Formed in 1991, the Winchmore String Orchestra is based in the area around Palmers Green and Southgate in the borough of Enfield and has a core membership of more than two dozen, which is boosted by the addition of guest players at concerts. Most of our members live in the boroughs of Enfield and Barnet, though some come from as far afield as Walthamstow, Islington, Hither Green, Croydon and Hertfordshire.
True to our origin as a community orchestra we rehearse in a friendly and informal atmosphere, while aspiring to the high standards of performance set by successive professional conductors. Our repertoire ranges from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th-century mainstream to less familiar output, including on occasion music by local composers, and we frequently offer a platform to soloists and talented young musicians. WSO normally gives three public concerts a year, though, thanks to its strong links within the musical community of north London, members are regularly invited to join in events arranged by others.
Like many amateur orchestras, the WSO is funded by subscriptions from its members and income from ticket sales. WSO is a registered charity (No 1070537) but also raises funds for other charities by means of raffles held during the intervals at concerts. The beneficiaries, which are nominated by our soloists, range from well-known medical charities to local organisations such as Haringey Young Musicians, and over the past 10 years a total of some £14,000 has been collected in this way.
For many years our operational base, both for rehearsing and performing, was Winchmore Hill Methodist Church, but in 2020 we moved to a new home – Southgate Methodist Church, The Bourne, N14 6RS.
The WSO does not hold auditions; prospective members are welcome to attend a rehearsal and join if they are comfortable with the demands of the music.
Twenty-eight years ago, a new musical venture began in Winchmore Hill – an amateur string orchestra. Called unpretentiously the Winchmore String Orchestra (WSO), or simply the Winchmore Strings, it was the creation of a local professional violinist and teacher, Stanley Lishak, and his wife Bertha, a viola-player.
The history of the orchestra is very much bound up with the post-war development of musical activity in north London, in which Stanley Lishak was a leading figure. Born in 1930, he was taught by the distinguished violinist Max Rostal before entering the Guildhall School of Music, and, after national service (which he spent as a member of the military orchestra and band at Sandhurst), he began a career as a professional player. For a period, he was leader of the D’Oyly Carte Opera orchestra, and then he spent some five decades playing for West End shows, including Kismet, My Fair Lady, Showboat and Oliver.
At an early stage, however, Stanley was also drawn to teaching, and this gave him effectively a second career, which he pursued during the day while spending the evening in the theatre pit. Initially a teacher with the London County Council, in the early 60s he began an association with Kurt Rokos, who ran a string music scheme in the then borough of Tottenham. From this partnership grew a highly-regarded teaching scheme which launched many local young people on musical careers and fostered a love of music in countless others. Through the numerous residential courses that he helped to organise and the various orchestral groups he conducted he became widely known and respected.
When the time came for Stanley to retire from his teaching post in what was by now the London Borough of Haringey, he and Bertha had the idea of starting an adult string orchestra. And so the WSO came into being. At first it was part of the Winchmore Art and Craft Group, but in 1998 it became independent as a registered charity.
Stanley was its first conductor, and many of its members were people who had belonged to one or other of the youth orchestras with which he had been involved. One of these was Chris Gundry, who has been its leader since the beginning. Sadly, Stanley died only five years after setting up the orchestra, though Bertha, who was a playing member for a number of years, remained closely associated with it as its president.
Since Stanley’s death there have been seven regular conductors – successively Stephen Wilder, Anthony Weeden, Ron Rappoport, Rachael Young, Philip Gibson, Michael Coleby, Gonzalo Acosta and Martin Smith.