The London Gay Symphony Orchestra to appear in new BBC music competition

London Gay Symphony Orchestra

London Gay Symphony Orchestra - Credit: Archant

London Gay Symphony Orchestra violist Darryl Davies talks to Zoe about appearing in on the Great Orchestra Challenge presented by Katie Derham

This is the year of the amateur musician. First it was Rhod Gilbert’s search for the best part-time band. Now the BBC is looking for Britain’s finest amateur orchestra.

All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge is a hunt for the orchestra that can best capture the spirit of amateur music making in the UK.

Following the progress of five orchestras over the course of four episodes, the Great Orchestra Challenge will be presented by BBC Proms’ Katie Derham and judged by conductor Paul Daniel.

“I’ll be looking for the orchestra that goes beyond technical excellence,” says Daniel.

“They’ll have to capture the spirit and excitement of British amateur music, they have to really engage us musically and emotionally and connect with their audience.

“No matter where and how they start out, I want my ‘best’ orchestra to discover and really develop its potential.”

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Kentish Towner Darryl Davies is hoping that the London Gay Symphony Orchestra will be crowned the greatest.

He has played viola with the orchestra for all 21 years of its activity, also acting as LGSO’s librarian.

“Obviously the London Gay Symphony Orchestra has a very special character,” he says.

“It’s quite a statement name. I think [the BBC] were looking for some diversity across the spectrum of orchestras they selected – and you don’t get much more diverse than gay, do you?”

The amateur orchestra is made up of around 150 members (not all playing at the same time), all of whom have full time jobs, ranging from Davies’s chartered accountant to a gardener, a graphic designer and a neuroscientist.

“It rests on the strength of the string section,” he says

“It’s very easy to fill the wind parts because you can always find trumpeters and clarinettists. But when you’re talking about strings, you want 10 to 12 of each part: 10 first violins, 10 second violins, 10 violas, 10 cellos. That’s 40 players already.

“It is a little bit harder to attract and maintain the strength of a string section, because they do a lot of the heavy lifting in an orchestra.”

Mentored by renowned double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, each week will see the orchestras faced with different challenges, such as tackling a well-known symphony and organising a concert around a soloist.

“The music itself is quite challenging but the presence of cameras does put that bit of extra pressure on you,” says Davies.

He recalls particularly being put in the spotlight when Paul Daniel stood over his shoulder and listened to him play, before giving him pointers on how to play it next time and which parts of the music to focus on.

“So then the whole orchestra had to do that section again with him reading my part to see if I’d engaged with what he’d told me. When you’ve got four cameras focusing in on you as well, that was hard work!

The four other orchestras involved are North Devon Sinfonia, Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra, Stirling Orchestra and Birmingham’s The People’s Orchestra.

All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge will begin on Tuesday August 30 on BBC Four, transferring to BBC Two for the final.