Latest news

Grant Still

At the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra we are committed to programming more music composed by female and BAME composers and we’re excited to be performing Grant Still’s Threnody in Memory of Jan Sibelius in our forthcoming concert.

Assistant conductor Olivia Tait tells us: “Grant Still was born in 1895 in Mississippi and grew up in Arkansas. He is primarily known for his first symphony ‘Afro-American Symphony’ which was the first time a complete score by an African-American composer was performed by a major orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic, and this went on to be widely performed. During the 1960’s, when the Threnody was written, Still’s music was being performed internationally by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic orchestra. The Threnody in Memory of Jan Sibelius was written in 1965 to mark the centennial of Sibelius’s birth. Still’s Threnody is full of singing lament lines, and the occasional ‘bluesy’ harmonic language reflects his earlier music from the 1920’s which draws explicitly upon the tradition of the African-American spirituals.”

Find out more at: Classic FM

ERSO’s new assistant conductor!

We are delighted to introduce ERSO’s new Assistant Conductor Olivia Tait.

We have long wanted to revive the successful assistant conductor role that we had under Peter Stark (which notably included Andrew Gourlay went on to great things) and we are thrilled to be able to give this opportunity to a talented young female conductor. We are all very excited to work with Olivia!

Olivia is a London based conductor currently working as Conducting Fellow at St Martin-in-the-Fields, where she conducts weekly services with the choral scholars, concerts with the St Martin’s Voices and St Martin’s Chamber Ensemble and BBC Radio 3 Broadcasts. She recently graduated with Distinction from a master’s in choral conducting from the Royal Academy of Music, under the tuition of Patrick Russill where she was also winner of the Alan Kirby Prize.

Last year, Olivia was a participant of the Jette Parker Women Conductors scheme at the Royal Opera House, where she worked with the City of London Sinfonia, under the tuition of Alice Farnham, Sian Edwards and Jessica Cottis in conducting Verdi’s La Traviata. From this, she then went on to deputise as chorus master for Opera Holland Park’s production of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Olivia also participated in the 2021 DIMA International Choral Conducting Competition, where she placed as a finalist and won the Gheorge Dima Special Prize. In 2020, she was also selected for the Genesis Sixteen Conducting Scholarship, where she received coaching from Harry Christophers and Eamonn Dougan in courses throughout the year. The choir have continued to form their own ensemble, Exodus, of which Olivia is now Musical Director, and she is also excited to be working with The Sixteen, assisting in conducting workshops this summer.

This summer, Olivia is also thrilled to have gained a place on the Dartington Summer School Conducting Course, where she will conduct the Dartington Festival Chamber Orchestra and she is incredibly excited to be joining the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra team this year!

A very fond farewell!

Sunday’s Brahms concert saw the end of an ERSO era – we had to say a fond farewell to Princiapal Cello Henry Hargreaves and Deputy Leader Penny James. They have played a huge part in ERSO’s recent years and helping us keep the orchestra going through covid. We are really going to miss them both and we wish them well on what we know will be succesful musical careers!

Penny is now living in Scotland and is excited to be working with Live Music Now Scotland which gives outstanding young artists the opportunity of performing at the start of their careers and enables high-quality live music to reach people throughout our the Scottish communities, especially those who wouldn’t normally have access to it.

Henry is currently on trial for jobs at the London Symphony Orchestra, Ulster Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Welsh National Opera.

Penny and Henry with orchestra members after their final concert
First violins – with partial John Crawford
Penny with leader John Crawford
The last traditional ERSO “cellfie” with Henry

It’s Iza!

The Final of the 2022 ERSO Soloist of the Year was an amazing afternoon which saw us working with four hugely talented young soloists. The orchestra had a wonderful time playing with such impressive musicians and our decision to pick only one was the hardest yet.

We’re thrilled to announce that Izabela Stocka is our winner and will perform the epic Brahms Violin Concerto in our Beauty of Brahms concert.

Izabela is a 25 year old violinist who is a recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, where she was awarded Distinction during her Master of Arts studies, and currently works as a freelance orchestra, chamber and solo violinist. She was born in Poland to an artistic family and began the violin at 7. One of her earliest memory is of a small violin hanging on a wall in her room which she carried around the house like a toy when she was tiny. 

Congrats to Chloë!

We’re SO sad that Deputy Leader Penny James will be stepping down from ERSO this summer.

But also v excited to welcome Chloë Meade as our new Deputy Leader. We know she will be amazing!

Chloë has an undergraduate degree from the Royal Academy of Music, and is currently completing her Masters there, studying with Joshua Fisher and Jonathan Stone. She enjoys playing a wide range of styles including folk, tango and film music and her extensive experience includes the fun fact that she featured in the hit film ‘Rocketman’, leading the orchestra conducted by the young Elton John in a dream sequence!

Chloe Meade. Photo taken by Liz Isles (

Principal Cello Opportunity

We are recruiting for a Principal Cello! Applications open now!

ERSO is one of London’s leading and longest established amateur orchestras, working a very high musical standard under our amazing conductor Chris Stark (best known as Co-Founder of the Multi-Story Orchestra). 

ERSO’s cello section in our recent 90th Birthday concert at the Duke’s Hall at the Royal Academy of Music

We’re looking for an enthusiastic, excellent musician to lead our cello section – a strong group who are all keen to work and play at a very high level.   The role would give you valuable musical and organisational experience, working as part of the team planning ERSO’s future and our exciting education projects.  You would have the chance to play some of the major orchestral solo/excerpt repertoire and have the opportunity to enter our annual concerto competition.

This is a paid, self-employed role lasting for a 2-year period commencing September 2022.  Fees will be £35 per 3-hour rehearsal and £80 for the concert day, equivalent to around £1200 over a 12-month season.

Our current Principal Cello leaves in the summer, so we are keen to make an appointment very soon and would welcome applications as soon as possible and definitely by May 13th at the latest.

To find out more about how to apply go to: Paid Section Leader Opportunities

Hello Hannah!

We caught up with Hannah who is a hugely talented bass clarinetist and a finalist in this year’s ERSO Soloist of the Year competition.

What is your main occupation at the moment?

I graduated my masters in bass clarinet performance in 2020, and at the moment I’m woodwind & piano teaching, performing as much as I can and working at a yoga studio!

What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?

I started clarinet at the age of 10, at the suggestion of my school music teacher – purely so I could join the school orchestra. I picked up the bass clarinet at age 18, and then went on to specialise on it for both my undergrad and masters degrees. 

What made you choose the concerto that your will be playing?

My wonderful masters teacher Paolo De Gaspari showed me this concerto at the start of my masters degree, as he had recently performed its premiere. I then entered the concerto competition at trinity Laban in 2019, getting into the semi-final with it! It was one of the last things I did before lockdown. 

What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?

I have never yet performed a concerto! As I’m still so early on in my professional career, it would be such a valuable experience for me – especially after my master’s was cut short due to Covid and how scarce performance opportunities have been. 

Introducing Penny

We caught up with young flautist Penny Cairney-Leeming who will be one of our finalists for our 2022 Soloist of the Year competition:

What is your main occupation at the moment?

I’m a first year student at Durham University studying English Literature. I also hold the Graham and Joanna Barker Music Scholarship which means I get a lot of great orchestral playing Durham University Orchestral Society.

What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?

I used to go to children’s concerts with my family and immediately fell in love with the flute. I begged my mum for lessons and finally started when I was about six.

What made you choose the concerto that your will be playing?

The Ibert flute concerto is, to me, one of the most exciting concertos to perform. It allows for so much range of expression and is really exhilarating to play!

What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?

This would be such an incredible opportunity for me to develop my skills and confidence as a performer. The chance to work with such an amazing orchestra and conductor is definitely a rare one and I think it would be a fantastic musical experience.

Hello Ellen!

We caught up with Ellen, one of the finalists for the ERSO Soloist of the Year competition who impressed us with her performance of the 4th movement of the Elgar Cello Concerto.

What is your main occupation at the moment?

I’m a full time scholar at the Royal Academy of Music.

What made you choose to play your instrument and how old were you when you started?

I’m the fifth generation of string players in my family and I was 5 when I started to learn the cello, taught by my uncle Oliver Gledhill.  For as long as I can remember I used to listen to him practice and watch him play so it seemed very natural to want to have a go myself!

What made you choose the concerto that you will be playing?

The Elgar cello concerto is one of the best loved concertos in the cello repertoire and shows a full range of techniques and emotions.

What do you feel you would gain from the experience of winning this competition and playing your concerto with ERSO and Chris Stark?

It would be a wonderful opportunity to play with such a long established and experienced orchestra conducted by Chris Stark, a cellist himself and to follow in the footsteps of Jacqueline du Pré who I understand played this concerto with the orchestra back in 1959.