July 08, 2004

Portsmouth Sinfonia : The World's Worst Orchestra

May 28th this year marked the 30th anniversary of the first performance by the legendarily shambolic DIY orchestra, The Portsmouth Sinfonia.
Originally conceived in the early 70's by English avant-garde composer, Gavin Bryars, the Portsmouth Sinfonia was an orchestra that anyone could join - regardless of whether or not they could actually play an instrument... All that mattered was that they turned up for rehearsals, and took the whole thing seriously.

The resulting cacophony naturally raised the ire of the "tuxedo-nazis", but it also gathered a cult following and even inspired "real" musicians to get involved. Brian Eno was an early participant who became the Sinfonia's clarinetist, even though he had never played the instrument before. (He later went on to produce one of their albums.) Michael Nyman (the composer of the film scores for The Piano) was supposedly so gobsmacked by the first half of a Sinfonia performance that he asked if they had a spare instrument and ended up playing cello in the second half.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia's all-too-brief career ended in the early 80's and left behind three albums - The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays The Popular Classics, Hallelujah! - Portsmouth Sinfonia Live At The Albert Hall and 20 Classic Rock Classics. Unfortunately, these are now long out-of-print and almost impossible to find (unless you're prepared to fork out top dollar on eBay.) Thankfully though, real audio samples of their dischordant majesty are available from the Miserable Melodies website. (I've converted two of my favourites - Also Sprach Zarathusra and The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy - to mp3s that you can download.)

Posted by Warren at July 8, 2004 11:23 PM | Classical