Breaking down Barriers with Paraorchestra at Bath Abbey

On December 8, The Bath Festival welcomed a captivated audience for an extremely special event – Symphony of Sorrowful Songs with Paraorchestra: A Musical Installation at Bath Abbey. The atmosphere in Bath was bustling with excitement for this event, as we saw the queues form for what would be a very moving evening.

Our lovely Patrons had a glass of mulled wine and mince pies in the Roman Baths, where they enjoyed listening to inspiring speeches from our CEO Ian Stockley and CEO of Paraorchestra, Jonathan Harper. They reflected on how wonderful it was to be able to put on this event, and how grateful they were to have patron Edward Horesh in the room, without whom this event would not have been possible.

Outside Bath Abbey, there was a queue of excited people waiting with anticipation to head into the concert for a new experience. Some seemed to be looking forward to Henryk Górecki’s Symphony, discussing the intricacies of the work, while others wanted to experience The Museum of the Moon and enjoy walking around the Abbey. As our staff brought the audience into Bath Abbey, Artistic Director Charles Hazlewood brought us into the world of Paraorchestra. He spoke eloquently about how they are the world’s first professional orchestra of disabled and non-disabled musicians. Charles spoke about the importance of levelling the playing field in classical music and how Paraorchestra wanted to redefine what an orchestra can be, and he was joined by BSL interpreter Julia Thorpe to translate.

The symphony began with a long, still melody by the double bass and as the music developed, there was a feeling of something truly special happening in Bath Abbey. Though the audience were free to move around, there was a reflective stillness when first listening to the music in this space. There was a feeling of progressiveness, that barriers really were being broken down and we were seeing elements of the future of classical music, even amidst these uncertain times.

Hazlewood conducted the musicians sensitively through this reflective work, with soprano Victoria Oruwari soaring over the top of the emotive harmonies that the orchestra produced.The audience moved around at their ease in Bath Abbey. By the end of the performance, many audience members were blown away by the experience. When events can be scarce in these times, it is times like this when we see how enriching and intrinsic they truly are.

For us at Bath Festivals, this performance felt like a perfect combination of what we stand for as an organisation – performances that are progressive, inclusive, accessible and unique.

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