1578. Nicola Ashton
Nicola Ashton, from Wiltshire, set up a virtual orchestra in 2020 to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, bringing together in total over 300 musicians for a regular series of concerts conducted entirely from her kitchen.
Nicola’s ‘Virtual Symphonies’ project initially started between a group of local musicians, getting together to play all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. The popularity of their performances led Nicola to put on more online concerts and encourage musicians from across the UK and internationally to take part, enabling them to share music with one another at a time when orchestras, bands and choirs are unable to rehearse and perform in person due to Coronavirus restrictions. Nicola and the Virtual Symphonies Orchestra have also been raising money through their performances for charities including MIND and Cancer Research UK.
In a personal letter to Nicola, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:
“I was inspired to hear of your symphonic success in bringing together hundreds of musicians to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.
“Your new, virtual orchestra helped to keep the music playing in a safe and Covid secure way, while also raising vital funds for fantastic charities such as ‘MIND’ and ‘Cancer Research UK’. Until your orchestra is able to meet again in person, I hope you continue conducting from your kitchen!”
James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire, said:
“I warmly congratulate my constituent, Nicola Ashton on her well-deserved prize of a Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award for the brilliant work she did bringing a virtual orchestra together to play symphonies. The musicians were all over the place, each of them achieving relaxation and enjoyment out of their favourite activity- playing their particular instrument. The virtual symphonies both were a source of great pleasure to the players; but also will have helped their frame of mind during Lockdown. And they also raised money for some very worthwhile charities while they were doing it. So Nicola Ashton and her Virtual Symphonies are truly a Point of Light in what has been amongst our darkest of times.”
“The Virtual Symphonies project has been an absolute joy over the past year. Music is such a vital part of life for so many people and can make an incredible difference to mental health in difficult times. It was obvious from the start of the first lockdown in 2020 that music was going to be more important than ever for our wellbeing, but also harder than ever to access. I was determined to find new ways to make sure that we could keep the music playing.
“The first virtual music project started as a way to bring together a group of friends online to enjoy the opportunity to play all of Beethoven’s symphonies in his anniversary year. Since then, the orchestra has grown into something which continually amazes me. We are so lucky to have had more than 300 musicians from across the UK and far beyond take part in our two virtual symphony cycles (Virtual Beethoven and Life-changing Symphonies), and it’s been wonderful to see people making new friends and rekindling old friendships alongside exploring some incredible music together. It’s also been great to be able to raise money for two fantastic charities so far, giving our music-making a real sense of purpose.
“I was really surprised and absolutely delighted to receive this award, and would like to thank every single one of the amazing musicians who have been part of Virtual Symphonies so far – their enthusiasm and friendship has helped to bring music back to life for a lot of people over the past year. This week I’m launching our third cycle of symphonies, taking us on a virtual tour across Europe, and hope that this award inspires other people to explore how they can keep their music alive online – or even come and join us on our next musical journey!”
Pictured below: Nicola conducting musicians from home