Baptism of fire for new chair as the orchestra fights for survival

Baptism of fire for new chair as the orchestra fights for survival
Orchestra facing challenge to survive (stock image)

That’s the view of Giles Clarke who retired from his role of chairman of the RTWSO in May, handing the reins over to Frances Armstrong. He says the current coronavirus crisis means the orchestra will have to rebuild its audience.


Mr Clarke, who had been chairman since 2010, told the Times: “I had already decided to step down as I thought the orchestra needed fresh blood.

“The audience is among the older generation and we were not getting enough younger people, those pre-retirement age, so I realised we needed somebody of that type of age to take the orchestra forward.”

The 76-year-old added: “Then just as we were planning for our April and May concerts, coronavirus started and suddenly there was no venue and because of social distancing the orchestra could not even rehearse.” The orchestra regularly performed at the Assembly Hall.

He said that in the wake of the Covid crisis, Frances’s arrival is even more important for the survival of the orchestra.

“As far as the orchestra is concerned, they are itching to get back but the challenge is getting the audience back. It is going to be a major problem for Frances, and of the biggest challenges the orchestra has faced, trying to convince people to come back, particularly the older people who are going to be quite nervous,” he added.

Frances Armstrong

“Tunbridge Wells is the cultural hub of the High Weald area, and the orchestra is such an important part of that, so it is an important job.”

Frances, a viola player and former Royal College of Music student, says she understands the challenges facing the orchestra, which celebrates its centenary next year.

“Many of our audience members are older, and some have already said to me, ‘I’m happy to send you donations, but we will not be coming to the concerts because of the virus’,” she said.

She continued: “We are definitely looking at ways to get younger people involved, but at the moment it is very difficult.”

She added that key to the orchestra’s future is the Assembly Hall Theatre.

“It is the only venue around here that can fit in an 80-piece orchestra, and we have already been told that it will remain closed until at least November 1.

“I really hope to be able to do a February concert, especially as next year is our centenary year. Even if it is not possible, we will do something, even a smaller concert with just a few players – anything, but it will depend on what we are allowed to do.”

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