Our creative partners #2: Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra (and their upcoming big birthday)

Waterloo Festival thrives on creative partnerships, on bringing professionals from the world of arts and music to collaborate with and showcase their wonderful work to our communities in Waterloo, Lambeth and - thanks to the marvels of the internet - elsewhere. In this series, we meet some of our creative partners for 2020. Next up is the Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra (ERSO).


ERSO at Waterloo Festival 2019

The Ernest Read Symphony Orchestra (ERSO) was founded in 1931 by Ernest Read, the celebrated pioneer in the development of music education. Read was passionate about spreading music to children and young people and his orchestras played in schools, concert halls and the BBC studios, culminating in the birth of the Ernest Read Concerts for Children in 1945. He developed an innovative format for these day-time concerts that many professional symphony orchestras still follow today, with short programmes, accessible introductions to the repertoire and audience participation.

Ernest Read (1879 - 1965)

Ernest Read also founded the first ever youth orchestra which was the start of the youth orchestra movement and held the first residential holiday orchestral courses for adults and for young musicians. Read was passionate about giving young professional musicians training and opportunities at the start of their careers, both as orchestral players and as soloists.

On Read’s 85th birthday William Cole wrote in the Musical Times:

“It is hard to over-estimate the influence of Ernest Read on musical education and on professional and amateur musicians”.

He was also described by Yehudi Menuhin as:

“a prime example of what one inspired man can do with single hearted devotion decade after decade in awakening the passion for music in successive generations.”

We are proud of Ernest Read’s legacy and ensure that all of our activities fit into one of these three areas which follow on from his work: concerts for children and young people; our ERSO Talent Programme which provides opportunities for emerging professional musicians; and our symphony concerts at which aim to illuminate the music to our audiences through commentary and well-chosen musical examples. Our three annual symphony concerts have been taking place at St John’s Waterloo for many years and we are excited to carry on working with the church and the Festival team for many years to come! Look out for a series of articles on this year's Soloist of the Year competition.

ERSO and soloist Henryy Hargreaves at Waterloo Festival 2019

Happy 90th birthday to ERSO!


The first ERSO concert took place in 1931 and on February 28th 2021 we will be holding a special 90th birthday concert to celebrate Ernest Read’s huge contribution to music.

The concert will be held at the Royal Academy of Music in the prestigious Duke’s Hall as Ernest Read had a long association with the Royal Academy as a student and as Professor of Conducting and Aural Training from 1919–1950. ERSO (initially called the London Senior Orchestra) and Read’s youth orchestra, the London Junior Orchestra, also rehearsed in the Duke’s Hall for many years.


The format of the concert will be based upon the renowned Ernest Read Concerts for Children. The concert will be presented by current and former ERSO Principal Conductors who will bring the music to life for the young players and audience members by highlighting key aspects of the pieces. Current Principal Conductor Christopher Stark will be joined by two former, highly esteemed Principal Conductors, Howard Williams (ERSO Principal Conductor 1981 - 89) and Peter Stark (ERSO Principal Conductor of ERSO 1989 - 2010), both Post-Graduate Professors of Conducting at the Royal College of Music.

Christopher Stark, Principal Conductor

The concert programme will include well-loved classics: the Cornish Dances by Arnold who has his 100th birthday in 2021; Tchaikovsky’s beautiful Swan Lake Suite and the Karelia Suite by Sibelius. Former conductor Howard Williams, who fondly recalls audience participation pieces from the Ernest Read Concerts for Children at the Festival Hall, will also make a special arrangement of the well-loved classic, the March from Aida, and will teach the audience to sing along with the main tunes.


The concert will also include exciting premieres: the “Birthday Fanfare for Ernest Read” composed by Alexander Papp, the talented young winner of the ERSO competition for emerging composers, plus a fanfare by the close runner-up Jared Destro. The programme will also include a new solo piece by Alexander Papp commissioned for the 2020 ERSO Soloist of the Year, providing a hugely developmental opportunity for the young composers and soloist.


We are so excited to be joined by young musicians from the Camden Sinfonia, an ensemble of over 40 children who will sit alongside the ERSO players and participate in at least three pieces. The event will be an inspiring chance for these young musicians to take part in a high-quality performance in a major venue under the batons of three highly respected professional conductors, to take part in the premiere of an exciting new work by a young composer and to sit within the orchestra for the entire concert and have the chance to experience the sound within their section as the adult players perform more complex works.


Ticket prices will be a very reasonable £7.50 for adults and £5 for children and it promises to be a wonderful celebration – join us if you can! Find out more at: ERSO's 90th Birthday concert.


Find us at:

St John's Waterloo

Waterloo Road

London SE1 8TY

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Website design and illustrations:

Hart Club

David Bassadone

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