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About the Orchestras

The Havant Orchestras

Havant Symphony Orchestra rehearsal at Oaklands School
Havant Symphony Orchestra rehearsal at Oaklands School
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Havant Symphony Orchestra was created by Peter Craddock in 1962 as a Further Education class to offer local amateur musicians an opportunity to study, rehearse and perform a wide range of orchestral music.  It later became independent of Further Education, but retains the same aims and remains an amateur organisation in that playing members do not receive any payment (and normally pay a membership subscription).  Some players are involved in the music profession, for example as local music teachers, and others are gifted amateur players.  Peter directed HSO for 50 years, retiring at the end of 2012.  The current conductor and musical director of HSO is Jonathan Butcher.  The current leader is Martin Palmer, a professional violinist with a wealth of experience in orchestral playing.

Havant Chamber Orchestra at Ferneham Hall
Havant Chamber Orchestra at Ferneham Hall
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Havant Chamber Orchestra was formed, also by Peter Craddock, in 1965 by the amalgamation of several chamber music ensembles.  HCO has continued to fulfil a complementary role to HSO ever since.  Like the HSO it is made up of a mix of professional and gifted amateur players.  Membership is by invitation.  Peter directed HCO until 2012, and had hoped to continue a little longer, but unfortunately had to step down due to increasing mobility problems.  The current conductor and musical director of HCO is Robin Browning.  The leader of HCO for 23 years up to 2020 was Brian Howells, who had played for many years with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, but Brian was very sadly an early victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.  HCO is currently inviting guest leaders and hopes to appoint a new leader soon. 


Combined Havant Orchestras at Oaklands School
The combined Havant Orchestras with Toby Purser at Oaklands School 3rd March 2019
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The main season comprises 6 concerts each year, 3 by each orchestra.  In the early years, concerts were usually in school halls in the Havant area, but audience numbers became too large and in 1987 the orchestras had to move to Ferneham Hall in Fareham.  There is still no concert hall or theatre of sufficient size in the Havant borough, but in recent years Oaklands Catholic School in Waterlooville has kindly made it possible for the Havant Orchestras to resume holding concerts in their hall, which has tiered seating (with numbered seats), good acoustics and considerably more space for players than the Ferneham Hall stage.  Havant Symphony Orchestra main concerts therefore moved to Oaklands School, taking advantage of the additional space, while Havant Chamber Orchestra concerts remained at Ferneham Hall, providing continuity and convenience for audience members in the Fareham area.  Ferneham hall closed for refurbishment and remodelling at the end of 2019 and is currently expected to reopen in late 2024 as “Fareham Live” so HCO concerts are now using other venues in the Fareham area, primarily Holy Trinity Church. 

Players and audience are mainly drawn from a 30-mile radius.  Additional concerts are held in smaller venues including a regular HSO concert on Hayling Island. 

The Orchestras’ reputation as one of the foremost amateur orchestral societies in the country is reflected by the accolades they have received from the National Federation of Music Societies (now known as ‘Making Music’) as one of the few ‘Truly Outstanding’ groups in the Southern Region and by the Performing Rights Society from whom they have received three ‘Awards for Excellence in Programming’.  Some sample comments on past achievements can be found on the reviews page.  The Orchestras are grateful to receive grants and donations to help them in their work.

One of the most important features of the concerts of both orchestras is the wide range of music performed which usually includes a ‘discovered’ work – either an unknown by a well-known composer, a should-be-known by a little known composer, or even, occasionally, a commissioned work.  Each concert features a soloist, whether an international star, a promising newcomer, a talented member of the orchestra or a well-known local professional. 

In support of the educational role of the orchestral society, each main evening concert is usually preceded by a pre-concert talk at 6.30pm on a subject related to the concert. 

Where practical, the society also invites local music pupils to provide a pre-concert musical interlude at 7.00pm of about 15 minutes, giving them an informal opportunity to perform in front of an appreciative audience.  At Ferneham Hall, these events took place in the Octagon Lounge, but the lack of a suitable separate performance space at our current concert venues means this has rarely been practical in recent years. 

To encourage younger audiences, concert tickets for children still at school (up to sixth form or equivalent) cost only £1, and students get a 50% discount.

The Bob and Beryl Harding Bursary for Young Conductors

Bob Harding was the Society’s President from 1982 until 1987.  He was an ardent supporter and, shortly before his untimely death, had been discussing with Peter Craddock a proposal to offer young student conductors the opportunity of working with the Symphony Orchestra.

The project was particularly close to Peter’s heart as he believed it would be a unique and wonderful opportunity for students on the threshold of their conducting careers to acquire experience and investigate repertoire as well as offering the Symphony Orchestra’s players the chance to work with new young musicians of great talent.

The Bursary was created initially as the “Bob Harding Bursary” from gifts donated in Bob’s memory and has, to date, helped more than twenty students in their careers including Paul Murphy (Birmingham Royal Ballet), Rumon Gamba and Jason Lai (former BBC Young Conductors) and Mark Wigglesworth.  See the complete list of bursary holders for more details.

The bursary scheme was temporarily suspended for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 seasons as HSO was using guest conductors during the selection process for a new principal conductor following Peter Craddock’s retirement.  After Jonathan Butcher was appointed as principal conductor for the 2014-2015 season the scheme was resumed with auditions in July 2014. 

The bursary conductor for 2023-2024 is Enyi Okpara, from the Royal Academy of Music. 

Bob’s widow Beryl Harding was very active in setting up, running and funding the scheme, and was also a very keen supporter of the orchestras, including being Friends’ Secretary for many years.  After Beryl passed away in July 2019, the bursary was renamed to the Bob and Beryl Harding Bursary to honour her contribution. 

There is a separate page with more details about the Bob and Beryl Harding Bursary for Young Conductors, which can also be reached via the Bursary menu link above. 


Players who pay a subscription and Season Ticket holders are members of the Havant and District Orchestral Society (HADOS) which administers the two orchestras.  To find out more about joining the HSO as a player, see below

Joining the Havant Symphony Orchestra

Admission to Playing Membership of the Symphony Orchestra is by ‘informal audition’ which means a trial period of a few weeks playing at rehearsals followed by a discussion with the Orchestral Manager, the principal of your section and the conductor to come to a mutual decision.  Vacancies are most likely to occur in the string sections.  The minimum requirement for entry is Grade 8 of the Associated Board (or the equivalent from other conservatoires) and orchestral playing experience is essential.  There may be space, however, from time to time, for young, pre-Grade 8, players, with exceptional playing ability and no orchestral experience, to join the orchestra prior to a college course.

Symphony Orchestra Rehearsals are held on Friday evenings from 7.00pm to 9.30pm (with a coffee break) at St. Faith’s Church Hall, The Pallant, Havant.  See the current rehearsal schedule for more details of the location and arrangements.  Following a successful audition period, playing members will be requested to pay a subscription to Havant and District Orchestral Society to help cover rehearsal costs.  Details of the current subscription rates and payment arrangements can be found on the Subscriptions page (in the public part of the Members section). 

If you wish to apply to join the Havant Symphony Orchestra please contact the appropriate HSO Orchestral Manager:  Barbara Martin for strings or Spencer Bundy for other instruments (wind, brass or percussion). 

If you have any further queries regarding the Orchestras, or need any further information, the Society’s Chair, Becky Hill, will be happy to talk to you. 

Grants, donations and legacies

Throughout much of its history, Havant and District Orchestral Society was pleased to receive substantial financial support from:

  • Arts Council of England through the National Federation of Musical Societies (‘Making Music’)
  • Hampshire County Council

and many individual donors.

Grants to support regular activities ceased being available several years ago, and our last HCC grant was for the 2013-14 season to help through the transition period after Peter Craddock stepped down.  We have been very grateful to receive some substantial legacies in recent years which have helped cover increasing costs and diminishing audience numbers, plus various other donations which have significantly helped the viability of the society.  However, the society now relies heavily on the generosity of donors to sustain its longer-term future. 

To make the value of donations more visible and encourage more donations to help maintain and develop the orchestras, all donations (other than sponsorship for specific items) are now set aside in the “Peter and Sandra Craddock Memorial Fund”.  This enables the committee to fund costs and activities which are considered worthwhile but beyond what we could normally afford from our regular income, such as music hire for works still in copyright (which can be extremely expensive), special soloists and additional events such as family concerts.  See our Supporting page for more information. 

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