Under the direction of Artistic Director Mark Shanahan, Forest Philharmonic Orchestra has gained an impressive reputation for the high quality and vitality of its performances, and celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014/15. Originally the Leyton Municipal Orchestra, it was reconstituted under its current name in 1964 by its first Artistic Director, Frank Shipway. The first President was Zoltan Kodaly, followed by Sir John Barbirolli, with an illustrious list of patrons including Leonard Bernstein, Sir William Walton, Benjamin Britten and Lorin Maazel and soloists including pianists John Lill and Stephen Kovacevich. Today the orchestra continues to perform with top artists such as soprano Susan Bullock and pianists Stephen Hough and Ronan O’Hora, and also gives opportunities to young musicians in the local Waltham Forest community through open rehearsals. The orchestra regularly performs with choral societies and in 2008 took part in the BBC 2 programme Maestro. As has been the case for the last 50 years, each string section is led by a professional player, whose input in rehearsals enables the orchestra to fulfil its aim of coaching the musicians of tomorrow while providing a forum for the leading amateur players of today.
In addition to its regular season at home in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, Forest Philharmonic performs within the borough and surrounding areas. The orchestra’s brass quintet accompanies Walthamstow’s annual Remembrance Sunday Civic Service, and other chamber groups perform at the Stow Festival and chamber concerts in local churches. The orchestra was invited by Waltham Forest Council to perform for HM The Queen for her visit to Walthamstow as part of her Diamond Jubilee Tour, and in 2014 performed the live music accompaniment to Hitchcock’s film Blackmail as part of Beyond Barbican. Venturing futher afield, the orchestra has also performed in the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Barbican Centre, St John’s Smith Square and St Alban’s Cathedral. Programmes cover a range of symphonic and smaller works from Beethoven and Tchaikovsky through to Elgar, Mahler and Strauss. Recent soloists include Fenella Humphreys, Gemma Rosefield, Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Paul Archibald, Gareth Hulse, Tim Crawford, Anne-Marie Owens, Linda Richardson, Julian Gavin and Andrew Greenan and Leah-Marian Jones.