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 just before Christmas 1978 in 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. The rehearsals are held in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy building in Victoria. Under the direction of conductor Michael Nebe, the Whitehall performs four concerts per year featuring classical repertoire for large orchestras from Beethoven to the present day, including commissioned works. The concerts are held in central London venues like St John’s Smith Square, St Gabriel’s Pimlico and St Sepulchre’s, Holborn.
The Orchestra collaborates 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.
Notable performances of recent years include Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in 2014, Holst’s Planet Suite in 2012, Mahler Symphony no.6 in 2009 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 Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto to an audience of 2000.
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.