The Whitehall Orchestra was founded in 1978 as the Civil Service Orchestra, initially recruiting its members entirely from the public sector. The rehearsals were held in a MOD building in Holborn and after overcoming initial problems, such as the clarinets outnumbering the violins, the Orchestra held its first concert in June 1979 at the Civil Service Theatre near Trafalgar Square. The programme was a blend of symphonic works such as Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony and light classics such as “London Every Day” by Eric Coates.
For the first few years, its founder, Paul Gillett, conducted the orchestra. It then entered a period when it provided a useful training ground for a number of conductors embarking upon their professional careers. From 1990, the orchestra secured the services of Michael Nebe, with whom it has forged the successful and enduring partnership that has brought it to today’s high standard.
Today, the orchestra has around 50 members, aged 21 to 91. It is open to all and its members come from variety of sectors including the Civil Service, the art world, advertising, banking and many others. Pre-pandemic, rehearsals were held in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy building in Victoria and we hope to return there in the new year. At the moment, rehearsals are at St Peter,s Vauxhall. Our musical director for more than 30 years was Michael Nebe who sadly passed away recently. This term we are being conducted by Simon Walton.
We normally perform three concerts per year featuring classical repertoire for large orchestras from Beethoven to the present day, including commissioned works. Concerts venues include St Peter's, Vauxhall, St James', Paddington and St Gabriel’s Pimlico.
The Orchestra has collaborated with renowned professional musicians and guest performers including Raphael Wallfisch, Idil Biret, Leonid Gorokhov, Nelly Miricioiu, Alan Brown, Rebecca Goulden, Ann Harvey, Peter Fisher, Samantha Ward and Nathaniel Vallois. Some current members have fond memories of performances such as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in 2014, Holst’s Planet Suite in 2012 and Mahler's Symphony no.6 in 2009, all at St John’s Smith Square as well as a Russian-themed open-air concert at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul featuring Idil Biret playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto to an audience of 2000!
More recently, our concerts have included Debussy's La Mer, Dohnanyi's variations on a Nursery Song, Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 and Berlioz Harold in Italy. There are more details on our Recent Concerts and Repertoire pages.
The Whitehall orchestra is friendly, ambitious and it achieves high standards in concerts. It also has an active social scene with members going to pub for a drink after rehearsals and concerts – as a consequence, the past 40 years have seen a number of weddings within the orchestra.