The Origins of the Bardi Orchestra

by Orchestra Manager, Robert Calow

The Bardi Symphony Orchestra’s origins date from 1986 in Leicester University where Bob Meikle encouraged a young student, Andrew Constantine, to form an orchestra to not only give him the chance to conduct but also programme forward looking concerts.

Count Giovanni de’Bardi was one such person in Italy back in the 1600s who had similar ideas, and taking this name as inspiration, Andrew formed the Bardi Orchestra and a performance of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony followed on the University campus. The first real Bardi concert was in November 1986 at the New Walk Museum Art Gallery featuring Beethoven’s Violin Concerto.

Chamber concerts were performed over the next two years mostly at the University, but the summer of 1988 saw Andrew Constantine planning a large-scale concert including Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony. The logical venue was St James the Greater and so on Saturday 10th September, the Bardi put on what is still remembered as a ground-breaking concert and saw the birth of a new musical force in Leicester.  It was difficult enough fitting in the large orchestra and choir, but the concert started late because of the huge numbers attending. In the end many were sitting on the floor!

The all-Beethoven concert was complimented with the Third Piano Concerto performed by local pianist Simon Lebens.

Andrew then showed how he would be pushing new boundaries by repeating the concert in January 1989 at the Adrian Boult Hall at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

The scene was now set for a series of high-profile classical concerts in the Bardi’s new home at St James. The summer of 1988 had also seen the formation of the Bardi Friends by Nicky Calow and Mary Moore, and the publicity was now being designed by graphic design studio Eikon Ltd where my brother David and I worked. David’s bold, colourful and dynamic posters stood out from other local ensembles and gave the Bardi a fresh new modern look. 

Looking again at these posters, reminds us of what now seems very low ticket prices compared to today. And St Martins Records and City Music are sadly long-gone outlets.

Andrew always had the remarkable ability to invite high profile soloists to play with the Bardi in those days – Raphael Wallfisch, Tamsin Little and The Archduke Trio to name but a few. He also managed to talk Lady Evelyn Barbirolli to becoming our President!

By the early 1990s the Bardi had also acquired a settled Leader in Leicester-born violinist Adam Summerhayes who still holds the post to this day.

However, Andrew was still looking to make the Bardi something different in Leicester and in 1989 and 1990, a much-enlarged orchestra bravely hired De Montfort Hall to perform the Sixth and then Second of Mahler’s huge symphonies. It is believed that the Sixth Symphony was a Leicester premier.

There was now no stopping our Conductor and he planned ever larger events so by the mid 1990s, a move for the Orchestra to make De Montfort Hall their home was the next logical step. Record breaking tours to St Petersburg, Prague and Luxembourg followed, as well as a residency in Symphony Hall Birmingham on Sunday afternoons. 

Looking back, the late 1980s and 1990s was an unbelievably busy period for the Bardi, but the Orchestra has never forgotten its spiritual home and over the following years has returned for some memorable concerts at St James.