The Portsmouth Sinfonia


The story of the Portsmouth Sinfonia is almost as incredible as the music.

Since I’m lazy, here’s the wikipedia entry:

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was a real orchestra founded by a group of students at Portsmouth School of Art in Portsmouth, England, in 1970—however, the Sinfonia had an unusual entrance requirement. Players had to be either non-musicians, or if a musician, play an instrument that was entirely new to them. 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. The impact of the Portsmouth Sinfonia was considerable and their name and reputation has endured even though they last performed publicly in 1979.

Bryars 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.

This recording of the William Tell Overture was released on their 1974 album Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays The Popular Classics, which was produced by Brian Eno, of all people.

Portsmouth Sinfonia – William Tell Overture

Make yourself heard and request that the producers hurry up and re-release the Sinfonia archive!



Filed under Experimental, Incompetent

6 responses to “The Portsmouth Sinfonia

  1. Lori Zimmermann

    I’m a middle school orchestra teacher and I think this is brilliant…though it’s like listening to my students play on a bad day. Haha. I think this is freakin’ hilarious and I would love to see this re-released!!!!

  2. spacebrother


    Glad you enjoyed it!

    If you can get a recording of your students on a “bad day” I’ll play it on my podcast/ netcast.

  3. I’m not we realise just how ahead of their time these guys really were.
    Just spend a little time thinking about user generated content, the shrinking gap between artist and audience, social media approaches to participation and diy culture…
    This is punk classics, open source mash up strauss before the PC…
    These recordings will resound down the ages.
    Bums are the new experts!

  4. Eno also had the Sinfonia play on the song “Put a Straw Under Baby” on his “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” album.

  5. spacebrother

    I have that album, and I never noticed that. Thanks!

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