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Grand Union Orchestra celebrates 40 years

East London’s pan-global musical collective marks its anniversary with a series of events, including two days of concerts at the Hackney Empire Theatre

The Grand Union Orchestra is a leading exponent of community music-making and cross-cultural collaboration and was launched in 1982 by Tony Haynes, David Bradford, John Cumming and Julie Eaglen to tour music-based theatrical works.

Over the years it has evolved with the changing demographics of its membership and has become a hub for international music collaboration, helping young people and old, professional and amateur express themselves through myriad musical styles.

As Tony Haynes said, ‘Since it began in 1982, Grand Union Orchestra has been making music that reflects and absorbs diversity. It has been my honour to compose nearly 40 major shows across four decades for the company, working with some of the UK’s leading migrant musicians of each generation, whose talents and cultural generosity have been my source of constant inspiration.’

Around Shoreditch and Hoxton in East London, Grand Union has given thousands of local residents of all ages an opportunity to experience and participate in music of all origins. Its Community Orchestra gives over 16-year-olds of any ability the opportunity to bring their instruments, whatever they be, and participate with other local musicians at Shoreditch Town Hall every Tuesday evening free-of-charge. And the Orchestra’s street band performs at Hoxton Market from 10.30-14.30 every Saturday during the warmer months.

Grand Union shows have been staged as far away as Melbourne and in venues across the UK, including Sadlers Wells Theatre and The Sage Gateshead. The anarchic Doctor Carnival performance by the orchestra helped secure London’s Olympic bid and the BBC Concert Orchestra performed as part of the Grand Union’s show, ‘The Golden Road, the Unforgiving Sea’. However, the Hackney Empire has been a perennial friend of the orchestra and so it seemed fit to celebrate 40 years on the famous East End stage.

Many past members and collaborators will return for the anniversary celebration, which will incorporate Chinese and Bengali folksong, Indian ragas, South African township songs, West African chant and drumming, samba, soca, ska and jazz improvisation.

The concerts will take place on the evening of May 14th and the afternoon of May 15th with tickets costing between £10 and £18.

In addition, an extensive programme of Grand Union Orchestra events will be taking place across the East End throughout May, including workshops and a range of performances.