Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra embark on new season

It’s been an awful year for musicians, with so many massively impacted financially by the pandemic as freelancers unable to work.

Joanna MacGregor
Joanna MacGregor

But Joanna MacGregor, music director of Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, isn’t surprised that so many of them have survived the pandemic – and are so excited to get back to live performance once again.

Joanna, a concert pianist who has performed in more than 80 countries around the world, knows that musicians have always had to be able to “dance on a sixpence.” It has always had to be a crucial part of their make-up.

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Certainly for Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, this past year absolutely hasn’t been a dead loss. They have been able to do quite a number of chamber concerts, and now a new season beckons. It starts on Sunday, September 26 with Young Apollo: Britten, Mozart and Piazzolla. Joanna will direct two of Mozart’s most cherished piano concertos from the keyboard, mixed with the excitement of Britten’s Young Apollo and the tango of Piazzolla (Brighton Dome Concert Hall, 2.45pm).

“Last year we managed to get to know each other quite well,” says Joanna – though it was certainly far from the year she was expecting: “We did three or four chamber concerts at Brighton Dome and we also did A Christmas Carol as a live performance (before the lockdown).

“Like all musicians, we navigated it. I had a lot to do. I was looking after international students at the Academy, online teaching and then welcoming them back. And lots and lots of things were being rescheduled. I was on the jury for competitions which then went either completely online or half live and half online. Everybody just had to be flexible.

“It has been very, very tough for musicians, many of whom are freelance, but the fact that so many have got through it really, really doesn’t surprise me at all. It is just part of being a musician, that whole thing of being able to dance on a sixpence and still manage somehow to create music. In a way it has been more complicated with the venues and how the venues cope. There is nothing uniform about it.”

As Joanna says, she was at a packed Royal Albert Hall while Brighton Dome is allowing people to book in groups with gaps around them – another of the elements she has had to factor in.

“Brighton Philharmonic, all the players I have spoken to, are just incredibly upbeat about everything and really, really excited about being back on stage. All of them work for different orchestras, working in many of the London orchestras, and what has been great is that we are all plugged in, plugged into the different networks and knowing what is going on.

“We can pool our great wisdom, and the overall view is definitely let’s get this show back on the road, but let’s do it safely and yes, we do have to look at being a bit spread out. I have been very careful with this season. I have started off with pieces that can be played with chamber orchestras rather than full-blown symphony orchestras because we just don’t know where we are or where we will be. I have been able to plan that right up to Christmas that we can do these concerts with chamber-sized orchestras which allows us to spread out. At the moment the advice is that we do need to spread out a bit, and I have had to be very mindful of that. But luckily for us, the Dome is a very big, wide stage.”

"Some orchestras have to play on very small stages, but the Dome is a great wide stage that has got depth as well as width so we are very fortunate in that respect.”