Brixton’s very own orchestra needs your help

Matthew O’Keeffe conducts the Brixton Chamber Orchestra

An evening of sublime music and superb images backed up by free beer and rum last night (4 November) launched the latest phase in the development of the Brixton Chamber Orchestra.

“I think it’s safe to say we have built a reputation for delivering brilliant live orchestral experiences which question almost every preconceived notion of classical performance,” said BCO director Matthew O’Keeffe.

He was introducing a fundraising drive to extend and expand the orchestra’s already substantial presence and influence in Brixton.

An event in the Downstairs venue at Squire & Partners’ Department Store on Ferndale Road saw the orchestra, which consists of young, classically trained musicians, perform with singer Georgia and rapper Megamikes.

woman singing with musicians
rapper performs with orchestra

Photographs of the BCO and its members by Brixton resident Michael Wharley, who trained at Photofusion, covered the walls.

The event, whose sponsors included Brixton Brewery, Market Row Rum and Healthy Eaters, introduced a supporters’ scheme designed to help the BCO make and share music and to achieve its aim of positive social change in our community.

Supporters will get early access to concert tickets, recordings and “secret shows” and invitations to an annual BCO block party.

They will also be able to influence the direction of the BCO through a bi-monthly open forum.

Not only does the BCO challenge the traditions of classical music, it also champions grime, rap, hip hop, reggae, pop and disco, said Silas Armstrong, BCO marketing manager, who introduced the evening in a double act with Matthew O’Keeffe.

“Basically, this is breaking down barriers and bringing people closer together through music,” he said.

crowd at small music event

“We collaborate with artists from all sorts of different genres to make meaningful and innovative collaboration. It’s fusion music,” said Matthew.

“We work hand in hand with community organisations to make ourselves available to them.

“We perform in unexpected places – on the high street, Electric Avenue, parks, pubs, community centres.”

Above all else, said Silas, “we are an orchestra of and for Brixton. A product of local talent and the creative energy and cultural diversity that really characterises the area we live in.”

Despite the pandemic, BCO has kept growing. Thanks to supporters, said Silas, it had done 24 outdoor performances and earlier this year it created a series of pop-up performances.

On April Fool’s Day it also woke up large sections of Railton Road with its marching band.

members of orchestra

A new project is an album of original instrumentals created with grime producers.

“If we do this right, you can have kids up and down the country listening in a playground to Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Brahms, Beethoven – so you’d be bringing classical music into their lives on their own terms.

“We all know Brixton has no shortage of incredibly talented young people,” said Matthew. “We want to do a youth music programme which gives parents and kids regular access to a living, breathing orchestra – with educational performances, introductions to instruments and an opportunity to participate for children of all ages.”

orchestra and conductor

“There’s loads and loads of ideas. We’ve got the enthusiasm, we’ve got the creative energy. We need the money,” said Matthew, appealing for regular monthly donations – starting from a minimum of £2.

The target is to raise £10,000 in the first year. “That’s pretty reasonable. I think we can do that,” said Matthew.

It takes just a couple of minutes to sign up on the BCO’s dedicated web page.