The Open Orchestra was originally the Lasswade Orchestral Society, which was created in the 1970s by David Crisp, then a music teacher at Lasswade High School. He had been asked to start a community orchestra night class for school pupils and adults.
In 1994, the orchestra, which was by then a flourishing enterprise, left Lasswade, became self-sustaining and moved to Morningside. At the same time, it was renamed the Open Orchestra because there were (and still are) no auditions.
Some of the orchestra’s school recruits went on to become professional musicians – one has taught music and trumpet at Lasswade, while another has played bassoon in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. In recent years, the orchestra has continued to honour its community roots by performing works by local composers, including Gaynor Barradell and Tom Cunningham, who also plays in the orchestra.
David Crisp was the orchestra’s conductor from its inception until 2006. He was also a composer - most notably, his piece “Astar” for string quartet was performed at the Kirking of the Scottish Parliament in 2003 – and above all, he is fondly remembered by orchestra members for his warm personality and wit. After David’s untimely death in 2009, the orchestra held a memorial concert for him in Canongate Kirk. His compositions, many of which were premiered by the orchestra, continue to form part of the orchestra’s repertoire.
Since 2006, the orchestra’s conductor has been Andrew Lees, who is a former member of both the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic Orchestras playing viola. Since returning to Edinburgh he has taken up the violin and concentrated on solo playing, arranging, teaching and conducting. He is a member of the Roxburgh String Quartet. As well as the Open Orchestra, he has conducted many other Edinburgh-based groups including Edinburgh Grand Opera, Edinburgh Musical Theatre and Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group. He also directs the Leader Ensemble.