The Rehearsal Orchestra was founded — as the Edinburgh Rehearsal Orchestra (ERO) — at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1957. Harry Legge, a viola-player in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra working with such legendary conductors as Beecham, Rodzinski, Gui, Giulini and Klemperer, had regularly enjoyed the RPO's visits to the Festival and noticed the number of players about during the day waiting for evening concerts. To ‘keep them out of the rain’ he came up with the brilliant idea of forming a rehearsal orchestra to enable them to study the major works they would then hear performed by major orchestras in the evenings!

Harry's partner in this project was cellist Gillian Halse whose flair for organization and the charm with which she encouraged players to join made this a winning team. From the start ERO attracted the attention of the press and the Festival authorities, as well as players. Sir Thomas Beecham agreed to be the orchestra's first patron (followed later by Rudolf Kempe, Sir Charles Groves and Sir Andrew Davis). The original courses lasted the full three weeks of the Festival.

Following the success in Edinburgh, the players demanded a "reunion" in London, and from this developed a series of weekend courses held every year in London and Manchester.

Since its foundation the Rehearsal Orchestra has never stopped challenging its players with the variety and range of its repertoire. As well as providing essential grounding in the core repertoire for players of all types (facilitated by Harry Legge’s insistence on ‘getting through the stuff’), the orchestra has given opportunities to play works from outside players’ normal experience. From Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 4 and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in the 1960s, when such pieces were rarities even on the professional stage, to a memorable weekend on Messiaen’s Turangalîla (in 2006) and regular forays into the more challenging works of the twentieth century, the orchestra’s tradition of stretching all its players has underpinned its activities.

After Harry died in 2000, Levon Parikian was appointed Artistic Director and carries on the great work begun by Harry, together with a wonderful roster of regular conductors for our London courses - Christopher Adey, Stephen Bell and Timothy Redmond (see People page) – and Robert Chasey in Edinburgh.

The Rehearsal Orchestra does invaluable work on the quiet and with the minimum of fuss. An extraordinary number of British musicians have worked in it, and I myself was a timpanist with the orchestra for a time. It gives musicians an invaluable opportunity to work and learn music at the speed they will have to reproduce in their professional lives.

Sir Simon Rattle, RO Patron


Almost every professional orchestra in the UK includes players who have passed through the ranks of the Rehearsal Orchestra. The RO has established itself as a unique resource for talented players of all ages wishing to tackle difficult repertoire without putting their reputations on the line in public performance. Our courses attract current and recent conservatoire and university students, both young and retired professional musicians, and talented players from all walks of life. The RO never gives concerts — it stretches players to the limit in rehearsal.

Guest conductors

Harry Legge conducted the majority of courses from 1957 to 1999. However, he had a talent for spotting opportunities for guest appearances. In the 1970s, through Harry's connection with the RPO, the distinguished maestro Rudolf Kempe became interested in the orchestra and conducted the RO in Edinburgh and London. Other guest conductors have included Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Charles Groves, Sir Andrew Davis and Sir Simon Rattle. Sir Mark Elder joined us for the first time in our 50th anniversary year and made a welcome return for our 60th anniversary in 2017, when we were also thrilled to work for the first time with Sian Edwards.


Opportunities are provided for soloists wanting to prepare a concerto with orchestra before a professional engagement. Soloists have included Nigel Kennedy, Moray Welsh, James Galway, Julian Lloyd Webber (wanting a run-through of the Miaskovsky Cello Concerto), Kyung Wha Chung (trying out the second Bartók concerto), and Peter Donohoe (in the Busoni Piano Concerto in London, and the Stravinsky Concerto for Piano and Winds in Edinburgh in our 50th anniversary year). Innumerable singers have also been involved over the years in operas from Verdi's Falstaff to Puccini's Madama Butterfly and, in recent autumns, Wagner's Ring Cycle, including appearances by James Rutherford as Wotan and Rachel Nicholls as Brünnhilde in Die Walküre. Bass baritone Michael Druiett was the soloist in Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.

Most recently Steven Osborne joined us to run through Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 1, prior to a performance at the Proms. Our 60th anniversary season featured a welcome return visit by cellist Moray Welsh.

I loved my weekend with you all. There is a tremendous spirit and enjoyment about everything that enables wonders to be achieved. Long may you thrive!

Sir Mark Elder

A musical charity

The Rehearsal Orchestra is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity, supported by UK conservatoires and by the Musicians' Union. Every year, we give hundreds of musicians the opportunity to play challenging music that stretches the serious amateur whilst preparing the future professional for the intensity and speed of rehearsal which they will encounter in their career.

We are committed to keeping course fees affordable to all players, especially students and young professional musicians, and strive to offer additional bursaries where possible. Generous and much-needed support from trusts, foundations, corporate donors and private benefactors enables us to cover the full costs, ensuring our ongoing success in nurturing talented musicians and making a lasting contribution to musical life in the UK and beyond.

The Gillian Halse Bursary Fund

The Rehearsal Orchestra is very pleased to announce that, thanks to a generous legacy from Harold Taylor, a Bursary Fund has been set up in memory of Gillian Halse, who with Harry Legge founded the Rehearsal Orchestra in 1957.

Harold, a wonderful pianist and teacher, who was Gill’s partner for many years until she died at the age of 71 in 2005, enjoyed donating individual bursaries for student participants at the annual summer course in Edinburgh and intended his legacy to be used to continue providing opportunities for students both there and on Rehearsal Orchestra weekend courses elsewhere.

The Board was delighted to launch this new scheme in memory of Gill Halse in the run-up to the orchestra's 60th anniversary in 2017.

Click here to find out more about what a difference a legacy gift to the RO could make.