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Biography

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was a real orchestra founded by a group of students at Portsmouth School of Art in Portsmouth, England, in 1970—however, the Sinfonia had an unusual entrance requirement. Players had to be either non-musicians, or if a musician, play an instrument that was entirely new to them. Among the founding members was one of their teachers, English composer Gavin Bryars. The orchestra started as a one-off, tongue-in-cheek performance art ensemble but became a cultural phenomenon over the following ten years, with concerts, record albums, a film and a hit single. The impact of the Portsmouth Sinfonia was considerable, and though the ensemble has not performed publicly in the UK since 1979, the name and reputation has endured.

Many modern composers and musicians found this to be interesting and even profound; the comedic aspects of the music were merely a bonus, though it was used extensively for marketing purposes. Brian Eno was interested enough to join the orchestra, playing clarinet, and subsequently producing their first two albums.

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