Festival, masterminded by Boughton, took place in 1914. Boughton was interested in staging works based on Arthurian legends and Glastonbury at that time was as “New Age” as it is today and a mecca for psychics and mystics. The festivals ran until 1926, when Boughton alarmed the locals by staging a socialist modern dress nativity play! The following year, he moved to Gloucestershire and there composed many of his greatest works including this symphony, first performed in 1939.

There is within it a great variety of music ranging from stormy to quietly reflective, with many interesting percussive effects, and Aylesbury Orchestra stepped up to the mark with a splendid performance which was much enjoyed by the whole audience, including several of the composer’s descendants.

Joss O’Kelly (source : Bucks Herald)

May 16th 2010

AYLESBURY Symphony Orchestra gave its last concert of the season at St Mary’s Church on Sunday May 16.

It began with Verdi's overture The Force of Destiny. Although the opera is rarely performed, the overture is a popular part of the concert repertoire and is also well known as the music used in Jean de Florette. The orchestra gave a spirited performance, capturing the atmosphere of impending doom.

Next, the young Australian pianist, Michael Ierace, played Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 3. Michael, who now studies in London, has won numerous awards including the Coutts & Co. Award for Keyboard in the Royal Over-Seas League Competition. His playing was superb and he was equally at home with the delicacy of the slow movement and the flashy cadenzas of the third.

Finally, we heard Symphony No 1 by Sibelius, a dramatic and striking work that and conjured up the snow-capped hills and dark forests of Finland and was excellently served by the orchestra, whose playing throughout was of a very high standard.

This concert was dedicated to the memory of Roy Harrison who passed away last month. Former chairman, cellist and latterly timpanist with Aylesbury Symphony Orchestra, Roy was also the press contact, and as conductor Jacques Cohen revealed in his introductory talk, did pretty much everything else that ensures the smooth running of an orchestra. As well as missing him greatly on a personal level, the orchestra are also only now realising just how much he did. The way that everyone pulled together to get the show on the road, while maintaining the high standard of musicianship that we have come to expect, was a fitting tribute indeed.

Joss O’Kelly (source : Bucks Herald)

March 14th 2010

AYLESBURY Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Sunday March 14 at St Mary's Church was as usual well attended and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the music on offer.

Jacques Cohen, under whose direction the orchestra has continued to get better with each concert, began by introducing one of his own pieces. A noted composer, Cohen is currently working on a huge orchestral piece entitled Adventures in the Twilight Zone, which I hope we will have the chance to hear in due course.On this occasion we heard Quiet Music, a terrific short piece from 1992 written in a similar style - atmospheric to the point of being creepy. The unsettling tone was a result of combining simple melodies with weird harmonies and the orchestra captured both perfectly.

Next up was Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra. Its contrasting movements were based on Scottish folk tunes and soloist Francesca Barritt played beautifully throughout, taking full advantage of the opportunities both for lyrical playing and fireworks.

Finally we heard Ralph Vaughan Williams’ London Symphony. Vaughan Williams was determined to give English music a distinctive voice and certainly succeeded here. He began writing it in 1912 but finished it after the First World War, dedicating it to fellow composer George Butterworth who had died on the Somme. What starts as a celebration of London takes on a darker mood in the last movement.

Splendid playing from the whole orchestra and from the individuals who produced the sound effects and solos made this a wonderful interpretation of a great work.

Joss O’Kelly (source : Bucks Herald)

November 15th 2009

ST MARY’S Church held a packed and appreciative audience for Aylesbury Symphony Orchestra's concert on Sunday November 15.

The afternoon began with Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite. Three of the five movements are lively and also very familiar but these are interspersed with two glorious slow movements, the languorous and sensual Nocturne, in which leader Mark Warner took the solo part, and the Romance. The whole was well played with the mood of each section being well portrayed.

Part of the reason why the slower movements are less well known is that they are usually omitted from the play list of a certain radio station, which was alluded to in conductor Jacques Cohen’s introduction to the main work, Dvorak’s From the New World. “The purpose of this symphony”, he said “is not to relax you, but to get you worked up!”

This was given a masterly performance by the orchestra who once again rendered each mood, from the melancholy opening, perhaps occasioned by Dvorak’s absence from his homeland, to dramatic and stormy, expansive and celebratory.

The guest soloist was guitarist Christopher Evesham, who gave a fabulous performance of another favourite, Rodrigo's Concierto d'Aranjuez. The most familiar movement is the spellbinding Adagio, but the whole work expresses the atmosphere of Spain. Christopher’s playing was both skilful and sensitive and was never overpowered by the orchestra, who once again gave an excellent performance.

Whether it was a coincidence, or an inspired piece of programme planning, two of the works, the Khachaturian and Rodrigo, were premiered during the Second World War, making the concert a fitting end to the weeks of remembrance.

Joss O’Kelly (source : Bucks Herald)


May 17th 2009

AYLESBURY Symphony Orchestra concluded its 59th season with a real cracker of a concert conducted by Jacques Cohen at St Mary’s Church on Sunday May 17.

The orchestra was on splendid form and opened with a tremendous performance of Mussorgsky's Night on a Bare Mountain. Distinctive Russian melodies combined with the (deliberately) discordant howlings of the witches’ all-night party for a riot of sound. The theme was Russian and American music and the concert closed with Gershwin’s An American in Paris, which again provided a host of sound effects. The orchestra really got into the spirit of the piece with percussion, wind and brass adding to the atmosphere. The soloist was pianist Michael McHale. Born in Belfast, and trained in Dublin, Cambridge and London, Michael has performed all over Europe and in the USA. We were extremely fortunate to hear this astonishing virtuoso play not the customary one, but two pieces, one Russian, Shostakovich's Second Piano Concerto, and one quintessentially American, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

The Shostakovich is a fabulous piece, with a gorgeous slow movement sandwiched between two lively rhythmic sections, while the Gershwin is a huge and deserved audience favourite. For the latter, special mention should go to Peter Newman, for his playing of the iconic clarinet opening. Michael McHale’s performance of these contrasting pieces was expressive and captivating, perfectly portraying the mood of the music. Hearing him play was a wonderful and uplifting experience, much enjoyed by all - most of the time. 

Note to parents with accompanying children: if Gershwin had wanted rustling paper accompaniment, he would have put it in the score!

Joss O’Kelly (source : Bucks Herald)


November 9th 2008

AYLESBURY Symphony Orchestra opened its 59th season at St Mary’s Church on Sunday November 9 with an interesting and enjoyable programme.

The soloist was Sara Deborah Struntz, a young violinist who is already a practiced recitalist and chamber musician, playing on both modern and period instruments. Here she gave a glorious performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, a totally controlled and lyrical interpretation of this popular work.

The rest of the programme was less familiar, beginning with a piece that surely deserves a wider audience - Malcolm Arnold’s Peterloo Overture.

This is an extraordinary depiction in music of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. It opened with the main theme, portraying the peaceful crowd at a political meeting. Then, Aylesbury Orchestra’s talented team of percussionists, playing from the transept, took the part of the soldiers approaching, closer and closer and evermore menacing, until the whole orchestra let rip for the massacre itself. This was followed by a lament for the fallen and a return to the original theme.

The second half of the concert comprised performances of Holst’s little known Beni Mora Oriental Suite, in which, again, much was demanded of the orchestra, who were required to use western instruments to produce a very eastern sound, and finally Borodin’s rhythmic and celebratory Second Symphony.

The orchestra, under conductor Jacques Cohen, who as usual provided helpful introductions to the music, was in excellent form throughout and the superb acoustics of the Church enhanced the balance between the instruments. Overall this was a most enjoyable afternoon of music.

Joss O'Kelly (source : Bucks Herald)