“At face value, someone would think that we are a traditional orchestra, playing traditional music. However, in the bigger picture, heritage isn’t just about old stuff, heritage can be created. Cultural references can be modern and that will become heritage in the future. Heritage Orchestra makes people think about what their cultural inheritance is, because often it isn’t Brahms and Beethoven; it’s something more recent. Younger audiences don’t always feel connected to that so to them, listening to an orchestra that has the word ‘heritage’ in it and that’s playing something relevant to them perhaps gives it more depth.” Dressed in jeans and a multi-coloured anorak, Wheeler is an unassuming innovator. But he and his comrades have exerted an influence on orchestral music that perhaps they themselves aren’t even aware of. In recent years alt-orchestras are becoming more commonplace. There’s the London Breakbeat Orchestra and the Aurora Orchestra, a young ensemble that predominately focuses on contemporary classical works. But still, there’s nothing quite like The Heritage Orchestra – perhaps, Wheeler quips, “because it’s logistically an absolute nightmare!” But what about the future? Is enough being done to foster opportunities for people wanting to follow in Heritage Orchestra’s footsteps? Modestly, Wheeler mentions that he is aware of a couple of similar groups forming in music conservatoires. But, he explains, the as-yet undefinable classical/contemporary/instrumental/electronica movement is niche and the community is “not yet fully fledged; the groups are still developing”.
“The people that do this are very individual, so it goes against their natural individuality to become a homogenous group that are all Facebook friends and that all subscribe to something. These people don’t subscribe so it’s probably a flawed direction to try and force it,” he adds. However, the situation is positive. “There are all these core disparate groups that will never be joined, but if we keep doing things really well, [there will continue to be] a dedicated public.” This summer, Heritage Orchestra will treat the public to a performance at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival as well as a gig at De La Warr Pavilion; featuring a further collaboration with electro-experimental act UNKLE. Wheeler also hints that there may be a repeat of their recent outing with Velvet Underground’s John Cale. As well as managing Heritage Orchestra, Wheeler works on electro-acoustic composition and produces orchestral shows. The interest in his work is snowballing; he’s recently set up a company called Flying Giant to “get big orchestral ideas off the ground” and export the Heritage Orchestra ethos to other countries. “I’m not protective about other orchestras doing beats and collaborations,” Wheeler smiles. “The more the merrier – if we can spread this idea of new repertoire being built by collaboration then bring it on.” Claire Jackson
Published on Jun 25, 2010