During the last 50 years the English Chamber Orchestra has acquired a global reputation as one of the world’s leading quality chamber orchestras from its work on the concert platform and in the recording studio. Less widely recognised is the ECO’s ambitious programme of outreach work in the schools and communities within which it performs. Benjamin Britten, the ECO’s first patron, was far-sighted in recognising the importance of education and supporting young artists long before most other arts organisations, and he made these activities central to his summer festivals in Aldeburgh. As the Aldeburgh Festival’s resident orchestra for many years, the ECO embraced this ethos and is grateful to Britten for setting an example that endures to this day.

The ECO’s current patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, reinforces Britten’s vision when he writes on his website that he has a “fundamental belief that everyone should have the opportunity at an early age to be inspired by the arts” and that “even the most disaffected or disadvantaged child can be excited by a wonderful piece of theatre or music and be inspired to give voice to their own ideas and feelings.”

Reaching beyond the concert hall is an increasingly important part of the ECO’s life and many of its musicians have developed their skills and become part of the Close Encounters team. The Close Encounters team visits primary and secondary schools in both the state and private sector, schools catering for children with special needs, hospitals and day centres, arts centres, museums and festivals in the UK and abroad. The team endeavours to engage with people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

Outreach work undertaken on the orchestra’s many foreign tours has included projects in Bermuda, Qatar and most notably South Africa where Ralf Gothoni, the ECO’s former principal conductor, led the orchestra on 3 visits between 2001 and 2005 during which the Close Encounters team worked with children in deprived areas of Soweto, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
In the UK the Close Encounters team has delivered projects in the London Boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Lewisham, Tower Hamlets and Westminster. Beyond the capital, projects have taken place in Bristol, Canterbury, Norwich and Thaxted.

We have collaborated in projects with the charity Awards for Young Musicians in which members of the orchestra coached exceptionally gifted young musicians from deprived backgrounds. 2014 saw the start of a major new relationship with the inspirational author and trumpeter Dan Newell whose illustrated book Billy’s Band: The Bandstand has been a huge hit with parents keen to release the natural musical talent of their young children. Dan led the Close Encounters team in Billy’s Band workshops that reached almost 1000 children in primary schools in the London Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Hillingdon and Hammersmith and Fulham and he also helped create lots of musical fun in the Cadogan Hall foyers prior to the ECO’s Leopold de Rothschild Family Concert. The successful String Experience Day workshops days included visits to the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, London and the Lord Wandsworth School in Hampshire. The Creative Connections project based in the Canterbury area at St. Edmund’s School also continued with visits to primary schools in the Canterbury area, instrumental coaching at St. Edmund’s and a performance of Mozart’s Requiem with the support of the ECO Close Encounters Ensemble at Canterbury Cathedral.

In 2015 we teamed up with the charity Arts 4 Dementia and delivered an inspiring programme of workshops for musicians with early stage dementia.

As with all the orchestra’s work, Close Encounters is funded entirely by private donations, charitable foundations and trust funds. If you would like to help fund this important work or wish to know more about the opportunities on offer please contact us on 020 8840 6565