Imperial musicians come out top in major new competition - <em>News</em>
Monday 7 April 2008
By Abigail Smith
A major new music competition has named Imperial College Symphony Orchestra as the UK's best university orchestra.
Despite representing the only institution that does not teach a music degree in the competition's final, ICSO beat off competition from Cambridge, Manchester and Southampton Universities to win Symphuni, a university orchestra competition sponsored by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
"The other orchestras had quite a high number of music students," comments Isobel Blake, principal second violinist and Chair of ICSO, who is also studying for a PhD in Imperial's Faculty of Medicine. "But music has always been an important part of life at Imperial - when you have to study so hard you need something to take your mind off it all sometimes."
Symphuni's final took place in London's Cadogan Hall on 29 March, before an audience that included a judging panel made up of cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, leader of the Royal Philharmonic Clio Gould, composer Debbie Wiseman and Classic FM Magazine editor John Evans.
With each university orchestra allotted 30 minutes to demonstrate their talent, ICSO decided on a programme of compositions by Benjamin Britten and Sergei Rachmaninov. Isobel recalls:
"It was quite a manic day, but luckily we've had the chance to play at Cadogan Hall before so it wasn't too intimidating. It was really great as well to meet musicians from other universities and find out how they do things."
The orchestra is made up of students at Imperial, plus some members of staff. It is conducted by Richard Dickins, the College's director of music, who praises its high standards.
"It's a huge honour for me to work with such inspiring, committed and accomplished musicians," he says. "I've always know it is of a quite remarkable quality, but to receive this accolade and to beat three orchestras from major universities which all have academic music departments is a real achievement."
This opinion is seemingly shared by Julian Lloyd Webber, who wrote in a Daily Telegraph column after the final:
"The vast majority of players in the four orchestras we heard have not chosen music as their career. More's the pity as the standard displayed - especially by the winning Imperial College Orchestra under their excellent conductor Richard Dickins - was quite exceptional."
Imperial College Symphony Orchestra performs one major concert each term, and also plays at special events such as Royal visits and the annual Exhibition Road Music day. Their next concert will be given on Friday 30 May in Imperial's Great Hall.
Symphuni was established with the aim of raising the profile of the musical life of UK universities. The winning orchestra was awarded a prize of Â£5,000.
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