Echor – A Dream Come to Life

Echor Giants in the Barn

An introduction to Echor Music by Andrew Barratt.

As I pulled away I slipped a CD into the player and the vibrant opening bars of the prelude from Grieg’s Holberg suite filled the car. After a few moments, listening intently, my passenger asked: ‘What orchestra is that? It’s quite beautiful playing.’

Coming from a gentleman who had been an internationally-recognised violin and viola player, who’d led the London Philharmonic, who’d toured the world with Yehudi Menuhin’s orchestra, who had performed under many of the most famous conductors in the latter half of the last century and who still, in his eighties, taught at the London School for Young Musicians, this encomium was to be taken seriously.

‘Do you remember last October that I invited you to a concert at a barn in Bellingdon and you said it wasn’t your cup of tea?’ I replied. ‘Well, this was recorded that evening.’ There was a moment’s silence then: ‘Oh my goodness! When you told me a bunch of local musicians were performing Greig and Sibelius in a local barn I thought they’d just be a group of locals and quite honestly I’ve had my fill of listening to enthusiastic amateurs making a poor fist of the classics, but these players are magnificent.’

Now I’m no classical buff – but, like many of us I guess, I know what I like so to be informed in this manner of the privilege that I had enjoyed, listening to the first concert of a new orchestra – our orchestra, an orchestra for The Chilterns, brought home to me just how special an occasion I had attended.

Echor is the happy result of a combination of factors all brought together by lockdown. The two founders, Hawridge residents Eva Thorarinsdottir and Nick Bootiman, had for some while been germinating a dream of creating an orchestra whereby they could play the sort of music they wanted in venues that didn’t display the intimidatory formality of the concert hall.

A priority was to perform alongside players of their own mindset with programmes that didn’t pursue the commercial appeal of pieces made popular (but overdone) by repetition on the radio, whilst introducing equally beautiful but lesser-known pieces to their audience. (Who doesn’t despair at hearing Vivaldi’s beautiful work played at seemingly every available opportunity, so you can imagine what it’s like having to perform the same works over and over again since ‘it’s what people want’!)

Eva and Nick have both enjoyed successful careers playing with many of the finest ensembles – currently both are with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic – but the demands of rehearsals, touring and performing are extremely great and both wanted to move away from their stressful lives as concert musicians and fulfil their dream of playing in their own orchestra.

Lockdown having imposed an enforced layoff from rehearsing, recording and performing, the nettle was grasped and the opportunity to form the orchestra was taken. Our area of The Chilterns is remarkable for having a large number of top-flight classical musicians. Indeed there is a WhatsApp group that boasts no less than 51 members, all resident in the Chesham area alone.

Having discovered the unique advantage of having such a wealth of talent on the doorstep, the next stage was to establish funding and to source suitable locations for future performances. A Grapevine posting seeking advice and assistance brought positive results and as a result, an application for charitable status was put together. At the same time the orchestra, under the name ‘Echor’, was formed and with a generous offer of the use of a large agricultural building on Rays Hill, the plan slowly took shape for an inaugural concert. The programme of music from Scandinavian composers was to be called ‘Nordic Giants at The Barn’.

Part of the concert included the hymn from Finlandia with new words to be put to the music to celebrate The Chilterns. Nick knew of a choral group, fittingly called Echo, and approached them to perform this at the concert. Another Grapevine request, this time in the form of a competition for free tickets, provided the words and the audience enjoyed a beautiful and unexpected rendition as the members of the choir were dispersed amongst the audience, only standing and coming together as they started, unaccompanied, to sing to the tune of Finlandia – the orchestra joining in on the last chorus.

A magical and moving performance followed after the interval with traditional Irish folk music played, again, by a group of local players (including some from the orchestra) which together set the seal on the evening and demonstrated the diversity that we could expect from an Echor concert. This first concert proved the viability of the orchestra, generating enough enthusiasm to continue to develop the project.

Financial support has been provided by two generous benefactors and an ‘Echor Friends’ scheme which, for a small annual subscription, offers advance booking, discounted tickets, free concert programmes, newsletters, an annual friends event and the chance to sit in on rehearsals. At the time of writing, Echor have already achieved 100 Friends.

In the two years that Echor have been performing, they have graced such venues as the barn on Rays Hill, the barn at Dundridge Manor (in conjunction with The Elgiva Theatre), where the remastered silent movie classic Nosferatu (given a brand new musical score composed by Nick himself) was shown in a suitably ghoulish atmosphere, as well as performances at Stocks Golf Club, Deans Hall at Berkhamsted School and the chapel at Ashlyns School. At several of these performances, the experience was enhanced by the display of background information relating to the life of the composer and the composition on a large screen above the orchestra.

Echor are always looking for venues suitable to bring live music to the community and would be delighted to hear any suggestions that they can check out. They can be contacted at: and via their website

YouTube: Echor Music – Nordic Giants at the Barn for a little taste of what Echor is all about.