Durham University Classical Ensembles specialises in repertoire from the Baroque, Classical and early-Romantic period. In their latest rehearsal, I was greeted with a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere that nevertheless produced music of a fine quality; boundless energy and individual musicianship were evident throughout. The dialogue between conductor and players was particularly collaborative and friendly, with all involved not only having a goof time (even in the morning!), but also focused on creating their desired sound world.

I spoke to the society’s founder, their conductor Bruno Needham, about his choice of repertoire for their upcoming concert as well as challenges faced in rehearsal.

“I wanted a balance; we’ve got Baroque (Handel’s B minor Concerto Grosso), Classical (Mozart’s Overture to Die Zauberflöte), and early Romanticism (Beethoven’s 7th Symphony). Each work requires quite a different approach: the delicate, refined technique for the Handel, which to some extent is also relevant to the J. C. Bach (G minor Symphony), composed during the transition to the Classical era, thus bringing with it the fire and passion of Sturm und Drang; so it’s a progression through time in a way.”

“The benefit we have as a smaller ensemble is that we have the potential to create a cleaner and clearer sound, but that takes a lot of work because each part needs to be listening to the others; there’s a lot of communication involved. We also make sure every musician recognises and feels that they have an element of control over the music.”

Leader of the orchestra, 2nd-year Megan Hathaway, feels that:

“the primary thing for DUCE is the community and family. Obviously, we’re here to make music to the best of our abilities, but there’s this real bond in this smaller ensemble which is what makes it so special to me, in addition to the genuine interest in historically informed performance practice.”

3rd-year cellist, Lois Flower, commented:

“I love the repertoire… whereas in more modern music you normally have to follow very specific directions, here you can make decisions for yourself.”

2nd-year bassoonist, Patrick Norén, explained:

“the atmosphere of DUCE is something very special and unique in that we’re very relaxed, always having fun and cracking jokes, but when it comes to concert time we’re extremely focused and driven on making the best sound that we possibly can. It’s a fantastic group and I really hope that as many people come to watch as possible!”

Join DUCE for their Michaelmas concert in Durham Castle Great Hall at 8pm, Friday 7th December. More information and tickets available here.