In March 2020, SUSO had a very successful Centenary Concert featuring many Alumni, to celebrate our 100th Anniversary. We performed Strauss’ magnificent Eine Alpinesinfonie in the Southampton O2 Guildhall, alongside Hope Felts-King’s The Albatross, Lohengrin Prelude to Act III by Wagner and Mozart’s Horn Concerto in Eb major.
As SUSO means so much to so many people, members from the 2019/20 and 2020/21 committees have collaborated to put together a detailed account of the whole Centenary Concert process. We hope you enjoy reading about how it started, what the day was like, and what has happened since!
Various ex-presidents of SUSO had talked about the upcoming 100th anniversary, especially Tom Kidman [President of 2016-2017] who originally wanted to have a “committee of presidents” to run the event. This idea was considered by the 2019/20 committee, but they reasoned that in practice it wouldn’t work out as well.
Tom was also the one who did thorough research into the history of SUSO, resulting in the History section of our website. It is thanks to him that we know that the first “orchestral society” at the university was founded in 1920!
Every SUSO committee since his presidency has always been aware of how the 100th anniversary was impending and what we thought should happen, so SUSO has tried to carry as many of these ideas forwards as possible.
We owe a lot to previous committees for keeping SUSO going throughout their terms and establishing SUSO to the place that it is today. A big idea that consistently came up in past committees was to invite back “SUSO Alumni”, which is why after being elected as president, Sophie Blundell set up the Alumni Facebook group.
Back in March 2019, the AGM was held and the 2019/2020 committee was elected. With everyone signing up and knowing what they were getting themselves in for, the first committee meeting was held very soon after, where initial celebration discussions began. The very first conversation of our thoughts were as follows…
…but by a month later, a lot more plans were talked about in the next meeting:
- Venues such as Winchester Cathedral, Romsey Abbey, The Mayflower Theatre and O2 Guildhall were all suggested and contacted, with pros and cons to each venue being weighed up
- Initial repertoire ideas were also discussed, such as performing SUSO’s first ever concert list again, or playing a huge work that is not typically performed
- Other content such as publicity, merchandise and socials was also discussed, but was a long way off being organised at this stage
An alumni Facebook page was set up by Sophie in mid-April, as the first means of tracking down ex-players. People began adding friends to the group, whilst sharing their own stories about their time at the University and being a member of SUSO. This started our quest to form an orchestra to celebrate this momentous occasion!
At the beginning of May, SUSO held auditions for a new Musical Director. Having narrowed down a longlist of over 30 candidates, previous president Tom Dyke, previous AMD Zoe Sones and the newly elected president Sophie Blundell interviewed the final 3 candidates, who also each auditioned in front of the orchestra. Matthew Hardy was unanimously chosen as the new MD, and it was in his interview that Strauss’ Alpensinfonie was first mentioned as a potential piece to be played in the 100th anniversary concert.
After this, Sophie, along with Matt and the new AMD Oliver Downer, met to discuss the coming year in detail. They spent approximately 4 hours in Costa, but eventually nailed down a lot of the details especially pertaining to the 100th anniversary repertoire; they agreed on the Alpensinfonie, a piece that Ollie would be conducting, a Mozart horn concerto and discussed the possibility of a commissioned piece. They also discussed auditioning a soloist for the summer term. Having presented these ideas to the committee, we set up the composition and soloist competitions, and looked into hire of the Alpensinfonie, as we expected this to be the most difficult hire – not just in terms of the music hire, but also with the struggle of finding all of the necessary instrumentation.
“I immediately thought it would be a great opportunity to do something spectacular that the participants would remember for the rest of their lives. An occasion like this comes along very rarely and it provides a reason to get a lot of people involved in doing something really challenging and very rewarding. In particular it was fantastic to be able to invite former members of the orchestra to play alongside the current ones, to share their memories and celebrate the impact that SUSO has had on so many people over the decades.”Matthew Hardy
In May, we started gathering interest in who would like to be involved and what instrument they played, which sparked a surge in people joining the group. There seemed to be a real buzz and excitement about a reunion from the alumni, with it growing as the months went on.
June arrived and members of the committee first visited The Guildhall to meet with those in charge, as well as to scope out the building and whether it would be a feasible option. Having never been there before, it was amazing to see the huge hall and stand on the stage. We were aware prior to this that The Guildhall would be a very expensive venture and that we were unlikely to make back the money that we would have to spend hiring it but the committee decided that this was worth taking the financial risk.
Meanwhile, SUSO held a successful Summer concert in Central Hall, which marked the end of a great year for the committee and the orchestra for 2018/19. The baton was well and truly passed over to the 2019/20 committee.
July and August contained a lot of logistical meetings and planning for the upcoming academic year to start. Most notably, the librarian, James Di Capite, was tasked with securing the Alpensinfonie and the treasurer, Beanie Barnard helped organise the payments for the venues, the sheet music and the first round of Student’s Union funding – something that would directly influence the 100th anniversary concert.
On the 11th August 2019, Sophie, Hope and Kieran went to Prom 32 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, to watch the National Youth Orchestra of the USA perform Strauss’ Alpine Symphony. This was a great experience to watch live, but also eye-opening to see what we were letting ourselves in for…only time will tell!
After a well-earned summer break, sign-up sheets were sent out in early September to everyone interested in coming back for the celebration. The response was overwhelming and soon came the task of whittling down the replies to form the orchestra.
Whilst doing this, SUSO held a very successful Pre-term event, which boosted morale amongst the committee and the players. Special thanks to our Assistant Musical Director for 2018/19, Zoe Sones, for conducting a spectacular concert which included Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony; and our 2019/20 social secretaries, Kieran Potter and Mikey Anderson-Jennings, for organising such a fun-filled week of laughs, socialising and music making. The income generated from this week was reinvested into the Centenary Concert.
The 28th and 29th September saw auditions being held to form the orchestra for 2019/20. They were of a high standard as usual, but Matt, Sophie and Oliver put together a strong group of players to tackle the hard repertoire to come. At the start of October, we held social events for people to get to know eachother, as well as a super dressing-up rehearsal for Halloween!
By early November, the committee had hired the Guildhall, something that cemented to them how important this event was going to be for everyone involved – players and audience members alike. The composition competition was fully underway, with the music department’s own Ben Oliver helping consult on the final decisions. By the end of November, the winner was announced – Hope Felts King’s “The Albatross”.
Throughout the month, the Publicity and Social Media Officers held a meeting with the Guildhall regarding all of the administration for the event, such as programmes and ticket sales. Prices and deadlines were agreed, and early December saw the public launch of the event! Posters were finalised and a first draft of the programme began to take shape.
In between preparing for the 100th Anniversary, SUSO still had a winter concert to put on, and so in early December SUSO’s 2019/20 orchestra performed Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in Turner Sims. The winter concert only helped get the audience more excited for what the next year would hold for SUSO.
With the Winter term over and our next event being the Centenary Concert, Sophie and Matt began deciding Alumni seating where possible, also discussing the importance of having all-day rehearsals in March to get everyone playing properly together. The Alumni were invited, with the suggestion of professional tutors to come in and provide additional support.
Sophie and Hope, who was also Principal Percussionist, began sourcing all the additional instruments the percussion section would need. With the help of a friend of alumnus Tim Boxall, we managed to borrow a wind machine. Cowbells were purchased but we were still in need of a Thundersheet…with this in mind, they put their DIY skills to good use by making a Thundersheet that ended up being spectacular, which SUSO are now glad to be the very proud owners of!
It’s the new year! A committee meeting was held right as we got back from the Christmas break, which left us with a massive to-do list…
The Alpine Symphony called for a multitude of additional instruments, such aa Heckelphone and Wagner Tubas, and so the committee spent much of their time tracking suitable options down and securing our use of them – a lot of favours were asked and a lot money was spent!
Special mentions here to Beanie’s mum and ex-SUSO violinist, Liz Spencer, who couriered the Wagner Tubas to Southampton for our all-day rehearsal and the concert, as well as to Beanie’s dad for returning them to their owners! Also to ex-SUSO oboist, Catherine Underhill, for sourcing a Heckelphone from the Royal Opera House for us to use! We will always be so appreciative of all the extra-work people put in to help us make this a success.
“Not only were we one month away from the Centenary Concert, but we were busy planning for our upcoming AGM, finalising repertoire for the Summer term, sorting out logistics for our tour to Amsterdam in June 2020, and still having committee meetings and weekly rehearsals, let alone having time for other societies and our degrees! The Spring term certainly was very busy.”Sophie Blundell
The idea of sectionals with the all-day rehearsals was agreed, and Matt got on the case of sorting some amazing tutors for us to work with, whilst the committee scrambled to secure enough large rooms on campus to hold them. Ideas and dates for the socials were finalised by the social secretaries, such as the drinks reception and the after-party on concert day. They also ended up running a very successful quiz in The Bridge on campus for all players, on Saturday 29th February 2020.
March 2020: The two All-day rehearsals
Sunday 1st March 2020 was our first all-day rehearsal where Alumni players were invited to join us for the rehearsals. The morning started off with sectionals across all instruments, run by professional tutors Matt had sourced. These were incredibly beneficial and well-received by the players, as they were productive and insightful – though the wind players experienced an unwelcome fire alarm mid-way through! Breaks and lunch were spent catching up with old friends, creating new contacts and sharing experiences in SUSO. In the afternoon, Woodwind, Brass and Percussion had a rehearsal together at Cantell School with Matt, whilst the Strings were rehearsing altogether with the world-renowned Peter Stark. The general feedback showed that this was invaluable to getting to know the piece.
The following weekend on Saturday 7th March was the second all day rehearsal at Cantell School. This was the first time that everyone would play together, and the sound was truly amazing. 5 hours of productive rehearsal would be the last time we met before concert day! Originally planning to be longer, unfortunately this day resulted in a clash with the evening Sinfonietta concert where too many players were involved in both societies to overlap rehearsal time.
March 2020: Behind the scenes
Covid-19 started to be a genuine risk we would have to worry about, so a contingency plan and a risk assessment were produced for the scenarios where we’d have to postpone or cancel the concert. With the ever-changing guidance, it started causing problems for us with people isolating and players unable to join us. We spent much of the week leading up to the concert booking dep players to fill those empty seats.
We were continually updating ourselves and all the players with the most recent Government and Student’s Union guidance, and with this, said we would not cancel within 24 hours of the concert. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and with knowing what we do now, we would never have gone ahead with the concert due to the amount of people expected to be at the venue. However, events like the Cheltenham Festival were still going ahead, and the concert could still happen in line with the advice at the time from the Government, O2 Guildhall Southampton and Southampton University Student’s Union.
After a meeting with music lecturer Andrew Pinnock, Kieran contacted the John Hansard Art Gallery to see if they would host the drinks reception. With financial help from Richard Middleton, interim Chief Operating Officer for the University, the venue was secured to make this day just a little bit more special. The logistics were finalised and timings sorted, so it was full steam ahead to concert day!
March 2020: Concert day
For the committee, the day started around 9.30am on University Campus. Equipment was loaded into cars and onto a rented van, and our “get-in” to the O2 Guildhall started an hour later. The stage was set for the 2pm rehearsal, where the whole orchestra would adjust to the new acoustics. We had just one run through with the orchestra in the space before the rehearsal was over.
Over the road at the John Hansard Art Gallery, we held a drinks reception where the players could mingle over some prosecco and orange juice, with displays of old photos and programmes for people so reminisce their time in SUSO.
There was a real buzz backstage in the dressing rooms, as many people were about to perform a piece that is so emphatic. For the first half, alumni players watched with the audience whilst SUSO performed. The orchestra entered the stage to perform Hope Felts-King’s The Albatross, followed by Wagner’s Lohengrin – Prelude to Act III conducted by our AMD Oliver Downer, ending the first half with Mozart’s Horn Concerto in Eb Major performed by soloist Fabian van de Geest.
With the first half over, there was time to mingle with the audience and prepare the stage for the 125-person orchestra! The interval bell was called and the players and audience took their seats. The next 50 minutes was truly breathtaking music from start to finish, the atmosphere on stage electric, to a huge sigh of relief at the end of the last note. Almost 18 months of work had lead up to this point, and now it was over! With thanks to the cooperation of everyone involved, the smooth running of the day was amazing sight to behold.
“Days like this are always a big challenge! We were in an unfamiliar venue which sounded quite different from any of the spaces in which we had previously rehearsed and the repertoire we were playing was seriously challenging for everyone. However, the players were well-practiced and the rehearsal went according to plan. On the night the orchestra really brought the music to life and gave a performance that I’m sure will live long in everyone’s memory.“Matthew Hardy
The set down was swift and the procession to the after-party even swifter – as many of you will be glad to hear! We still managed to hand out awards, affectionately known as paper plates, and the final party-goers left around 6.30am! It is so strange to comprehend that this day was the last time that a lot of us have played music with other people, or in a concert at least. The end of the concert and the after-party was bitter sweet as many of us knew, due to the impending severity of COVID-19, that this would be one of the last times we would see and socialise with our friends for a while.
With the world shutting down and the UK entering a lockdown just the following week, it was pretty safe to say that this was not the post-concert feeling we were hoping for…everything went pretty quiet for a couple of weeks, but we were still grateful to hear people’s happy memories from concert day. We received so much positive feedback from the event, which is a pleasure to read after all the hard work pays off!
“I was privileged to be in the audience for last night’s SUSO Centenary Concert and am emailing to congratulate you, the whole orchestra and everyone else involved for delivering such an outstandingly good concert. Each piece was beautifully performed and Hope Felts-King’s composition was superb. The Horn Concerto was wonderful but it was the Alpine Symphony, which I know well, that simply took my breath away and completed an exceptionally special musical event.“Philip Greenish, Chair of Council at the University of Southampton
On 6th May 2020, Southampton University Student’s Union hosted the annual Society and Volunteering Awards virtually for the first time. SUSO is elated to be the proud winners for Best Event, which really gives the recognition all the committee and players deserve!
We weren’t done here, the professional photographers collated their photos from the event, and we shared them on our website and over social media! You can view all the photos from this very special day here.
Sharing these with people over the summer months evoked a lot of reminiscence from one of the final events people got to attend before the first national lockdown.
“It’s hard to pick out a specific favourite moment, but seeing the focus and commitment of the players to to the music during the performance was hugely rewarding. Also, talking to members of the orchestra and the audience at the end was very satisfying; hearing how much people enjoyed both playing and listening made all the effort even more worth it!”Matthew Hardy
The video recording process was unfortunately struck with many delays due to the national lockdown, but the first draft of the recording eventually became available in December 2020. After a few final revisions, the final edit was signed off in February 2021.
Almost 12 months after the concert, we finally wrapped up the entire event, and now we can share it with everyone! This event would not have been possible without the 2019/20 committee giving up so much of their time, inducing so much stress and pressure on themselves to make it a special day, but this will always be one of the longlasting memories for everyone involved.
With special thanks to Charlie Mann, Kieran Potter, Marianne Williams-Kerslake, Nathan Patel, Rosie Waddington and Sophie Blundell for writing and editing this page.
Additional information from Matt Hardy. Photos courtesy of Ash Sealy, Molly Ellis, David Dixon and Kieran Potter.