Eno, Brian - Portsmouth Sinfonia - William Tell overture
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Eno was a prominent member of the performance art-classical orchestra the Portsmouth Sinfonia – having started playing with them in 1972. The Portsmouth Sinfonia was an orchestra founded by a group of students at the Portsmouth School of Art in England, in 1970. The Sinfonia was generally open to anyone and ended up drawing players that were either persons without musical training or, if they were musicians, ones that chose to play an instrument that was entirely new to them.
They were thus everything that Brian stood for – music making available to anyone. Among the founding members was one of their teachers, English composer Gavin Bryars. The orchestra started as a one-off, tongue-in-cheek performance art ensemble but became a cultural phenomenon over the following ten years, with concerts, record albums, a film and a hit single. They last performed publicly in 1979.
Bryars, like Eno was interested more in experimenting with the nature of music than forming a traditional orchestra. Instead of picking the most competent musicians he could find, he encouraged anyone to join, regardless of talent, ability and experience. The only rules were that everyone had to come for rehearsals and that people should try their best to get it right and not intentionally try to play badly. The first recording made by the Sinfonia was a floppy 45rpm disc of Rossini's William Tell Overture, which was sent out as the invitation for the degree show that year.
The early repertoire of the Sinfonia was drawn from standard classical repertoire (such as "The Blue Danube" waltz and "Also sprach Zarathustra"), so that most orchestra members had a rough idea of what the piece, or at least famous parts of it, should sound like, even if they could not play their chosen instrument accurately. In later years, the group's repertoire would expand to popular music, including rock and roll.
Many modern composers and musicians found this to be interesting and even profound; the comedic aspects of the music were merely a bonus, though it was used extensively for marketing purposes. Brian Eno was interested enough to join the orchestra, playing clarinet, and subsequently producing their first two albums.
In 1973 he produced the orchestra's first album The Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays the Popular Classics (released in March 1974) and in 1974 he produced the live album Hallellujah! The Portsmouth Sinfonia Live at the Royal Albert Hall of their famous May 1974 concert (released in October 1974).
In addition to producing both albums, Eno performed in the orchestra on both recordings – playing the clarinet. Eno also deployed the orchestra's famously dissonant string section on his second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). The orchestra at this time included other musicians whose solo work he would subsequently release on his Obscure label including Gavin Bryars and Michael Nyman.