News, Past concerts

General pause: FSO during the coronavirus pandemic

Find out what we got up to in those difficult months after Covid struck.

We had to cancel our March 2020 concert at a week’s notice due to the rapidly worsening situation around the spread of Covid-19. Our final Monday night rehearsal became a poignant concert without an audience, and we left the hall wondering how long it would be before we saw each other again. A week later, the first full national lockdown began.

Three months later it was still illegal for us to meet, so our summer concert at St John’s Smith Square was also cancelled.

In July 2020 shops, pubs and restaurants were open again but amateur music-making was still prohibited. We, along with 190 other signatories, sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary expressing alarm at the prospect of an extended ban.

In August, government guidance was finally updated to permit amateur music groups to meet again. We began rehearsing in COVID-secure conditions at St Paul’s Church, Hammersmith at the end of September, after a break of seven months.

That first rehearsal was an emotional evening for many of us. Our guest leader Matt Bain wrote a wonderful article about our return, which was published in The Strad.

We got through a lot of repertoire in those five, socially distanced autumn rehearsals:

Mozart – Haffner Symphony
Mendelssohn – Hebrides Overture
Brahms – Symphony No. 3
Dvořák – Symphony No. 7
Janacek – Suite for Strings
Schubert – Symphony No. 8
Mozart – Magic Flute Overture

A second wave of the virus, and another national lockdown, stopped us from returning to rehearsals in January 2021.

Our usual rehearsal venue, Novotel London West, was being put to good use in our absence, opening as a mass vaccination centre a year after our last rehearsal there.

We appeared in Waitrose Weekend magazine in March 2021, in a feature about amateur orchestras during the lockdown.

After that second extended break, we returned to rehearsals again in May 2021.

In July 2021 we finally performed our first concert for a year and half, with both audience and orchestra socially distanced as per government guidance. It was like no other concert we’d ever done, and we hope we never have to organise one like that again, but it was great to be back.