Piano star's on hand for Tchaikovsky gala
The Bardi Symphony Orchestra has the quality to attract the best soloists. Nigel Powlson finds out why and previews the new season.
IT says a lot about the musicianship of Leicester's Bardi Symphony Orchestra that world renowned pianist Nikolai Demidenko should be so eager to renew acquaintances.
Founded in 1986, the orchestra is technically amateur but many of its players might well have joined the professional ranks if they hadn't decided to pursue alternative careers.
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Demidenko will be the guest soloist for the first of three concerts this season at De Montfort hall – an all Tchaikovsky affair – and his appearance is testament to the quality of the city musicians.
Robert Calow, the orchestra's manager and a clarinetist, says: "We have three really big concerts in De Montfort hall this season.
"The first one really shows the connections we have fostered in being able to get Nikolai to come and play with us on a pretty regular basis. He's one of the greatest pianists on the planet and he's happy to come and do Tchaikovsky with us. He really enjoys coming to Leicester and playing with the Bardi. It will be a very popular concert, especially as we end with the 1812 Overture. And then there's the Nutcracker Suite with its connections to Christmas.
"It's a really good popular concert but in the middle there's a megastar playing a concerto."
Robert's twin David (flute) also plays in the orchestra and the brothers have been enjoying the Bardi experience together almost from the very start.
Robert says: "It started in November, 1986, and I first played in March, 1988.
"By 1989 we were performing Mahler's Sixth Symphony, probably the first ever performance in the city, with more than 120 players on stage."
The orchestra was founded by Doctor Andrew Constantine at Leicester University. The name Bardi derives from the Italian Count Giovanni Bardi, who was associated with new ideas and approaches to the performance of music in the 16th century.
It was quickly obvious that the Bardi offered something a bit different to other musical organisations in the city.
Robert says: "At the end of 1988 the orchestra gave a concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and it was so full people were sitting on the floor and we had to start 20 minutes late.
"Andrew's remit was to set it up as near as he could do to a professional orchestra. He wanted to be a professional conductor and the orchestra grew with him." After 19 years, Andrew moved to America and Danish conductor Claus Efland took over as musical director.
Robert says: "He lives in Berlin and flies in over a two-week period for each concert. He believes in us and conducts us to a professional standard.
"But we are all officially amateurs and the orchestra is a charity. If you look at the range of what everyone does it's actually quite mind boggling."
There are tax inspectors, a midwife and Robert and David are graphic designers.
"Some people don't want to come from a day at work and be drilled to a very high standard and that's fair enough as there should be opportunities in the county for all different levels of music making," says Robert.
"A very important part of this has been Leicestershire School of Music. The legacy of there being so much music in the county is purely down to that."
The core size of the Bardi is around 70-75 players but can grow for the bigger orchestral works
The orchestra now gives around five concerts a year, all in Leicester at either De Montfort Hall or St James the Greater Church. After the Tchaikovsky Gala, the Bardi returns to De Montfort Hall in February when there's a chance to see former Westminster Abbey organist Christopher Herrick.
He joins the Bardi for a programme entitled French Connections.
Robert says: "Christopher's life now is travelling around the world playing on all the great organs and he was keen to come and play on our choral organ."
The third De Montfort Hall date of the season is in May when we will be treated to an evening of "Great Symphonies".
Robert says: "We do need to do something to push the orchestra and the Elgar Second Symphony is one of my favourite pieces and will certainly do that."
But first it's the Tchaikovsky Gala on Saturday which is also the Patrons' Concert
Robert adds: " Dr Frank and Katherine May are the orchestra's longstanding and only patrons and for many years have been invaluable supporters of the Bardi.
It was Dr May's idea for an annual concert showcasing the talent of young Leicestershire musicians.
Robert says: "The first concert saw 10-year-old Mark Lee play Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto with the Bardi.
"It was a truly remarkable event."
Next year's concert will be on July 7.