Orchestra aims for improved audience for Sheffield City Hall

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CHETHAM’S Symphony Orchestra returns to the City Hall next month when it will hopefully get a better audience than the meagre one on its last visit nine years ago almost to the day in 2003.

On that occasion, when the orchestra was conducted by Mark Elder, there was a performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony which if you closed your eyes you could have sworn was coming from a crack professional orchestra, not a youth one.

This year it takes on Bartók’s Concerto for orchestra after Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony and Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and there is another distinguished maestro on the podium, Jac van Steen, principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Situated in Manchester, Chetham’s (pronounced cheatams) and regularly referred to as Chet’s, is one of the most famous schools of music in the world catering for around 300 pupils aged eight to 18. Three out of the last six BBC Young Musician winners have come from Chet’s, including at the age of 12 in 2002 the youngest ever, Jennifer Pike who gave an astonishing performance of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto to the City Hall’s deserted spaces in 2003.

Many a well-known name has passed through Chet’s, two obvious ones to cite from a Sheffield perspective being Ensemble 360’s Tim Horton and Ben Nabarro.

“As a specialist music school, over a third of the timetable each term is dedicated to music and the rest to academic study,” says Chet’s marketing manager Biky Wan.

“Each term there is an orchestral course when students down their pens and pick up their instruments to prepare for a round of concerts following them, this year in Lancaster and at the RNCM last autumn, at the Royal Festival Hall in London in spring, and in Sheffield and the Bridgewater Hall this summer. Later this year we’re working on a major Delius celebration and the orchestra will be performing in Manchester and Bradford’s St George’s Hall – Delius’ hometown.”

Chet’s director of music, Stephen Threlfall, says: “We always seek to give exciting musical challenges to our students and with the conductor Jac van Steen at our disposal, he and I very quickly came up with this programme of orchestral masterworks with their own stylistic, musical and technical intricacies.

“Also three works that all our musicians will encounter throughout their lives. What better way to study, understand and, of course, perform these works at their age, an age which is full of exploration, excitement and exhilaration!”

The concert on Thursday, July 5, begins at 7pm and tickets, £12, £5 concessions, are available from the City Hall box office.