Berkhamsted has always enjoyed a vibrant musical scene, especially with many classical musicians living locally. Now there is a new kid on the block!
Echor Music is the brainchild of three internationally celebrated musicians living in the Chilterns. During lockdown, their idea of forming an ‘Orchestra for the Chilterns’ became a reality, with an inaugural concert performed in a specially adapted agricultural barn! This was followed by a chamber ensemble in Hastoe Village Hall, and a Christmas concert in St. Mary’s Church Old Amersham. The success of these events made the creators realise that there is an appetite for ‘high quality live performances in the heart of our countryside’.
Co-founder of Echor Nicholas Bootiman explained: ‘It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to start my own orchestra. When music came to a halt during the pandemic and we were suddenly faced with an abundance of spare time, together with my partner Eva Thorarinsdottir and my friend and colleague Jonathan Stone, we decided to take the plunge.’
Eva is co-leader of the Liverpool Philharmonic and her vision for Echor is to present inspiring music of both classical and other musical genres in unusual rural locations, hence the barn concert which was attended by over 150 people and which featured a Nordic Giants theme, followed by a traditional Irish folk session.
Echor’s concept has now grown into something with a far greater idea of communication, community and a dramatic overhaul of how people view classical music. For decades now it seems we constantly hear and read about classical music and its image problem. It’s rather difficult to escape the stereotype when it is only referenced in an uptight way on TV dramas and film. Many people imagine that going to a concert would cost an arm and a leg, and they’ll be confronted with musicians dressed as Mozart with the audience all in tails, ballgowns and tiaras, sipping champagne whilst wistfully looking out into the gilded hall pretending to appreciate Pachelbel’s Canon! Pretty much every orchestra and ensemble is doing something to combat this, but in their view it’s not nearly enough. They all agreed (and speaking to many other musicians and music lovers) that concerts have sometimes become stale and uninviting for a number of reasons. They are too long, firstly. The traditional format of overture, concerto, symphony, whilst it works, is so limiting and predictable. Of course established orchestras with a loyal audience need to tread carefully, but this is where Echor has carte blanche, and want to make the most of it.
‘As a result of all this,’ said Nick, ‘we established some ideas on how to do things differently. Not just for the sake of doing things differently, but all to serve the purpose of bringing high quality music to our locality in the most powerful, direct and imaginative way. Firstly, we keep our performances down to about an hour as a maximum, and we follow this with a short break and a set played by musicians in a different genre entirely.’
Most importantly Echor’s goal is to create a deeper connection with the listener by finding unique ways of immersing the audience in the performance. During their Nordic Giants performance, an outstanding vocal group was interspersed within the audience who one by one stood up and began to sing a beautiful Finnish hymn.
One important impetus for the formation of this was the astounding quality of the musicians. At Echor’s launch, around 75% were local, most of them members of London orchestras, international quartets and session musicians. These programmes were experimental, but as much faith as they can have when putting them together, they weren’t sure how people would respond. Thankfully, Eva said, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and they have quickly amassed a loyal, committed and passionate following. Amazingly, and much to their delight, they have received these reactions from both dedicated classical music lovers as well as the local farmers who were inadvertently subjected to their performance at the barn!
Echor are also extremely passionate about developing community projects to bring music to children and people not able to attend live performances, and are looking at involvement with dementia patients as a possibility for the future as an ongoing project. They are now a registered charity, and it’s gradually becoming a full-time job on top of their day jobs. Unusually, all of Echor’s performances are also free for all children under the age of 18 in order to encourage parents to introduce their children to this extraordinary art form.
Echor’s Spring Festival consists of three concerts. The first two, on Good Friday, are at the picturesque Old Church in the beautiful village of The Lee, at 3pm. and again at 5.30pm. There will be two 60-minute performances of Haydn’s epic string quartet ‘Seven Last Words’, depicting the final moments of Christ on the cross.
On Easter Saturday, there will be a 34-piece orchestra in the Deans’ Hall at Berkhamsted School with the theme of ‘Beethoven’s Spring’, performing his 2nd symphony interspersed with beautiful songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms all connected by the theme of ‘Spring’. These songs will be performed by a tenor and a pianist set up in the centre of the hall, creating another focal point to the orchestral positioning. Following the first half, Echor’s cellist and Berkhamsted resident, Clare O’Connell, will take the stage after the interval to perform pieces from her latest album ‘The Isolated Cellist’. Here she uses her cello and loop pedal to conjure extraordinary sound worlds. Music lovers in the area might be familiar with Clare’s imaginative and eclectic concert series, ‘Behind The Mirror’.
Details of these exciting events are at Echor’s website www.echormusic.com, together with prices and how to book. Whether you opt for the reflective and intimate atmosphere of the chamber concerts or the joyous and uplifting energy of the Echor Orchestra, these events are bound to enhance local enthusiasts’ Easter celebrations and are sure also to further the reputation of Echor, the Orchestra for the Chilterns.