New music, international-level performance and a desire to bring communities together are the key elements in the Bernardi Music Group which launches 2018 for the Chichester Chamber Concerts series.
Founder Andrew Bernardi brings the group to the Assembly Room, Chichester Council House, North Street on Thursday, January 25 at 7.30pm (tickets available from Chichester Festival Theatre).
Their programme will feature: J S Bach – Brandenburg Concerto No 4; Cecilia McDowall – Great Hills; John Ireland – Toccata from Concertino Pastorale; and Mendelssohn – Octet in E flat Op 20.
For Andrew there is something very pleasing about finally teaming up with Chichester Chamber Concerts series chairman Anna Hill: “We haven’t done the Chichester series before.”
The group goes back quite some time, however.
“I remember that our first rehearsal was the night of the great storm in 1987. I was at Worth Abbey as assistant director of music, and that was before I had even gone to do my postgraduate music course.
“I was a 23-year-old. I knew that I was going to become a professional musician. But I also wanted to set up a professional chamber group, and so I had already set up what was to become the Bernardi Music Group.
“The group is about extending the peak of new music, extending the frontiers and using music to bring communities together… and also performing at an international level. As part of all that, we have raised a huge amount of money for charity, more than three and a half million over the years. In this coming year, we are doing a big thing for Chestnut Tree House. We run the Shipley Arts Festival as a sub-group.
“The membership of the professional chamber group is very established. How many people depends partly on the repertoire. We go from a trio up to 90 players, which is very unusual, usually for film or TV when we are doing film sessions. Our typical size is 15 to 20. And the core repertoire is new music – and also the Brandenburg Concertos, one of which we are playing in Chichester. New music is very important. We have extended the repertoire, and some of our commissions really are at a national level, especially the one we are playing in Chichester: Cecilia McDowall’s Great Hills which is based on a poem by Belloc. It is about a Stradivarius violin doing a trip around Shipley. We took the composer to meet many people there, the vicar and the parishioners.
“Part of our idea also was to commission a piece which mirrors one of the Brandenburg Concertos, number four which we are also playing in Chichester.
“It’s really exciting now to be playing it on a Stradivarius, which is the pipedream of every violinist. With a Stradivarius, it is not just a name. He was the finest creator of all time, and the violins he made sound unbelievable. They are absolutely unique. I have the great privilege of being the custodian of the one I play. It is 321 years old. It will be 322 years old by January 25. It is worth a few million pounds, but that’s not its real value.”
The great thing is that for Cecilia McDowall, the commission proved a breakthrough into the top level of composing and publishing: “She has gone on to win awards, but the lovely thing for us is also the way that the commission brought together the whole community.
“We created the piece and it went on tour, and the whole community came together.”