The Portsmouth Sinfonia usually claims a membership of about fifty -- the number fluctuates. Within the orchestra is represented the full range of musical competence -- some members playing difficult instruments for the first time, others, on the other hand, of concert standard. This tends to generate an extraordinary and unique musical situation where the inevitable errors must be considered as a crucial, if inadvertent, element of the music.
It is important to stress the main characteristic of the orchestra: that all members of the Sinfonia share the desire to play the pieces as accurately as possible. One supposes that the possibility of professional accuracy will forever elude us since there is a constant influx of new members and a continual desire to attempt more ambitious pieces from the realms of the popular classics.
My own involvment in the Sinfonia is two levels -- I am a non-musician in the sense of never having "studied music," yet at the same time, I notice that many of the more significant contributions to rock music, and to a lesser extent, avant-garde music have been made by enthusiastic amateurs and dabblers. Their strength is that they are able to approach the task of music without a too firm concept of what is and what is not musically possible. Coupled with this, and consequent to it, is a current fascination with the role of "the accident" in structured activities.
Legend has it that Beethoven, among other composers, enjoyed performances of his music by enthusiastic music makers who may well have possessed a similar range of abilities to those of the members of the Sinfonia.
Whether he would have enjoyed our rendering of his Fifth Symphony is, of course, something we will never know.
--Brian Eno, Sept. 1973.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your listening pleasure, Portsmouth Sinfonia.
Portsmouth Sinfonia Plays The Popular Classics (Columbia)