The Studio Symphony Orchestra grew from the Studio String Orchestra, founded by the late Dr Havelock Nelson and friends in 1947, shortly after his arrival in Belfast from Dublin. As originally intended, the Orchestra continues to provide an opportunity for non-professional musicians, who come from all over Northern Ireland on a weekly basis, to play a wide range of music. This has included first performances in Ireland of works by composers such as Britten, Honegger and Walton, as well as the standard classics. The orchestra has had the pleasure of accompanying many fine instrumental soloists including Sir James Galway, Barry Douglas, Philip Fowke, David Owen-Norris, Ralph Holmes and Peter Katin, as well as the world-renowned singers Heather Harper, Bernadette Greevy and Peter Pears.
The orchestra enjoys continuing success and is busier than ever. There is a long established SSO tradition of inviting artists with local connections to be soloists, particularly at the start of their career. In recent concerts, Michael McHale (piano) and Eimear McGeown (flute) have given concerto performances. Over the years, many well known local artists have performed with the orchestra including Mary Nelson, Scott Heron, Clare Isdell, Cathal Breslin, Cliona Doris, Anne Harper, David Quigley, Irene Sandford, Michael McGuffin, Derek Bell, Elizabeth Bicker and the Hunt Trio.
Professional performances of large scale orchestral works are often prohibitively expensive to produce. Because the SSO’s voluntary status significantly reduces costs, this is an area where we have had some of our most notable successes, with acclaimed performances of huge works such as the Alpine Symphonie by Richard Strauss when we had 115 players on stage in Belfast’s Ulster Hall. Other large scale performances have included the mighty 11th and 12th Symphonies of Shostakovich, and Vaughan Williams’ Job – a Masque for Dancing which we performed in the Ulster Hall in 2007 to great critical acclaim. In addition to large scale works, there is much music that deserves to be heard live, but which rarely gets performed in the concert hall. The SSO is well known for its adventurous programming, and has recently presented works by Nikos Skalkottas and Edmund Rubbra.
The cine footage below (taken by Dr Havelock Nelson himself) shows members of the SSO heading off to a concert in Derry/Londonderry in 1948.