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The Zemlinsky Chamber Orchestra [ZCO] is a vibrant ensemble based in Amsterdam, which bridges the gap between a symphonic force and a chamber music collective. The orchestra’s core  musical output is based on lesser known repertoire, ensuring that each performance not only provides a new and fresh listening experience, but also in the most intimate way we can provide. Made up of 15 core players (give or take a few depending on the project), the ZCO creates a unique and eclectic orchestral sound while at the same time allowing each individual musician to shine in their own right.

The ZCO focuses on repertoire from all genres, ranging from baroque (or reconstructions of early music) to contemporary music. As the ensemble was founded during the first lockdown in 2020, its core foundations lied in remaining flexible and resilient in order to keep performing through any situation. These values remain in the orchestra to this day in the way that each project is completely unique.

05/09/2020: Not its official founding, but the first time something of this size happened – during lockdown I had finished my first version of Zemlinsky’s “Lyric Symphony” and wanted to try it out before negotiating its publication with Universal Edition, to see if it worked. The Netherlands was still in its “intelligent lockdown”, where social distancing was enforced to a good extent and the borders were shut, but people could judge themselves how often they needed to go out.

At the time I lived around the corner from a small theatre “De Roode Bioscoop”, on the Haarlemmerplein, so I rented it out and gathered some friends together to play through the first 4 movements (without percussion, something had to give..). Although they were all sceptical at first, the idea of playing actual music with actual people after a 6 month hiatus outweighed the idea of not knowing anything about this piece. (Despite the resurgence of his music, Zemlinsky still remains a little in the shadows.)

This was a success for two reasons: firstly my 17-musician version of the piece worked and didn’t sound altogether different than the original; secondly those involved loved the idea of this kind of ensemble size and wanted to do more.

Over the next couple of months we tried out the remaining of movements and even played through some more repertoire. At first it started out as a “rehearsal day-performance day” format, which worked for Schubert 5 and introductions to other works, however as our repertoire grew into Mahler symphonies and beyond, so did our projects. What really changed everything was our introduction to Matheusz and Andrea at Greeneye Videography, we established a partnership that allowed us to make a real occasion for a “performance”, while making something that looked and sounded really professional.

All performances on YouTube are made to be as close to live performances as possible, with each programme being recorded over a single day (Or under 7 hours, including warm-up and general rehearsal). Indeed, perfection is strived for, however without slight quirks during a performance the listening experience doesn’t feel real and at the time that was the element that was missing.

06/02/2021: The recordings of Zemlinsky’s “Kammersymphonie” and Schubert’s “Viola” were done in a single take. We had planned an entire day due to the difficulty of the Zemlinsky, however because of building work in the church (De Waals Kerk, our current home) we couldn’t start recording until 4pm, and because of the curfew in the Netherlands at the time we couldn’t go on past 7pm. (You can find links to the performances below.) The performance of Zemlinsky was the premiere featured piece in Universal Edition’s newsletter for that month.

Since then our performances have picked up some rather interesting traction: the performance of Mahler’s 4th Symphony has now become the most viewed chamber Mahler performance on YouTube; the version of Alma Mahler’s “Vier Lieder” was discovered by the Tanglewood Festival and subsequently performed at their 2023 summer festival; and the performance of Lili Boulanger’s “D’un Matin de Printemps” was featured as a part of Georden West’s film “Playland” as part of the 2023 International Film Festival Rotterdam.

During the last few years, the orchestra has evolved from an unpaid group, just doing music for the hell of it, to a fully monetised orchestra and now is officially a foundation (stichting) in The Netherlands. Now the orchestra does two main projects per year, as well as a number of chamber music productions, however each project follows the same format: firstly performing multiple live concerts (each project is a small tour in itself, at this point nationally), and each production is recorded for our YouTube channel, opening up an international demographic also. The only differences between large and small projects are the number of musicians and whether a conductor is used. Regardless of what production one goes to see, the listening experience is still completely unique to the ZCO.

Our current core values remain the same as when we started, however we’ve diversified our repertoire beyond rare composers or rarely performed works by more established composers. Over the next few years the orchestra will experiment with newly written, re-composed interpretations of well-loved pieces of music: this furthers our vision of unique listening experiences, as well as working with a wider range of composers, arrangers and dramateurs. In addition, the following seasons will see alternative productions of opera, ballet, art instalments with music and so much more. Stay tuned to find out more.

All performances can be seen through our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@zemlinskychamberorchestra