Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra
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Leader: Shahla Armitage
Shahla Armitage was born in Baghdad and started playing the violin at an early age. She studied violin and piano under Russian tutors at the Music and Ballet School and later through a scholarship at the Mendelssohn Hochschule in Leipzig (now The University of Music and Theatre ‘Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’ Leipzig). After graduation she joined the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra and had many appearances with the Orchestra. Shahla has performed in many countries in the Middle East, Russia and Eastern Europe. Moving to Jordan she joined the Orchestra of the National Music Conservatoire (now Amman Symphony Orchestra) and at the same time established herself as a respected and sought after Violin and Piano tutor.

Since settling in the UK in 1997 she has played with a number of local orchestras including Wilmslow and Stockport Symphony Orchestras, the Vale Royal String Orchestra, Lancashire Chamber Orchestra and Sale Chamber Orchestra, performing many concerts and giving a number of recitals. She has established a school of private Violin and Piano students and teaches Violin and Piano at local schools. In 2007 Shahla established an annual tutored music event which has proved very popular and has grown year by year. She leads the Chordiale String Quartet which has given a number of charitable performances and other events. Shahla has a teaching Diploma from the Music and Ballet School and is a Licentiate of Trinity College London.
The strings form the core of the symphony orchestra. Between them, the violins, violas, cellos and double basses have a total compass of some six octaves and have a range of expression unmatched by any other orchestral instrument.

There are many ways in which a string can be bowed in order to achieve a particular musical effect. These include playing close to the bridge ('sul ponticello') which produces a harsh, wiry sound; and playing over the fingerboard ('sul tasto') which produces a more ethereal tone. Bowings can be long or short, and both on the string and off, the latter ('spiccato') producing extremely short notes in detached style. Occasionally, as in the Witches' Sabbath in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, a composer will require players to use the wooden part of their bows rather than the hair ('col legno'); and Rossini goes one step further in his Il Signor Bruschino by requiring players to use their bows as percussion instruments by tapping their music stands.

The use of up-bows or down-bows is another matter of vital concern to the string player, and is often the subject of considerable debate at rehearsal. Whilst many passages can be bowed 'as they come', there are inevitable musical phrases for which the bowing is a question of interpretation and therefore a source of potential dispute. In hired sets of parts, these passages are reliably identified by heavily pencilled (and often contradictory) bowing marks leading, in extreme cases, to holes in the paper where an eraser has been used once too often. A good conductor and leader always ensure that such contentious bowings are sorted out at an early stage rather than running the risk of wasting valuable rehearsal time.

Bowings are not always left to the discretion of players and conductors: composers and publishers' editors often have their own ideas (sometimes erroneous) on the bowings they believe to be necessary to achieve the desired musical effect. A notable example is the Finale of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 2 ('Little Russian') in which the composer calls for no fewer than 52 successive high-speed quaver down-bows - a searching test of string ensemble.

The ways in which the strings are fingered also have a profound bearing on the nature and quality of the note produced. The shaking of the left hand which produces the distinctive 'vibrato' effect is an important part of a string player's technique; but on occasion, players are required to produce a remote glassy sound by touching the string with extreme lightness to produce harmonics.

Another way in which a distinctive effect can be produced is by the use of mutes. At one time, these were small stand-alone devices made of wood or metal which could be lightly clamped to the bridge as required, thereby producing a much quieter, softer sound. They also had an alarming inclination to go missing when required, or fall embarrassingly to the floor with a resounding tinkle during pianissimo passages; as a result, most players today prefer to use contrivances which locate permanently on the strings near the tailpiece and which can be quickly and safely brought into play at the appropriate moment.

A characteristic of the strings shared only with the harp, piano and organ is the ability to play more than one note at a time, achieved by stopping and bowing a number of strings simultaneously. Double or triple stopping of chords is a common requirement, but the concave shape of the modern bow (developed by the great Parisian maker Fran çois Tourte (1747-1835) makes it possible to achieve quadruple stopping only by spreading the chord to some degree. In an orchestral context, multiple stopping is normally only required over individual chords where a composer is seeking a particularly rich harmony; for extended passages, players are more than happy to share the notes between themselves on an agreed basis (playing 'divisi').
The Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra
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