Co-operative Orchestras

The Halifax Music Co-op Halifax Music Co-operative Canada’s Halifax Music Co-op was started by the conductor, violin and voice teacher John Bogardus (below) with the aim of making classical...

The Halifax Music Co-op

Halifax Music Co-operative
Halifax Music Co-operative

Canada’s Halifax Music Co-op was started by the conductor, violin and voice teacher John Bogardus (below) with the aim of making classical music available to everybody.

Founded in 2010, it is working to make ensemble music accessible to all ages and skill levels – and a fundamental part of this approach is providing access to quality learning opportunities, regardless of financial situations.

HMC is based on El Sistema model, founded in 1975 by Venezuelan Jose Antonio Abreu. It is a publicly funded music education programme which currently serves around 350,000 of Venezuela’s poorest children and is based on the belief that music education can unite an entire community.

In Canada, HMC takes this philosophy and applies it to all ages, with the mission of providing “a fun, safe, welcoming environment where musicians of all ages and skill levels can play music together” and where members can grow as musicians and individuals.

As well as a traditional orchestra, the co-operative runs a choir, wind ensemble, chamber orchestra and chamber choir, and HMC members who play in an ensemble have access to a subsidised private lesson program. Each year the orchestra also works with non-classical musicians and solo musicians to take part in a collaborative scoring process and performance.

“The HMC is a godsend for people like me: people who love music and will always love music, but aren’t music students or professional musicians,” says violinist Mark Rendell. “The opportunity to play classical music in groups doesn’t really exist for many people after they reach adulthood … Access to classical music is just not there unless there are community groups providing that access.”

The co-op uses a ‘Pay What You Can’ term-by-term membership to make joining as accessible as possible, and members also sell a minimum of five tickets for each concert they perform in.


The Teatro F.Cilea Orchestra 

The Teatro  F.Cilea Orchestra
The Teatro F.Cilea Orchestra

The Teatro F. Cilea Orchestra was set up in 2003 in the Reggio Calabria province of southern Italy, by musicians who wanted to combine their experiences gained in prestigious national and international orchestras in a professional ensemble that could represent the area.

It was created after the re-opening of the region’s municipal theatre, the Teatro F.Cilea, and became a co-operative in 2005, with the musicians as members.

The orchestra has an extensive classical repertoire, but also experiments with unique performances and performers such as the electric harpist Cecilia Chailly, and works across different genres. It has performed operas and ballets locally, but also plays outside the region.

In 2008, for example, it participated in the Summer Festival in Lucca, in tribute to Puccini, and has appeared at the Festival of Aspendos in Turkey.

The co-op is open to young musicians through an orchestral master class programme for high school and conservatory students, and attention is also given to younger children through a  concerts for schools initiative.


l’Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès

Jordi Cos, chair of l’Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès
Jordi Cos, chair of l’Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès

Founded 27 years ago, l’Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès is now one of the most famous in Spain, performing around 80 concerts a year throughout Catalonia and further afield.

It is the only co-operative orchestra in Spain, and competes with other public orchestras which receive government funding. OSV is 70% self-financed, with the remaining 30% coming from sponsorships and the Catalan Institute for Cultural Enterprises.

Jordi Cos (right), chair of the co-operative, says the financial crisis means the orchestra model that depends on the state has been questioned. Other orchestras have made 20% of musicians redundant, but OSV has kept all of its musicians.

“I would like the OSV to be an authentic public orchestra, in the most genuine sense of the word,” says Mr Cos.

“In this respect, in the following months we will give the public (as well as the musicians) the opportunity to become co-owners and members of the enterprise, and, as such, responsible for its long-term destiny.”


The Heart of England Co-operative Concert Orchestra

Sponsored by the Heart of England Co-operative, this orchestra was founded in 1917 as an ensemble for children. It expanded in 1925 to include adult members, and now performs around six concerts a year across Coventry and Warwickshire, raising funds for local charities.


There are also several other professional orchestras, which although not co-operatives, are run using very similar principles and ideas.

The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is one of four self-governing orchestras in London in which the musicians are shareholders in the company running the orchestra. The model promotes the best interests of the orchestra as a whole above that of its individual members, and has a strong focus on education and outreach, which all members take part in.

The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1972 by freelance musicians in New York City who wanted more control over their working lives. Although not technically a co-operative, Orpheus is unique in that it performs without a conductor – and has trademarked its signature mode of operation, the Orpheus Process, an original method that places democracy and collaboration at the centre of artistic execution. It also has an extensive educational initiative, Access Orpheus, working with school students from all five boroughs in New York City.

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