Over a century of music and still going strong The Liestal Orchestra is over a century old

The Basel region has a lively classical music community and one of its most enthusiastic participants is the Liestal Orchestra.

The Liestal Symphony Orchestra, which is known to its members as OLi, has a proud and long history. As recently accessed historical documents reveal, the survival and eventual expansion of the orchestra has been the result of dedicated work behind the scenes from its various presidents and committees. Much of this information has come from the Staatsarchiv Baselland (Baselland state archives) which now holds the orchestra's historical papers.


The Liestal Orchestra was originally founded in 1873 by 19 friends. Despite getting off to a promising start, in 1885, the orchestra's progress was halted due to internal administrative wrangles – although some of the members carried on playing in smaller groups thereby keeping its core spirit alive. In 1896, the internal problems had been sufficiently resolved for the orchestra to reform, but the available resources had dwindled drastically. At this point the orchestra's stored musical equipment consisted of "a double bass, 4 clarinets, 3 horns and a viola". Apparently, the double bass had "no strings" and the horns and clarinets were described as being "unfit for use and completely useless." Fortunately, over the years, the Liestal Orchestra has been able to build up a wider range of instruments to choose from than its founders!

In 1906 violinist Julie Köchlin, who had been a founding member of the orchestra, took over the orchestra presidency. At around the same time, Karl Lüdin joined as conductor and both participated until 1919. At a time when Europe was going through dramatic political and social changes, they were commended for helping make this "extremely difficult time a happy one." The next 29 years were marked by Walter Sterk (1920 - 1949), whose period in charge is noted for putting the orchestra financially back on track as there had been a worrying drop in membership. The musical programmes of the orchestra diversified during this period, which even extended to playing music in hospitals and in nursing homes. The orchestra's talents were widely recognised, with one music critic remarking that, "a concert under Walter Sterk is a social and artistic event of the first order". In 1949, Peter Zeugin, who was a young pianist with little conducting experience at the time, took over. Adapting rapidly to his new position, the orchestra prospered and won over new audiences. It proved to be a defining period, as the organisational set up of the orchestra has remained largely unchanged ever since. A music critic at the time described the orchestra as having "left the former amateurish spelling far behind".


Based on this solid foundation the symphony orchestra has continued to thrive. Since 2003, Yaira Yonne has been the musical director of the Liestal Orchestra – the first time that a woman has held this position in the orchestra's history. The orchestra has benefitted from her wide-ranging talents – from composing music through to playing steel drums!

Today there are around 50 active members in the orchestra, extending across the cantons of Basel, Basel-Land, Solothurn, Aargau and Bern. Throughout its history, the orchestra has welcomed new members. Its friendly philosophy is illustrated by the fact that the age range of the members extends from 15 years old to 70 years old. All members are encouraged to contribute their skills to the group and help the orchestra expand. As well as contributing their musical expertise, the team members also help out in other areas such as developing and maintaining the website, creating brochures and promotional material and a range of administrative projects to support the orchestra's busy concert schedule.

Each year, the programmes are carefully selected by the conductor and the music committee, which balance the programmes between the classical and modern styles. As well as playing famous, popular pieces, the orchestra also like to try out less well known compositions. Some of these are barely known beyond specialist audiences. In addition the orchestra sometimes commissions musical works which they then premier. Each year, the orchestra concentrates on developing two musical programmes. Besides weekly rehearsals, the members get together during the busy weekend in the run-up to major concerts. These are also a fun, social highlight for the members. The last weekend meeting took place in the Walensee region.


At the moment the organising committee is working intensively on its long term strategy for the orchestra. As part of this work, the orchestra committee is looking for people or organisations interested in supporting their work through sponsorship. The orchestra intends to continue running its special programmes such as the Tango programme featuring a professional Tango-Trio and dancers, as it did in 2011, or projects with the Cantabile Choir Pratteln, which were run in 2012. Although these programmes were well received they were costly and so support from sponsors was much appreciated.

For further information about das Orchester Liestal please visit: www.orchesterliestal.ch

Author: Faiz Kermani

Originally from the UK, I live in Alsace but work in Basel in the pharmaceutical sector. I'm also on the Basel committee of the British-Swiss Chamber of Commerce. Outside the day job I have many interests. I'm part of the PR team for Centrepoint (www.centrepoint.ch) and am President of the Global Health Education Foundation (www.globalhef.org), a US-based not-for-profit healthcare charity which aims to improve healthcare in developing countries. For fun I also write children's books and have won a few awards (www.faizkermani.com)

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