The Zurich Chamber Orchestra (ZKO) has been delighting audiences since 1946, when it was founded by Edmund de Stutz. It's now preparing for a fourth season under the baton of conductor, Howard Griffiths.
Griffiths stepped into de Stutz's shoes as director in 1996. Although he had worked as a guest conductor with the ZKO for the previous five years he told swissinfo that some things still needed ironing out.
"Towards the end of the time of Edmund Stutz discipline wasn't what it should be, especially time keeping. I had to tighten musical discipline, making sure that the orchestra prepared pieces ahead of rehearsals," says Griffiths.
He also came with new musical ideas, such as playing classical music in the style of the time when it was composed. For example, Griffiths prefers to play Mozart with natural trumpets and the string section holding back on the vibrato.
"The audience will notice a lighter sound, perhaps more energetic and vital. I've also brought back the discipline - we really play together," he explains.
The ZKO, which is 70 per cent self-financed, has played on every continent, earning itself an international reputation. At home it has a loyal following, with 1,600 "friends of the orchestra" who make sizeable annual donations.
The orchestra has become known for its innovative programme and fresh approaches to the classics, and the coming season is no exception.
"Next spring we're doing all Mozart's piano concertos and that's not done very often," says Griffiths. "Also we have lectures from musicologists and discussions about these concertos."
But the ZKO doesn't only restrict itself to classics. This season, it will be performing the music which accompanies the Charley Chaplin film "Modern Times" at a simultaneous screening of the film.
"We also give a lot of emphasis to modern Swiss music. We've already recorded the Swiss 20th century composer Willy Burkhardt, on CD, and every year we do two or three first performances of new music as well," he explains.
The audience attending the ZKO's concerts is getting younger, according to Griffiths, chiefly because he has started children's concerts known as Kikos.
"These concerts are incredibly popular - they only last an hour, which is great for kids, and this year we've got a weatherman from Swiss TV appearing to read the weather, after which we'll actually play the weather."
Over the next year the orchestra will be touring throughout Switzerland, while also performing in Turkey, Germany and at Britain's Bath Festival. In total 80 concerts will be performed, including the ZKO's regular season at Zurich's prestigious Tonhalle.
by Tom O'Brien
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