Quite a Summer: Tom Fetherstonhaugh and Fantasia Orchestra have three festival debuts including the BBC Proms

Quite a Summer: Tom Fetherstonhaugh and Fantasia Orchestra have three festival debuts including the BBC Proms
Jess Gillam, Tom Fetherstonhaugh & Fantasia Orchestra in rehearsal  (Photo: Fantasia Orchestra)
Jess Gillam, Tom Fetherstonhaugh & Fantasia Orchestra in rehearsal  (Photo: Fantasia Orchestra)

Tom Fetherstonhaugh and Fantasia Orchestra are having quite a Summer with debuts at the BBC Proms, Northern Aldborough Festival and Ryedale Festival, along with other appearances which will be keeping the orchestra busy. The orchestra describes itself as a community of friends and colleagues, many of whom trained together in their teens, who are now at the start of their professional careers. Tom founded the orchestra way back in 2016 when he was still at school and the first concert featured his friends from Junior Royal Academy of Music. Since then it has evolved into a professional ensemble yet still with the same core of players, people who have gone through school and university together and are now in the profession; friends and colleagues making the journey together.

In April, they performed at St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico with saxophonist Jess Gillam in a programme that included James MacMillan‘s Saxophone Concerto, the first concert in what promises to be their busiest season so far, making festival debuts as well as returning to  Proms at St Jude’s and Guiting Music Festival. They hope to continue the momentum and will be launching their next season in the Summer.

Tom describes their repertoire, rather engagingly, as ‘a whole host of things’. At the BBC Proms (on 4 August) they are performing multi-genre gems, from Bartok to Bob Marley, Burt Bacharach and Laura Mvula. Their Prom is on Sunday morning; it is being filmed and will be broadcast on TV. Then the next day they repeat the programme for a relaxed Prom.

On 22 June they return to the Proms at St Jude’s with an all-American programme celebrating 100 years of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue along with Gershwin’s American in Paris, Bernstein’s overture to West Side Story, and music by Florence Price and Ruth Crawford Seeger. At the Northern Aldborough Festival on 13 June they are performing Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, both romantic pioneers. They have never been to the Northern Aldborough Festival before, and this year is the festival’s 30th birthday and Tom feels honoured that he and the orchestra will be opening the festival.

Fantasia Orchestra with Sheku and Braimah Kanneh-Mason and Plinio Fernandes (Photo: Kaupo Kikkas)
Fantasia Orchestra with Braimah Kanneh-Mason, Sheku Kanneh-Mason,  and Plinio Fernandes (Photo: Kaupo Kikkas)

Tom is the orchestra’s conductor and artistic director, and so responsible for programming, working regularly with collaborators who are often the starting point for programming. At the BBC Proms they are joined by Plínio Fernandes – guitar, Braimah Kanneh-Mason – violin, Sheku Kanneh-Mason – cello and have put together a programme with them. At Northern Aldborough they are performing with pianist Alim Beisembayev, not only has he performed with the orchestra before but he and Tom studied together at the Royal Academy of Music. He brought the Chopin concerto to the programme, and then they created the programme around the piece. Collaborators are at the heart of the repertoire, bringing repertoire that they might not normally perform, bringing a central focus to their programming.

Tom is currently assistant conductor at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), a two year position that finishes at the end of the 2023/24 season. Tom says he has had an amazing time, he has been assisting visiting conductors as well as taking his place on the podium for 39 concerts this year, making nearly 70 concerts over the two years. He has been incredibly busy with the BSO touring to the counties on the orchestra’s patch based at the Lighthouse in Poole, exploring lots of repertoire with the orchestra’s members becoming close and trusted colleagues.

Tom conducted for the first time when he was 13. He was a chorister at Westminster Abbey and the went on tour to Russia in 2011. Unfortunately the choir master’s visa was late arriving so, as senior chorister Tom was asked to take a day of rehearsals in Moscow in the choir master’s delayed absence. Afterwards, Tom thought that that was what he wanted to do.

As a member of the Abbey choir, he attended the Abbey Choir School which looks after the Abbey’s choristers. Tom describes it as an extraordinary place that is geared towards music. It was incredibly unusual for him to be conducting, but they were supportive. Afterwards he went to Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, a state school with a fine tradition of music. They were also incredibly supportive, both of his conducting ambitions and Fantasia’s early days. He then studied conducting with Sian Edwards at the Royal Academy of Music. 

Full details of Fantasia Orchestra’s Summer programme from their website.

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