Getting ready for a big birthday party

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On Sunday 6 February, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra celebrates its centenary with a special concert at Assembly Hall.

Here, its president, Frances Armstrong, tells Eileen Leahy what it’s been like to have reached such a remarkable milestone and reveals the show’s running order…

The Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra (RTWSO) is one of the city’s most treasured musical collectives, attracting hundreds of people to its frequent concerts and next month it will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Although unable to perform as regularly as the members would have liked due to the various lockdowns, the orchestra has certainly not rested on its laurels when it comes to putting on a fabulous concert of centenary celebration which takes place on February 6th.

The orchestra is currently preparing for its special civic concert at 3 p.m. sharp next Sunday in the Assembly Hall. Conducted by Rod Dunk, the program will include classic orchestral pieces such as Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man; the dance of the actors of Smetana; Romance for violin and orchestra by Svendsen; Romance for cello and orchestra by Johann Strauss and Symphony No. 2 by Elgar.

“Taking place 100 years after the very first performance of the Tunbridge Wells Orchestral Society, this unique celebration of the city’s flagship orchestra is supported by the Mayor’s Office and is presented as a civic concert,” says President of Frances Armstrong. RTWSO.

“There will also be a retirement collection in support of the mayor’s charity, Mental Health Resource.”

As well as acknowledging a century of musical creation, Frances says this unique concert heralds a rebirth for the orchestra, but also looks forward to the next 100 years of RTWSO concerts in Tunbridge Wells.

As for what audience members may enjoy hearing next Sunday afternoon, she says there’s a bit of something for everyone.

“The first half of the concert is slightly lighter and reflects the joy of the occasion, and features some of our main performers as soloists. In contrast, the second half follows with Elgar’s mighty 2nd Symphony, a work dedicated by Edward Elgar to the memory of His late Majesty King Edward VII.

Frances says if readers haven’t seen an RTWSO concert before, now is a great time to go.

“Those who have never attended an RTWSO concert could be forgiven for thinking that we are ‘just another local band’. But not at all !

“The RTWSO is a fantastic pro-am (professional-amateur) orchestra, made up of a unique 50/50 mix of local and professional musicians, and is proud to have been widely recognized as one of the finest community orchestras and the most ambitious in the world. UK.”

She adds that after an RTWSO concert, they regularly receive praise and positive feedback, especially from people after hearing the orchestra for the first time.

Reviews include quotes such as: “The quality of play was breathtaking”, “The whole afternoon was a great joy”, “I didn’t expect it to sound so professional – it was like I was in London.”

“So with praise like this, I urge readers of The Times of Tunbridge Wells – and borough residents in general – to come and experience it for themselves. This orchestra is really much more than just a local band!

With Covid restrictions now dampening public confidence, public confidence is slowly returning as people are encouraged to go out and enjoy live music and theater again.

But Frances points out that if anyone has concerns about safety, Assembly Hall’s “See It Safely” certification should give them confidence that their visit will be a safe and positive experience.

“The venue is fully compliant with all the latest government and industry Covid-19 guidelines, this ensures that the safety of staff, performers and the public is paramount.”

And as for the orchestra reaching its centenary, Frances says it has survived for a century despite wars and pandemics because in addition to the RTWSO musicians who are absolutely passionate about what they do, the city has given them provided so much support over the years.

“The fact that Tunbridge Wells has supported and sustained its own orchestra for 100 years is really a truly momentous achievement. If you’ve never been to an RTWSO concert before, there’s never been a better time than now to come and experience it!

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