Petersfield Orchestra was founded in 1927 by Kathleen Merritt, who also conducted the Orchestra until 1972. For ninety years now, the orchestra has made a significant contribution to musical life in Petersfield.
Currently, the orchestra gives three concerts a year in the Petersfield Festival Hall, with the March concert being a part of the Petersfield Musical Festival. Rehearsals take place on Friday evenings during school terms. A new venture in 2003 was an additional concert during the Christmas season 2003 at St Peter’s Church in Petersfield.
Kathleen Merritt’s impressive commitment to Petersfield Orchestra lasted from 1927 to 1972 when Judith Bailey was appointed as her successor. Judith continued until June 2001 and in recognition of her outstanding work, the title of Conductor Emeritus was conferred upon her, on her departure to Cornwall.
After an extensive recruitment campaign, Nick Barnard was appointed as conductor in September 2001. Nick brought fresh ideas to the choice of programmes, which included ‘A Night at the Opera’ in June 2002, which provided new challenges for all the players. Quite unexpectedly, Nick obtained a new post in France and was therefore unable to continue, after just five memorable concerts. The orchestra is now in the excellent hands of Robin Browning and programmes have been deliberately chosen to reflect the demand from audiences for the popular repertoire. The combination of a careful choice of programmes combined with an active publicity strategy has now found its reward with all tickets being sold for the concerts, and the very unusual sight of people queuing for returns at the box office.
Most concerts include a concerto. Many of the soloists of recent years have come to us under the auspices of the Countess of Munster Musical Trust. The Trust sponsors each year a panel of talented young players whose excellence can be guaranteed. We enjoy the opportunity of working with these musicians and return visits are the norm. Past soloists have included cellist Hannah Roberts, BBC Radio 2 Young Musician of the Year, 1992 and the award-winning Gould Piano Trio.
An important feature of our playing policy is the opportunity we provide for school-age players to gain early experience of orchestral works. A particular success story has been that of trumpeter Fraser Tannock who first played with us while at school and has twice returned as a professional soloist in the Haydn and Arutunian concertos. A recent member of the woodwind section, Louisa Denby, was a bassoonist with the prestigious National Youth Wind Orchestra.
Petersfield Orchestra is grateful for the financial support it receives from Petersfield Town Council, East Hampshire District Council, Hampshire County Council, Making Music, the Countess of Munster Musical Trust and the increasing number of Friends of Petersfield Orchestra. We have recently also received sponsorship from our local solicitors MacDonald Oates. The support received from all these sources enable Petersfield Orchestra not just simply to survive but to continue to increase its reputation as a very fine orchestra through some outstanding concerts.