Let There be Light: in conversation with the Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra

On Sunday 19 March, the Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra returns to St George’s Bristol for the first of its three annual concerts. We meet Conductor Tim Harrison, soloist Luke Russell and orchestra leader (violinist) Anneka Sutcliffe to chat crescendo and connection…

Fact: on 1 March, the UK gets approximately 11 hours of sunlight per day. That’s three hours more than Deepest Darkest January. As the days grow longer and we edge ever closer to summer’s sublime 16 hours of sunlight, what better time to enjoy an orchestra concert programmed around the theme of light? On 19 March, the shining talent of the Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra will illuminate St George’s Bristol with a concert of radiant music. Ahead of their performance, we caught up with conductor Tim Harrison, soloist Luke Russell and orchestra leader (violinist) Anneka Sutcliffe to discover more about the ensemble, which boasts a well-established reputation for excellence.

Conductor Tim Harrison begins with the evening’s schedule. Kicking off the theme of light is Smetana’s Vltava, named after a river in the Czech Republic. “There are a few different types of light in the movement”, Tim says: “The first is the ‘glistening on the surface’ sort of light ­– you get these semiquavers and strings flowing – and then you get the more turbulent waters, which lend a sense of shadow to the music.”

Next on the programme is up-and-coming composer Dani Howard’s Argentum – “my three-year-old loves dancing along to Dani’s music,” Tim laughs – which will be followed by Mozart’s playful flute concerto. “Mozart was very cheeky with this particular composition,” he tells me. “It’s not an original; he actually rehashed it from his earlier oboe concerto because he hated writing for the flute.”

“All my career I’ve been trying to get people to come and see classical music, and particularly orchestral music. Some 60 musicians on stage, all making a sound. It’s an incredibly raw and intense experience…”

Mozart may not have relished the task of flute composition, but the maestro wasn’t half bad at it, as Bath-born (and Bristol-raised) concert soloist (flute) Luke Russell says: “Mozart writes brilliantly for the flute, with both technical fireworks in the outer, faster movements and sublime long lyrical melodies in the second movement. The flute concerto brings sunshine, lyricism, and virtuosity to the audience.”

Fireworks, sunshine – Mozart’s concerto seems set to bring some suitable sparkle to the evening. Is this the dream gig for a soloist? Well, yes, says Luke – but he’s looking forward to stepping out of the limelight, too: “I love orchestral playing as it’s so immersive – being right in the middle of 60 musicians all striving for the same unity in the moment. Solo playing ­– where you stand up at the front – is much more interactive with the audience and conductor, and you are more intensely involved, being the centre of attention in a concerto. I enjoy doing both, but orchestral playing is where my heart lies, with the vast amazing variety of repertoire and working closely with amazing colleagues”.

The evening’s entertainment will come to a close with Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony: a generous composition that gives each and every section of the orchestra a bit of time to shine.

“It’s very democratic, very equitable”, Tim explains: “There’s something for everyone. The trombones get a real workout; the trumpets have lots to do; the horns are kept very busy; the strings have the most amazing part – and every woodwind player gets a solo. It is the epitome of a perfectly written piece for a symphony orchestra. It’s gorgeous: Tchaikovsky at his best”.

Leader Anneka Sutcliffe is in total agreement, telling me that Tchaikovsky is bound to keep the strings section pretty busy: “His 4th Symphony is dramatic and passionate – and there’s a lot to do for the first violins.”

As for the venue itself: “St George’s is a stunning hall; the shoebox design makes the acoustics particularly sweet,” says Tim. “The space makes any group sound fantastic. There is a perfect blend of warmth in the sound, a bit of reverb, but not so much that it’s awash – you still have that clarity. It’s quite a unique space.”

It’s not just the acoustics that make St George’s so special, but the atmosphere of inclusivity generated in the hall. “St George’s has been working really hard to make their venue very accessible,” Anneka praises, before commenting on the similarly inviting nature of the Bristol Metropolitan itself: “The Bristol Met is made up of people from all across the city, with different jobs, of different ages and from different backgrounds – just a bunch of people who are united by their love of playing music. The orchestra has got an amazing community vibe and sense of togetherness.”

This sense of connection is something Anneka doesn’t take for granted, particularly on the back of the pandemic. “Coming out of lockdown, we realised how much being part of the orchestra meant to people from a social and mental wellbeing perspective. That sense of community is the most important thing for me; music is powerful, especially at times when life is hard; we’re in the middle of multiple crises and music can help us express our emotions.”

Crises or not, it can sometimes take a little encouragement to get people through the door of a classical concert. It has a reputation for being exclusive: something fun for those in the know, but tricky to tap into as a musical outsider. Anneka acknowledges that this can be an issue – but one she’s determined to send packing: “All my career I’ve been trying to get people to come and see classical music, and particularly orchestral music. Some 60 musicians on stage, all making a sound. It’s an incredibly raw and intense experience.”

Tim makes a similar case, suggesting that audience members get more from orchestra concerts, like those put on by the Bristol Metropolitan, than the music alone: “I’d just encourage people to give it a go because it’s the whole experience people come along for. It’s not just individual pieces, or the particular orchestra; it’s about being with 400 other people at St George’s watching someone like Luke do something phenomenal on the flute. And to hear the absolute clarity in the oboe solo at the beginning of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, and then to hear the applause at the end – that’s the experience you buy into.” Consider us convinced.

The Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra will play at St George’s Bristol on Sunday 19 March at 7pm. Tickets available at: stgeorgesbristol.co.uk


The Bristol Metropolitan Orchestra is always interested in hearing from Grade 8+ musicians who are experienced orchestral players. We currently have vacancies for bassoon, trumpet and percussion.

Visit bristolmetropolitanorchestra.com to find out more.