Cologne's Citizens Orchestra

What is the Citizens’ Orchestra?

To play in an orchestra – for many citizens of Cologne, this wish comes true for the first time in the Cologne Citizens’ Orchestra, which François-Xavier Roth initiated during the 2019/20 season. The initiative is dear to his heart, but also to the musicians of his orchestra. More than 40 of them work with the participants, supporting them as they learn the works and the orchestra as it prepares for its concert at Cologne’s Philharmonie. To play side by side with the professionals is highly motivating and lots of fun. After all, there is not only much to learn in the rehearsals with François-Xavier Roth – there is also lots of laughter! 37 violins, 23 cellos, 14 clarinets and many other instruments have joined the Cologne Citizens’ Orchestra, which includes about 160 members. The musical level of the participants differs greatly. To Harry Ogg, who leads the rehearsals as musical assistant to François-Xavier Roth, that is not a problem: »There are people who only started playing their instrument five years ago, and there are others who have played in other orchestras. But that is precisely what we like about it! In this way, our orchestra reflects the many facets of a living community.« Parts that are too hard are simplified. And the more experienced members help those who are less experienced. The group’s philosophy is: there is no competition.

What happens inow?

Bürgerorchester 2020

After several lockdowns, the time has finally come: On 19 September, the Kölner Bürgerorchester will take the stage of the Kölner Philharmonie and play its first concert! After a long period of uncertainty, we are now very much looking forward to presenting the works we have rehearsed together.

Five orchestras will play the concert: Due to the distance regulations, our musicians will be divided into two string orchestras and three wind formations. Pieces by Pietro Mascagni, Carl Nielsen and Gustav Holst, among others, will be played, from the sublime "Finlandia" by Jean Sibelius to Béla Bartók's "Romanian Folk Dances.

Bürgerorchester 2021

The Kölner Bürgerorchester for the 2020/21 season also had to be postponed by a year. Now François-Xavier Roth is inviting the public to make music with him and his orchestra again. In June 2022, the concert will take place in the Kölner Philharmonie. Last year's registrations will automatically be taken into this season - the participants will be drawn by lot in the autumn. 

If you have any specific questions about the progress of the project, please contact us directly.

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Clara Friedrichs
Project Manager
+49 221 221 28595

»Music is for everyone«

An Interview with conductor Harry Ogg

200 citizens of Cologne play side by side with the musicians of the Gürzenich Orchestra. Their common goal: playing a concert with François-Xavier Roth at Cologne’s Philharmonie! Harry Ogg leads the pilot project and offers insights into the fascinating rehearsal process.

In January 2020 you launched Cologne’s Citizens’ Orchestra by leading its first rehearsal. What characterizes the orchestra?
Our premise was that everyone can join in, and we do not reject anyone. Of course we were intrigued to see what would happen. The orchestra consists of more than 200 people: we have a 82-year-old triangle player, and the youngest participant is only 16.

How different are the levels of experience the players bring to the project?
There are people who only started playing their instrument five years ago, and there are others who have played in other orchestras. Of course this means that the levels of accomplishment are very different. But that is precisely what we like about it! In this way, our orchestra reflects the many facets of a living community.

How do you deal with this in practical terms?
We simplify individual parts for some. But we encourage other participants to practice and believe that they will get there. For each person, we definitely find a solution. Our philosophy is: there is no competition in our Citizens’ Orchestra. We want everyone to have a good time. The experienced members help the less experienced ones.

What were your criteria when selecting the programme?
It should be ambitious, but doable within the time we have. But most of all, it should be fun, that is the most important thing!

In your hometown of London, you founded an ensemble of your own while still a student, an ensemble which has made a name for itself. Which challenges do you face when conducting the Citizens’ Orchestra?
I have worked a lot with amateur orchestras, and I know the great improvement we can achieve between the first rehearsal and the concert. This is going to be a wonderful experience for all who join in. We will work on rhythm, sound, and phrasing, on ensemble playing and on listening to one another. Every time, it is fascinating to see how much we can improve. Usually, I am the only one responsible for this. But in this special case, we also have 20 additional musicians from the Gürzenich Orchestra acting as coaches.

What motivates them?
Well, it is always a joy to pass on your own knowledge. Many of our musicians are professors at music academies or instrumental teachers. The Citizens’ Orchestra gives them an opportunity to pass on their skills and knowledge. The special feature is that here they cannot choose whom to work with. However, they are very adaptable and open to other people. Another aspect is that the members of the Citizens’ Orchestra are not there to make money with their music, but only to enjoy what they are doing. And that, of course, is transmitted back to us professional musicians. Playing with amateur musicians is a special joy! It is great to share this enthusiasm, both in rehearsal and in concert.

Ultimately, François-Xavier Roth takes over the rehearsals and conducts the concert …
It’s going to be a ball. He has an energy that is transmitted to anyone in his vicinity. And he has a humanity that is infectious. This is something you also notice at the Gürzenich Orchestra, incidentally: as soon as François-Xavier is on the podium, the orchestra sounds different. It is fascinating to observe this. Many members of the Citizens’ Orchestra are longing for this experience of making music with him. And now they will have that opportunity.

What was the decisive impulse that led François-Xavier Roth to found the Citizens’ Orchestra?
François-Xavier considers community projects with amateur musicians or people who have never made music particularly important. Music is for everyone! With projects such as the Citizens’ Orchestra, he manages to convey music beyond the confines of the concert hall. It is a major part of his philosophy. Furthermore, he wanted to establish a more personal connection with tour audience. There are a lot of our subscribers among the musicians of the Citizens’ Orchestra. We are all looking forward to seeing how the orchestra will develop further, what the future will bring … for of course, François-Xavier has a lot of other fascinating ideas as well!

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