Torbay Symphony Orchestra began life as the Torbay Light Orchestra in 1983 and was renamed in 2001 with the appointment of music director Richard Gonski. The change of name signalled a change in repertoire, as the orchestra began tackling larger symphonic works.
We are a full-sized symphony orchestra, whose members come from a wide area and are of all ages (currently 14 – 87). We rehearse in Totnes, a market town well known for its alternative culture, and we perform each concert series there, as well as playing at a range of other locations in South Devon.
TSO has a reputation for embracing all kinds of music, from the familiar and popular to acclaimed performances of contemporary repertoire and music specifically commissioned by the orchestra from living composers. We believe in engaging with the community and embracing the talents of our local aspiring artists. Our music director, Richard Gonski, feels passionately that we should not just look to the past or to music that is well known. Playing contemporary music presents challenges which enable us to grow as musicians. We want to communicate the excitement and otherworldy beauty of new music and for this reason Richard often gives illustrated talks before the concerts, to draw people into these new sound worlds.
Our strapline is ‘Classical. Contemporary. Community’ and our work in the community is one thing which sets us apart. The orchestra is well known in the local area for our primary school workshops where we passionately explain the positive role music plays in our lives, introduce the instruments of the orchestra, and encourage children to engage with music. During the year, TSO puts on large-scale versions of these workshops at the famous Dartington Hall, where we also give children a taster session on an instrument of their choice and encourage them to sit amongst the orchestra during a performance of a symphonic work. The feedback from these workshops is always fantastic and many children are inspired to begin learning an instrument.
A sense of community is at the heart of the orchestra. We are more than just a group of musicians who rehearse and perform together. New members always comment on how welcoming and friendly the orchestra is. Many have played with TSO for years and we are knitted together through friendship as well as a shared passion for music. Members of the orchestra regularly play chamber music together for fun, and we have even had weekends away together to create more opportunities to do this. As well as providing a fantastic musical/social life, this leads to greater musical cohesion and connectedness.
In 2023, TSO was thrilled to be nominated for and then to win the Royal Philharmonic Society 'Inspiration Award'. This is the Society’s only award for amateur groups and it seeks to highlight and recognise the impact amateur groups can have in the community and to reward those who challenge themselves to go beyond the norm. We received the award in March 2023 at a ceremony in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, where we met and networked with some top musicians and ensembles.