The Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra


The Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra started life in around 2002 as a group of three or four pupils, who attended a mandolin evening class which I was running for Cambridgeshire Music. (There was an upsurge of interest in the mandolin at the time, partly as the result of the success of the novel “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres). The class went through various venues and personnel changes, but gradually a solid core of keen and committed players emerged, and in 2004 we decided to stop being a teaching group and focus on rehearsing for performances instead.

Numbers grew – at the first rehearsal we had six players (all mandolins), by the second session it was nine (including two guitarists). These days we have a solid core of around 15 players – mandolins, mandolas, guitars and double bass – and a number of other players who join us when they can. In the early stages we had a lot of practical help and advice from the BMG and particularly our friends at the Lanarkshire Mandolin and Guitar Association, (who have always been one step ahead of everyone else and have set the benchmark for what can be achieved by this kind of group!) We were also helped in no small way by the lovely people at the Haus der Musik Trekel in Hamburg, who have a vast stock of arrangements for mandolin groups and always managed to steer us in the right direction when we were looking for new material.

The earliest group pic I can find of the Moonlight Mandolins – ca. 2006?

Our first concerts were very local affairs, with small audiences consisting overwhelmingly of partners and family of the players. Gradually our confidence (and our audience) grew. We planned larger concerts in conjunction other local music groups, and started to involve guest soloists – for example we have performed concertos with flute and with classical guitar.

Most of the Moonlight Mandolin Orchestra, 2017

We started to travel more too – the orchestra has competed at several national festivals run by the BMG – making new friends, getting new ideas for repertoire, and bringing home a certain amount of silverware – and members of the MMO have been stalwarts in larger regional ensembles such as the London Mandolin Ensemble.

In 2010 I stood down as director, and the musical directing and conducting of the group is now done by Anna Langley (who also does a good deal of splendid, highly customised arranging for the group).

Here is a full-length video of a recent concert at Michaelhouse in the centre of Cambridge. The visual quality is not great I am afraid, but it gives you an idea of how the group sounds. Towards the end of the clip we are joined by the wonderful guitarist Daniela Rossi for a world premiere of the Concerto for Guitar and Mandolin Orchestra by Michelle Nelson.

(For the 2nd half of the concert Daniela played a solo set, and I can’t resist including this video as well –  she is such a fantastic guitarist 🙂 )

The Moonlights are always on the lookout for new players, so if you are a mandolin player (or a guitarist – or a violinist who would like to try mandolin!) then do contact me if you would be interested in joining us. I or one of the other players would always be happy to give you a few lessons if you need a bit of input to begin with.  The orchestra caters for quite a range of abilities, but please note that you do need to be comfortable reading music.