NQHO Sampler

I’ve written here before about the unique sonic qualities of the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra.

The NQHO have updated their website, and have now created a podcast highlighting the the timbres of the individual instruments as used in the band, complete with demos of each of the wind and brass instruments by NQHO players on modern and NQHO/period instruments. I’m also embedding it here for your convenience.

(John Farrer conducting the NQHO in rehearsal)

Here is the audio

Not to be missed.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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8 comments on “NQHO Sampler”

  1. robert berger

    I have seen the orchestra’s website,but I was highly irritated by the smug,arrogant comments about how much “better” the orchestra is than mainstream,modern instrument ones.I have no objection to the orchestra per se; their performances might be interesting. But the notion that the quality of orchestral performances somehow “declined”,because of those hated modern instruments is not only ludicrous but offensive.Such notions
    are the musical equivalent of political correctness,and I reject them vehemently. How dare the orchestra’s administration declare that they have a monopoly on the musical truth. And how do we know that composers such as Mahler,Bruckner,Wagner and Brahms etc would not have loved modern orchestra performances?

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Robert

    Thanks for the comment.

    I read their gestalt rather differently than you do. If you listen to the beginning of the podcast, they narrator makes clear that the goal of the NQHO is not to recreate a definitive sound, but to recreate the sound and approach of “a London band at the turn of the last century.”

    Unlike many of the HIP ensembles, their claim is not that they have cornered the market on authenticity- in fact, they make no claim at all to be definitive. Instead, they offer a unique and committed alternate approach, one that the musicians and people like me who know the orchestra well can be very passionate about.

    However, it is a truth that they are playing on different instruments from most modern bands, and that those instruments have notably different timbres and amounts of power. I’m sure the composers you mention would have loved modern orchestras, but they would have scored differently for modern brass than the brass of their day, I am sure. NQHO brass players can play with phenomenal intensity without drowning out the strings, a far cry from the last Mahler 5 I heard when the trumpet soloist completely obliterrated the orchestra while not developing any intensity in his sound. He sounded mp, and yet that’s all we heard. That doesn’t mean it’s bad playing, far from it, but it is, flat out, bad music making, period.

    All of those principals in the feature are also associated with other London orchestras like the Philharmonia, BBC SO or LSO. What does it say that they took the time to record those excerpts and that they talk with such passion about the orchestra? Witness the trombonist who says that the modern trombone makes a glorious noise, but sometimes it is a bit much for an orchestra.

    I’m sure the orchestra’s leadership would howl with laughter at the notion they are advocating musical political correctness- they’re revolutionaries, not beaurocrats.

    Here is an orchestra with no state funding which does precious little work, and yet the best orchestral musicians in London are bending over backwards to try and get the word out there, to try and get the orchestra known and funded!

    Thanks for reading


  3. rootlesscosmo

    I think what’s problematic is the unqualified assertion that what NQHO play is “the way the music was meant to be.” A similar air of confidence used to attend the Baroque historically-informed ensembles in the 70’s; eventually they learned some modesty, quit throwing around words like “authentic” and phrases like “as Bach intended,” and established a valuable body of musical practice without all the ballyhoo. I like the sounds the NQHO players make on this file, but I could do without the suggestion that everyone else is guilty of “blandness” and “homogeneity.”

  4. Kenneth Woods

    Interesting range of reactions!

    Just for the record- I’ve written here before about about my disdain for performers and writers who advocate a single method of performance as correct, especially where they have no evidence for their assertions.

    With that in mind, I wanted to relay a couple of points from their website…

    “The NQHO has no interest in authenticity as such, but bases its approach to music on the need to communicate the essence of a piece at the time of the performance. Each NQHO concert is assumed to be unique with each work being revealed in a subtly varying light”


    “Until the 1950s, orchestras were a living art-form, varying from city to city. Anyone, with a half-decent radio could listen to orchestras as different from one another as any dialect or language. Those in Toulouse were not the same as the ones in Paris, while the ones in Prague were very different from those in Vienna. Each of the London orchestras had its special sound. But all that is gone! Now, we have widespread conformity, with only an occasional glimmer of old-fashioned individuality to remind us of what has been lost.”

    Far from advocating a form of political correctness or rigid orthodoxy, what the NQHO is after is the exact opposite- the freedom to carve out a unique identity, and the right to ignore generally accepted approaches. “Old-fashioned individuality,” we do need more of it!

    Thanks for the comments, and the emails, which I hope to include here.


  5. rootlesscosmo

    I think there’s a real inconsistency in what the NQHO say about their work. On the one hand, the first paragraph you quote above is admirably pluralist; then the second paragraph declares that we’re in a period of “widespread conformity,” which besides being just a teensy bit arrogant is also, to my ears anyway, simply not true. The audio file begins by stating the orchestra’s laudable intention to reproduce, as best it can, the sound of an early 20th century London band, but ends with a categorical statement that they are “the only orchestra in the world to come close to giving the music of the Romantics as it was meant to be.” Doesn’t that imply that everyone else (note that “only orchestra in the world” phrase) is ignoring the way the music was “meant to be”? How is that consistent with the claim that “The NQHO has no interest in authenticity as such”? It’s that persistent slippage into prescriptiveness that bothers me, and (I suspect) the commenter above.

  6. Lisa Hirsch

    I care less about what they’re saying than I do about what they are doing. The fact is, all of the players very likely play much better than their peers of 80 years ago did; my bet is that the NQHO sounds more polished than that theoretical orchestra from the 1920s. Read Robert Philip’s “Performing Music in the Age of Recording” for plenty of information about the conditions of British musical life from the 1890s to the 1930s and about the quality of British musical training of the time.

    The musical excerpts are riveting, just beautiful, and made me want to hear more. Off to their Web site to look for recordings.

  7. Kenneth Woods

    Hi Lisa!

    I agree completely, although there are some great recordings from early 20th C. London bands, notably Elgar’s recordings of his own works. To hear the 2nd Symphony or the Enigma Variations recorded without splices or edits with his very brisk tempi is very impressive indeed!


  8. Lisa Hirsch

    I need to hear those. I could easily make up a two-year listening program based on “Performing Music in the Age of Recording”….

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