Crystal Palace Orchestra

Bringing light, mainly danceable music, to wider audiences by emulating the look, feel and sound of an orchestra such as would have played at the original “peoples palaces” (Alexandra & Crystal Palaces), grand hotel palm courts, park bandstands and cruise liners, between the 1850s and 1930s.

The previous sentence is a first stab at a mission statement for a “Crystal Palace Orchestra”, building on the Crystal Palace Quartet name that we have used for over thirteen years, primarily to provide background music for a wide variety of events, but also to put on our own concerts, play for recording and TV sessions, and perform recitals on cruise ships among other varied and fun activities. If this interests you please read on…

The plan

So far the plan is more or less as follows:

  1. Decide on how the organisation will be structured, e.g sole ownership, partnership, limited company, educational charity etc.
  2. Decide who will take on the key organisational and artistic leadership roles. For example, do we want to have a named band leader and/or section leaders?
  3. Research the music that would have been played at the palaces and at hotels, bandstands and other venues, starting say from 1851 up to when the Crystal Palace burned down (1936), as a randomly selected end point.
  4. Locate and/or create some suitable arrangements for both small and medium forces. “Small” might mean one to four violins, one or two violas, cello & bass, plus optionally piano & drum kit, and “medium” might add a wind quintet, trumpet and even accordion to the mix. There’s no need to actually specify scoring at this stage, so why not just say that CPO starts as a five-piece and can be as big as a modern chamber, or even symphony, orchestra as required.
  5. Build website and set up administration system(s) for quoting, contracting, booking, touring etc.
  6. Research and obtain appropriate concert dress for photoshoot & video
  7. Research how the music would have been performed at the time, e.g. instrument types & setups, use of vibrato, portamento, embellishments etc.
  8. Distribute parts, practice and rehearse together in varying formations to find out (among other things) what works best at various size points.
  9. Record audio & video of a few numbers
  10. Publish recordings and photos of various size groups, e.g. at an outdoor bandstand, a hotel palm court (Langham, Sheraton?) and/or conservatory (Kew, Barbican?), as cost and permissions allow
  11. Get ALL the gigs
  12. Profit! Hah.

Starting a discussion

I would really value all of your input to this project. A key question is how to recruit / appoint a governing committee and permanent player/members (if we’re going to have any). My feeling is that we should probably hold open interviews/auditions, at least for the key roles, if not for any regular playing positions.

A longer-term aim of this project may be to stretch the remit backwards in time, continuing the exploration of combining “authentic” (or at least somewhat historically-informed) performance practice, with contemporary dress/costume and musical works. In this ideal world we would use a (non-playing) conductor only if and when absolutely necessary, and/or if she was paying us to play.

An issue for me is potential overlap with other groups that I currently play with, and/or run, including CP(S)Q and especially Camerata of London, which would perhaps be a better name for playing any music written prior to 1850 in a costumed and HIP manner, e.g. at lower pitch.

All of your ideas are welcome, and an expression of interest of getting involved at this early stage would be really useful, as it will take some investment of time, resources (and possibly money) to get the idea off the ground.

I’m looking forward to carrying on this discussion and moving forward with the project in the very near future. Please add your comments via this website, or via email if you wish it to remain private.

Chris Brody
+44 (0)20 3369 5863


Last updated 2018-08-31 11:42

1 Comment

Chris · 2018-08-31 at 10:36

Is this a good idea? Will gigs be forthcoming? Will people dance?