Burford Orchestra completes celebrations of its 60th anniversary thsi weekend with a special performance of Holst’s The Planets Suite. French horn player Louise Woods looks forward to the concert 

ON SATURDAY night Burford Orchestra will face its biggest musical challenge yet.

The 50-strong orchestra, made up of music teachers and talented amateurs from Oxfordshire, have been practising for the last three months to perfect composer Gustav Holst’s work.

“We decided to give ourselves a proper challenge to see out our 60th anniversary year with a bang,” said conductor Andrew Gray.

“Holst was a local boy – he was born in Cheltenham – and he started writing The Planets 100 years ago this year.”

It is a huge undertaking for the orchestra, not least because there are important solo parts for some rather obscure instruments, and the orchestra had to call in reinforcements.

There’s a starring role for a bass oboe, for instance (which is much longer and plays a much deeper note than a conventional oboe) but there are only 17 in the country.

Joining the woodwind section on the night will be a similarly rare (but huge) contra-bassoon, as well as an alto flute, which is so long it has a bend in it (ordinary flutes are perfectly straight). The brass section will be reinforced by a tuba and a tenor tuba – a brass band instrument rarely found in an orchestra – but Holst was a trombone player and played regularly in Oxfordshire brass bands.

The orchestra will be further swelled by two harps, a massive percussion section (the piece demands two sets of kettle drums rather than the usual one), and a full choir to stand off-stage and create the ethereal sound of heavenly angels.

“The Planets is a huge undertaking for an amateur orchestra,” added Mr Gray, “but we have all worked really hard and we’re confident Saturday’s performance is going to be a great success.”

In addition to The Planets, the orchestra will play Malcolm Arnold’s Little Suite No 2 and William Walton’s highly recognisable Spitfire Prelude and Fugue.

Tickets are still available for the concert, which starts at 7.30 pm in the main hall at Burford School, priced £7 in advance, or £8 on the door (children £4 and £4.50).