The Orchestra of St John’s was founded by John Lubbock in 1967. It takes its name from the orchestra’s first home, the redundant St John’s Church in Smith Square, Westminster. Badly bombed during the last war, this Baroque masterpiece was restored to its former glory and remains one of London’s foremost concert halls.
John Lubbock’s life has music at its core: he was a chorister at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, studied singing at the Royal Academy of Music, went on to join the John Alldis choir, was a founder member of the London Symphony Chorus and then one of the Swingle Singers. John is best known today as a conductor and particularly for his long association with the BBC Proms, which included conducting a number of acclaimed world premieres.
The Orchestra of St John’s was formed while John was still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, and from day one his aim was to create an orchestra that would serve the wider community, taking high quality music to those who might otherwise have little or no experience of it.
He has single-handedly gathered around him a group of distinguished musicians who are not only outstanding performers but who share his ethos of bringing music to people of all ages and from all walks of life.
John speaking at the Sheldonian
John conducting Handel's Messiah
“The music comes first, of course: beautiful music created by a group of outstanding musicians who bring their palpable joy at playing together to every performance. It delights me that, after more than half a century, we present a year-round programme of concerts, both orchestral and choral, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, at Dorchester Abbey and at the Wigmore Hall in London, as well as other venues.
I find as much pleasure, though, in taking our music-making well beyond the concert hall. I have a passionate, and long-held, belief that an orchestra is a powerful force, but that this power is diluted, if not wasted, if all we do – the sum of our achievement – is give traditional, conventional performances in concert halls. I believe that there is a bigger contribution to be made.
Music is a universal language, crossing boundaries of comprehension, ability, race, gender, age and beyond, touching and enriching lives, and we see this over and over again in the work that we do in our Connections projects From our much-praised Music for Autism work, to our ground-breaking collaboration with the Afghan Women’s Orchestra, on-going activity supporting refugees and asylum seekers through Displaced Voices, and newer projects with dementia sufferers and We Are Water, OSJ embraces the transformational power of music.
I have long disliked the pejorative over-use of the word ‘elitist’ particularly in relation to classical music, frequently used to suggest limited access for a privileged few and with barriers to participation, both to potential players and audience members. Regardless of the terminology, this is not – and never has been – OSJ’s way. We started from the diametrically opposite view that orchestral music can, and must, have as wide and as diverse a reach as possible. As an orchestra we have always felt both a desire and a responsibility to make connections and to take our music out into a wide variety of contexts.
Through our multiple Connections initiatives and through our Young Artists Scheme, we strive to break down barriers to participation: by opening doors, sowing seeds, nurturing and creating opportunities, often where none seemed conceivable.
Ultimately, OSJ’s aim is to bring music of the highest quality (elite music, indeed) to all, especially to those who may have been unable to access it. In short, the best must be there for all.”
John Lubbock, OBE
OSJ’s Founder and Musical Director
In 1999 John received an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Academy of Music.
In 2015 he was awarded an OBE for services to the Orchestra of St John’s and to people with autism and learning difficulties in the UK.
He was a finalist in the prestigious The Times/Sternberg Active Life Award 2015.
“Tradition is not to preserve the ashes, but to pass on the flame.”
We are very fortunate to have in our Associate Conductor, Cayenna Ponchione, and our Composer in Residence, Toby Young, two very talented and committed musicians who have shaped and led the Connections programme in the last couple of years. Two exciting new projects are in the pipeline and we look forward to many more in the years to come.