Scrapheap Orchestra airs on BBC4 on Sunday (December 18th) and fans of the Proms may remember that the group performed Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in the summer. The programme follows the project from creating violins and drums out of scrap to the final performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
A team of musical instrument makers had 11 weeks to build instruments, while professional musicians at the BBC Concert Orchestra had to get a decent sound out of them. Meanwhile, Tchaikovsky’s piece had to be re-arranged to allow for the different tonalities of the instruments.
Visiting the orchestra during the project, the Guardian reported that many of the musicians and makers had worries about the instruments sounding awful.
“There’s a drama in getting over the line between this working and sounding like a joke,” conductor Charles Hazlewood told the news provider.
“I’d die a million deaths if I thought we were going to go out on stage in the Albert Hall and make people laugh. The premise is a serious one: is it possible to reimagine this wonderful organism called the orchestra? Can you go back to ground zero?”
The challenge was seemingly impossible. No instrument could be the same as there would not be enough junk; but some did work. One cello was made out of a Land Rover fuel tank, which on first rehearsal “sounded like a hornet trapped in a jam jar”, maker Ben Hebbert explained.
“But we cut bits away and adjusted. It’s ended up as a beautifully playable instrument,” he added, although bowing it does not create the ideal sound.
Elsewhere, a double bass is made from a zinc bathtub and a tambourine uses a sheet of X-ray film.
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