Northern Chamber Orchestra: Beauty from Tragedy

“There is beauty in the midst of tragedy. As if beauty were condensing in the heart of ugliness.”

Hélène Berr, The Journal of Hélène Berr

A white man with brown hair wearing a black shirt and black trousers, holding a cello and standing in a forest.

The Northern Chamber Orchestra, the North-West’s longest-standing chamber orchestra, present a pair of concerts featuring 20th century music inspired by war.

Shostakovich and the music of war

The first concert, Shostakovich and the music of war, takes place on Saturday 17 December at The King’s School in Macclesfield, and sees the NCO tackle Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony op.73a, composed in 1946. The horrifying sufferings of life in the Soviet Union had taken their toll on the composer: anxious, cynical and despondent, he found an outlet in music, composing his String Quartet No. 3 in F major, Op. 73. The third movement’s initial title was ‘The Forces of War Unleashed’, and a chamber symphony arrangement (Op. 73a) of this quartet was orchestrated by Shostakovich’s close friend, Rudolph Barshai.

We play this emotionally powerful symphony, that ends with a sense of acceptance and peace, in a concert also featuring Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 2 and Vaughan Williams’ Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’. The concert is directed by Magnus Johnston, with his cellist brother Guy Johnston as soloist in the Haydn.

Music and the Holocaust

The second concert, Music and the Holocaust on Saturday 14 January, sees the NCO in a reflective mood as it gives a concert at Macclesfield’s St Michael’s Church in remembrance of Holocaust Memorial Day.

The concert features Rudolf Karel’s Nonet, written in Theresienstadt prison during WWII. Born in 1880, Karel was a pupil of Dvořák. Having joined the Czech resistance during WW2, he was ultimately arrested and sent to Theresienstadt prison. His treatment resulted in his death in 1945 but, writing sometimes with a pencil on toilet paper, he composed his Nonet whilst incarcerated.

The concert also features Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major and Louis Spohr’s Nonet and is directed by Sarah Brandwood-Spencer.

About the soloists

Since winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year Guy Johnston has become one of the leading British cellists of his generation, performing regularly with international orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Magnus Johnston is a frequent guest leader with orchestras such as the Royal Opera House, the Philharmonia and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Sarah Brandwood-Spencer has toured the world as principal and soloist with the European Union Chamber Orchestra, was formerly a principal violinist of the Hallé Orchestra and now enjoys a varied career as guest principal with many of the country’s leading orchestras.

The NCO’s 2022-23 season, entitled “Orchestrating the Future”, is the first since the departure of Artistic Director and Leader Nicholas Ward, and sees a host of exciting conductors, directors and soloists, including violinists Sophie Rosa and Jorge Jimenez and oboist John Roberts take to the stage.

Tickets for the concerts are £25 each, with discounted tickets for under 30s and free tickets for under 18s and students. Tickets are on sale on now from, with group discounts available.

A white woman with long brown hair wearing a black dress and holding a violin.