The Orchestra

Our story

The York Guildhall Orchestra was founded in 1980 in response to the suggestion that there were a number of very talented players in the York area who would enjoy the experience of exploring the repertoire of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and playing it to a very high standard – and that there was an audience who would enjoy the experience of listening to such a group. 

At the time of its inauguration by John Hastie (see Reflections), the orchestra’s home was the Guildhall in York – hence the name. Since then it has given a great many concerts, most of them in York but also in Leeds, Halifax, Richmond, Beverley, Scunthorpe, Helmsley and Ampleforth. In 1993, the orchestra was featured in two concerts at Fountains Abbey in their Music by Moonlight series. It has also been engaged for private functions and concerts.

In 1992 Simon Wright took over the baton and the band became the official orchestra of the City of York – changing its name to the York Guildhall Orchestra. Due to an ever-increasing audience size, the orchestra had completely outgrown the Guildhall and so it moved to the new York Barbican Centre. 

The size and most certainly the standard of playing has grown since then; it is now comparable with many professional bands. 

The orchestra has commissioned and premiéred several works; for example, in 1993 it premiéred David Gow’s Marimba Concerto with Dame Evelyn Glennie as soloist. Local composer Dick Blackford has written several pieces for us as well. 

The orchestra regularly works with distinguished national and international soloists. Visit the Soloists Page to see examples of those have appeared with the orchestra.

“The Guildhall Orchestra has clearly summered well.  A Berlioz overture, a Bartok concerto, and a Sibelius symphony, leavened by a couple of bonbons, found the strings sounding fresh, the brass robust and the woodwinds light on their toes.  They needed little chivvying from Simon Wright’s baton.”

Martin Dryer

The Press

In a wide-ranging repertoire one of the orchestra’s significant achievements is probably being the only amateur orchestra to have ever played all ten of Mahler’s symphonies in chronological order! Quite a feat – there are very few professional players who could ever make that claim. The enormous 8th Symphony – named Symphony of a Thousand – required enormous forces including nearly 400 in the choir, 130 orchestra players and 8 top class soloists!! It had never performed in York before – and may not be again for a long while!

The orchestra has tackled some notoriously difficult works, such as Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and Strauss’ tone poems Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel; none of these are taken lightly, even by professional groups. 

The orchestra has featured in the Ryedale Festival and has performed some notable concerts, including the truly spectacular Berlioz Grande Messe des Mort, with its huge orchestra of over 120 players, an enormous choir of over 300 voices (the Hallé Choir, the Leeds Festival Chorus and the Sheffield Philharmonic Choir) and four brass bands.

Popular music concerts have included concerts for younger listeners, such as one with Brian Kay as narrator in various pieces. The orchestra was a central feature in a concert in 2014 to commemorate the memory of local composer John Barry – a wonderful dedication to a fantastic composer performed to a full house in the Barbican.


York Barbican
Paragon Street
YO10 4AH



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The York Guildhall Orchestra is a registered charity (number 700863).