Amateur orchestra

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was founded on one simple principle: why leave orchestras to the professionals?

In 1970, at the Portsmouth School of Art, students and teachers gathered together to perform. Or make art. Or, really, to make performance art. The Portsmouth Sinfonia was unique in that the musicians who joined didn’t necessarily know how to play their instrument. Perhaps they were just learning, perhaps they knew how to play music but just didn’t know how to play that particular instrument. As long as they actually showed up and actually tried their best, this orchestra was the place for them.

The result sounds like a school orchestra – mis-timed, mis-tuned, but with a strange purity also. The first performance of the Portsmouth Sinfonia was supposed to be its last, but everyone was having fun so they decided to continue. Then Brian Eno got involved.

Remember Brian? When he wasn’t composing the Windows 95 start-up sound or breaking the world’s creative blocks, he was on the lookout for interesting musical experiences. So he picked up a clarinet – not knowing how to play a clarinet, of course – and joined the orchestra. What began as performance art became something larger, and so the Portsmouth Sinfonia ended up having real success.

Their innocent aesthetic played well in the 1970s, apparently. Eno produced two full albums of their work; one later (disco remix) track got into the UK Top 40. In 1974 they performed at the Royal Albert Hall, perhaps the most prestigious venue in the United Kingdom. And now, fifty years after they first got together, we’re still talking about them.

Here’s a couple of samples of their work:

[Thanks to David S. for suggesting this topic.]

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