Really VERY easy symphonic repertoire

Edited: February 19, 2020, 7:20 PM · A few years ago, there was a nice thread about easier symphonic pieces for "casual" community orchestra:

Please look at the pieces that are listed in the OP.

Our orchestra probably cannot play ANY of those. Nielsen's Alladin? Too much high stuff. Mozart Magic Flute Overture? Too many flats.

As Jean wrote, "You get the idea." I'd like to know stuff you've PLAYED with community orchestras that's as easy or easier than anything Jean listed. We're handling Mozart 15 (G Major) okay. Beethoven Coriolan Overture is one of our "challenge" pieces this semester. Schubert Tragic Symphony was too hard.

We're not super interested in arrangements of pop tunes or other things because our conductor is very likely to veto those as being too "childish."

Thanks in advance.

Replies (28)

Edited: February 19, 2020, 10:07 PM · I've played Beethoven's Egmont Overture (on that list) with an orchestra that I can almost guarantee is weaker than yours. It was an orchestra that played mostly school orchestra level pop arrangements, with one or two pieces at the Egmont level as "challenge" pieces. I think Schubert's Rosamunde Overture is doable too, though there are slightly tricky spots in the viola and cello parts. We played Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony too; it is still the only time that orchestra ever played a complete symphony in its 30-year history.

I played the Bruch Romanze for Viola and Orchestra (as soloist) with that same orchestra. If you can get a good violist to play the solo part, the orchestra parts are quite easy. F major, some accidentals but no one in the orchestra ever has to play anything fast. The only moderately challenging part in the orchestra is first clarinet.

When I get back to my home computer, I'll look up the list of other pieces we played.

February 19, 2020, 9:09 PM · Andrew thanks and keep it coming! We have Egmont in our library and that is right about at our technical limit. One issue is that we pretty much just play through stuff at rehearsal. In a two hour rehearsal, about 10 minutes is spent tuning, a 10-minute break in the middle, and sometimes we quit early, leaving maybe 90 minutes of actual rehearsal, of which only about 10 minutes is what you and I would characterize as practicing.
February 19, 2020, 9:15 PM · Where are the strengths and weaknesses of your orchestra, Paul? For instance, do you have strong wind/brass principals, but weak players in wind/brass otherwise? Do you have a strong wind section, but weak brass? Excellent first violins, but very weak second violins? Generally decent strings but less adept winds and brass?

Do people practice the music at all? If so, do they do so gradually or do they panic-practice the week before the concert? Are rehearsals productive?

Are the problems primarily in playing fast? Reading complex rhythms? No string players that can play in high positions? Etc.

I think what the group can do is very much dependent on where the strengths and weaknesses are.

Edited: February 20, 2020, 1:30 AM · My casual community orchestra had the same problem: the conductor insisted on running the full program every rehearsal, which left about 40 minutes to actually work on things, and 20-25 minutes of that time every single week would basically consist of the rest of us listening to low brass sectional. (The low brass players were both the weak links and the biggest egos in the orchestra.)

Anyway, here are some of the pieces I thought we played acceptably:

Coates, London Suite
Copland, An Outdoor Overture (this was composed for high school musicians!)
Delius, Sleigh Ride (on every holiday concert)
de Falla, Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo
Elgar, Nimrod from Enigma Variations
Faure, Pavane (get the original version in F# minor, it's actually easier than the transposed version that many casual community orchestras seem to use)
Gounod, Funeral March of a Marionette (played for a Halloween concert)
Grieg, Symphonic Dances (I don't think we played all four movements)
Herold, Zampa Overture (but we played parts of it noticeably under tempo)
Lecuona, Andalucia Suite
Sibelius, Finlandia
Sibelius, Valse Triste
Vaughan Williams, English Folk Song Suite (key signatures might be a problem, but at least it doesn't go too high)
Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on Greensleeves
Warlock, Capriol Suite

Edited: February 20, 2020, 1:29 AM · My semi-pro orchestra plays a piece or two side-by-side with our youth orchestra every year. (The youth orchestra is not a highly selective one, because it is mainly intended as a substitute for school orchestras in local schools that don't have orchestra programs.) Here's what we've done since the side-by-side performance started:

Brahms, Hungarian Dances No. 5 and 6
Elgar, Chanson de Nuit and Chanson de Matin
Grieg, In the Hall of the Mountain King
J. Strauss I, Radetzky March

Other pieces I've played in somewhat stronger casual community orchestras in the past, that I think your orchestra might be able to handle:

Brahms, Tragic Overture (maybe?)
Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 1
Elgar, Wand of Youth Suite No. 2
Glinka, Kamarinskaya
Handel, Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon
Haydn, Symphony No. 22 (I think most Haydn symphonies should be playable)
Telemann, Suite in D, TWV55:D21

Edited: February 20, 2020, 5:22 AM · I'm not sure how many pieces are available in simplified versions. Our town's youth orchestra used to do Finlandia often. Trouble is, the conductor can slow it down for kids, and then the rhythms can get very ponderous, and that put me off Sibelius for a long time.

We also did Ravel's Bolero, and the theme from Van Der Valk (British TV show from the 70s -
If you want to condemn it as a pop tune, that's fine by me.) and some Prokofiev, I forget which, and the excerpt from Swan Lake with the oboe solo. My memory may come back, but it will probably be slow.
Oh yes, Berlioz's March to the Scaffold at half speed.
And copying and pasting from Andrew: -
Brahms, Hungarian Dances No. 5 and 6
Grieg, In the Hall of the Mountain King
J. Strauss I, Radetzky March

The Thieving Magpie overture.

Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on Greensleeves.
All I'm going to end up doing now is copy stuff from above posts, so I'll stop.

Or maybe there are Gilbert and Sullivan overtures you could look at.

Hmm, the OP mentions Swan Lake and you say it's too difficult?
I don't know. Is the Vaughan William the easiest of the above?

Edited: February 21, 2020, 8:59 AM · Lydia, to answer your multi-part question in simple terms, the way our orchestra works is that the first several rehearsals are strings only. Then we bring in the winds and brass and generally they have a higher overall level of musicianship and they help us keep the tempo solid and so on.

Our principal cellist is a strong player. He and I are probably the most serious musicians in the orchestra and have had the most formal training. I would say that Schubert D Major Sonatina is the average level of the violinists. I am one of two violists.

I appreciate all the suggestions so far. We did Thieving Magpie, that took a LOT Of work though. Likewise we did Copland's Outdoor Overture and we had to bring some of the tempos down. Elgar, Chanson de Nuit and Chanson de Matin, we have done those, and they are easy. Glinka Kamarinskaya and Haydn 104 are on my list of possibilities. Sibelius Finlandia would be totally impossible. Valse Triste we did. (Our conductor is Finnish). The big challenge is to find something that's peppy and "fast" sounding without being beyond our musicianship level.

Editing to say that I have not looked at Finlandia. I assumed it would be as hard as the Karelia Suite which is very far beyond our capabilities (but that has not prevented us from butchering it in the past). Comments later in the thread have caused me to perhaps reconsider Finlandia.

February 20, 2020, 1:10 PM · You ever play any Vivaldi? Lots of that is peppy and easy.
February 20, 2020, 1:13 PM · Erik, any specific suggestions? I don't know Vivaldi's orchestral stuff at all.
February 20, 2020, 1:14 PM · Among the standard, non-simplified orchestra rep., there really isn't much that is very easy, for the low-level community orchestra. There is a very large rep. for Baroque era small string orchestra. The Haydn symphonies can have difficult first violin parts. For anything you need two oboes, two bassoons, two french horns that know how to play their instruments and are willing to play for low or no pay. In addition to the above lists, most of the concertos have easier orchestra parts, and can be done with a reduced string section. Also many opera aria selections. Soloists can be recruited from the local college faculty or pro. orchestra section players.
February 20, 2020, 1:16 PM · We can usually get 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, clarinets, horns, trumpets, trombone, percussion. One of our usual oboists is a real standout, so is our usual percussionist.
February 20, 2020, 1:26 PM · Because you have stronger winds/brass and a weaker string section, you want to look for music where the strings tend to get drowned out. Finlandia, for instance, works in many youth and community groups because the strings can easily get lost in the texture, especially when a lot of people are faking.

Even though Classical-era works seem "easier", Haydn and Mozart both sound like a mess if the string sections aren't very precise and intonation isn't good. Going back farther is a better choice; string parts will still not go into high positions. Handel's Water Music and the Music for the Royal Fireworks, in their full-orchestra versions, are common lower-level youth symphony choices and would almost certainly work fine for you. Bach's Orchestral Suites, Boyce's Symphonies, and other Baroque-era works would be very manageable.

Edited: February 20, 2020, 1:30 PM · I suggest that you do a Google search for "youth symphony repertoire" as well as "music for youth symphonies". You'll find a lot.

Here's a list to start: LINK

And also this: LINK (lots of helpful commentary on this one about what is easy or difficult)

Edited: February 21, 2020, 8:53 AM · Lydia, yes, that's where I started. But youth symphonies are often very advanced and I do not know which ones are which.

Editing: Your first link is where I started and there is a lot of stuff on there that I am familiar with that is already too hard for us. But your second link (just getting around to that on 2/21/20) looks very promising and I appreciate it.

February 20, 2020, 3:17 PM · One of the organizations my kids are in has three different full-symphony orchestra levels (plus additional non-audition groups). Here are links to repertoire, from easiest to hardest:

I was always impressed that they could get a bunch of little kids to sound as good as they did in the middle orchestra playing non-trivial rep.

February 20, 2020, 9:21 PM · This is all super helpful. One thing our orchestra does have in good supply is cash. A longtime violist remembered us in her estate.

Any experience with Haydn 38?

Edited: February 20, 2020, 10:52 PM · "The big challenge is to find something that's peppy and 'fast' sounding without being beyond our musicianship level."

There's gotta be a lot of light music by Leroy Anderson and Eric Coates that fits that description. Pops, yes, but it's not as if we're talking about school orchestra arrangements of show tunes.

Telemann wrote a bunch of orchestral suites for amateurs that aren't too difficult -- I mentioned one of them above.

Our strings probably would have done a decent job with Holst's Brook Green Suite, had it not been withdrawn from the concert program because the low brass players complained about any piece that didn't feature them.

Edited: February 21, 2020, 2:03 AM · The Ravel Pavane for a defunct infanta might be very easy.
February 21, 2020, 5:56 AM · The one a superb principal horn in a professional orchestra referred to as "Pavane for a dead horn player".
THAT very easy one?
February 21, 2020, 9:06 AM · Haven't done Haydn 38, but we just did Haydn 43, which went quite well. No major difficulties in the string parts. Some need to pay attention to articulation and proper bow distribution in the strings. E-flat is an inconvenient key, though.
Edited: February 22, 2020, 4:15 PM · When I was in my school orchestra we performed Vaughan Williams' "Concerto Grosso" (for strings) which was intended for an orchestra at that level. For example, the cello parts are divisi and one of those parts is for those who prefer to play on open strings. I was in my first year as a cellist - quite a few decades ago - so the conductor expressed his preference that I play that part.

It is available on IMSLP. Don't confuse it with his "Concerto Accademico"

February 21, 2020, 12:42 PM · Lydia I appreciate your comments about the intrinsic difficult of Haydn and Mozart "beyond the notes" but as far as our orchestra is concerned, the phrase "it is what it is" definitely applies. We really enjoy making music together even if it's not pro-quality output at the end.
Edited: February 21, 2020, 4:23 PM · If you have a competent pianist, a slow movement from a Mozart piano concerto always goes down well with an audience. Is it the C major that's the most famous? If so, the key sig is easy enough!
February 21, 2020, 5:51 PM · Gordon, neat idea. I would even relish the challenge of working up that movement myself. Unfortunately where we perform (a middle school) there is no grand piano to be brought onto stage at all. Our cellist does have a really nice Nord (digital) stage piano but that's not the same. Anyway we do not have a shortage of slower/lyrical things.
February 22, 2020, 1:16 AM · You could transcribe it from piano to cello! That would be a lot of work though.
February 22, 2020, 6:38 AM · Nice to see my old thread resurrected, there I was asking for full symphonies, in the meantime I have understood that playing a full symphony in such a way that the audience is not bored really requires a good professional orchestra. Us amateurs, with audiences consisting of friends and family, better stick to shorter pieces. But fortunately there are lots and lots of great arrangements of classics for youth orchestra. Alfred has a fantastic offering:

Grade 1Grade 2

(They also have grade 3 and 4+, but since Paul asked for really easy.)

Edited: February 22, 2020, 5:23 PM · Jean, we're not above doing individual symphony movements. That's what we did with the Schubert Tragic -- we just did the first movement I think. Works out just as well as a violinist performing a concerto-allegro as a stand-alone piece. Not perfect, but okay just the same.
Edited: February 23, 2020, 6:42 AM · Yes indeed Paul, the show must go on. As it did last year when we were performing one of the Mozart piano concertos. Just before the start of the concert there was a phone call to say that the soloist had to pull out because of illness. Our conductor then went into emergency mode for the concerto, directing the orchestra from the piano and sight-reading the solo part from the score. We didn't play the fast last movement because, as the conductor explained to the audience, he hadn't had time to practice it (appreciative laughter all round).

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