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Hire An Orchestra Guide – 2020 Prices, Advice and FAQs

Booking Guide - Orchestras

Hiring an orchestra for an event can be a daunting prospect for both newbies and experienced event planners and music bookers. This guide will take you through everything you need to know to hire an orchestra for your event—including how much an orchestra should cost!

Browse all Orchestras →

An orchestra can lend a sense of grandeur to an occasion, it can allow you to have the music you want in all its original glory, or even on a larger scale! And the variety of musical sounds provided by an orchestra, along with their combined effect, can create a phenomenal atmosphere.

Encore has a range of options for orchestras, from among the UK’s most vibrant ensembles and small orchestras for hire. With a variety of factors to consider, booking an orchestra is relatively complex—but we’re here to help.

Let’s dive into all things orchestras!


If you’re looking to hire an orchestra for an event, you can either:

  1. Compare prices and contact over 30 orchestras available in the UK
  2. Contact our specialist orchestral bookings team to discuss your needs at [email protected]

Contents:

  1. The Basics
  2. Repertoire
  3. Equipment & Setup
  4. Booking

The Basics

How big is an orchestra?

Orchestras vary in size from a small “chamber orchestras” (around 15-20 musicians) to a full “symphony orchestras” (with the complete range of instruments and more than 100 musicians).

The size of your orchestra will be determined by several factors:

  • The amount of space you have at your venue
  • The music you’d like the orchestra to play (a simple arrangement of the Wedding March, for example, could work with just strings, but an authentic rendition of music from a film would require more players)
  • The scale of the sound you want to create
  • Your budget

How much does it cost to hire an orchestra?

When looking at orchestra hire costs in the UK, it’s important to bear in mind that, alongside paying the players, there are a number of costs that orchestra managers will build into their quotes.

As a rough guideline, you should expect the following:

  • £150-£250 per hour, per person (depending on the profile of the orchestra you book)
  • £200+ per hour for the conductor
  • Up to £1000 in administrative costs to cover (e.g., the hire of sheet music, larger instruments, rehearsal venue, porterage, etc.)
  • Music arrangement fees if you would like a piece specially arranged for orchestra
  • Transport costs
  • In some cases, tech requirements (e.g., microphones and a PA system)

So for a small 15-piece chamber orchestra, you could expect a quote from £2500–£4000, whereas a full 50-piece symphony orchestra might be more in the region of £8000–£15,000.

To get exact quotes directly from our orchestras, take a look at our fantastic orchestras available to book!

Orpheus Sinfonia
Orpheus Sinfonia is regularly booked for a range of events across Europe.

What else can affect an orchestra’s quote?

The following factors will affect the price of your orchestra:

  • Time of year (peak seasons can be more expensive)
  • Size of orchestra
  • Type of performance (for example a concert as opposed to background music)
  • Repertoire required
  • Reputation and years of experience
  • Travel expenses
  • Geography

Reputation and Years of Experience

All of Encore’s orchestras are established ensembles with trained musicians. However, these range from orchestras made up of skilled music students, to long-running professional orchestras made up of career musicians at the top of their game. The latter will naturally cost more than an amateur or student orchestra.

Travel Expenses

The prices above to hire an orchestra don’t include travel expenses, so you should consider how far the orchestra will be travelling to get to your event. In most cases, if an orchestra is not local to your event, they will travel by coach, and depending on the size of the group this can become relatively expensive. You may wish to explore free quote information from transport providers online to get an idea of what to expect.

Because there is so much equipment to carry, orchestras will usually charge a porterage fee to cover delivery and setup. Some groups will quote porterage and travel separately from their own fee, while others will simply charge a lump sum.

Geography

Orchestras in London typically cost more than anywhere else in the UK, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise. There is far more demand for live music at private events, corporate events and functions in London than any other city in the country, which means musicians are able to request higher fees.

Will the time of year affect an orchestra’s quote?

As in any other industry working with events, musicians tend to vary their prices depending on the time of year and the resulting demand for entertainment. Typically busy times for orchestras include the summer (peak wedding and festival season), the late November and December holiday period, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day.

What type of event is an orchestra suited to?

Orchestras are excellent additions to a variety of event types. You can hire a symphony orchestra for a performance or concert. You can hire an orchestra for a wedding and you can hire an orchestra for a recording session.

Some typical requests for orchestra performances include:

  • Background music: light classical and often show tunes, as a sophisticated accompaniment to dinner or a drinks reception
  • Headline performance or concert: a staged performance, for which the audience or guests are usually seated and the orchestra is the focus
  • Music for a ball or dance: the orchestra provides the music for guests to dance to, ranging from traditional waltzes to pop covers

As you can imagine, a concert will require a great deal of focus and precision from the orchestra, and a ballroom performance will involve more audience interaction. This will often mean that an orchestra providing a concert or ballroom music will nearly always cost more than an orchestra providing background music.

On Encore, small orchestras like Giardino Session Orchestra and City String Ensemble are the perfect options for providing background music for any kind of event or for sessions in the recording studio.

A very special proposal performance from the Giardino Session Orchestra—one of many fantastic orchestras available to book on Encore

Repertoire

What type of music can an orchestra play?

Orchestras are extraordinarily versatile—despite their relatively traditional image, they offer a huge range from old-fashioned classical to musical theatre to pop covers and film music, and they can create almost any vibe.

Most orchestras have a library of repertoire they can draw from that will cover most requests. However, if the music was composed recently, it’s likely it will still be protected by copyright laws and hire costs may need to be included (film music can be particularly expensive). If you have a particular piece of music in mind that is not as easy to hire, you may need the orchestra to arrange the music themselves, which will usually involve an additional fee. It’s best to contact one of our fantastic orchestras to discuss exactly what you would like to be played well in advance of your event. 

Can the orchestra play my favourite song?

Of course! Ensembles will often be happy to add new pieces to their repertoire, and if they can’t find an arrangement, they will often tailor one themselves for your event. This may add an additional fee to your booking (as above) but is well worth the extra expense to hear your favourite song played by a real orchestra, especially for you.

Can the orchestra take requests on the day?

Due to the size of most orchestras, they will almost always need to know about particular pieces or songs you would like played in advance. That said, many will have a repertoire list they will provide you with so that you can specify if there is any material in particular from the list that you’d like to hear.

Orchestras will also often be able to offer some flexibility in terms of what they play if you have agreed on a theme—for example, if you have discussed show tunes as your chosen genre, they may be able to offer requests within that category.

Giardino Session Orchestra
Giardino Session Orchestra come together to perform at special events, like this proposal at Waterloo Station

Equipment & Setup

How much space does an orchestra need?

This obviously depends on the size of your orchestra. On average we suggest the following minimums:

  • 65–75 piece orchestra: 12m x 12m (or 144 sq. metres)
  • 25–30 piece orchestra: 7m x 8m (or 56–60 sq. metres)
  • 15–25 piece orchestra: 5m x 7m (or 35–50 sq. metres)

The Musicians’ Union suggests a space of around 1.5 square metres per musician as the necessary minimum for comfortable playing.

What equipment do I need to provide the orchestra?

As standard, an orchestra will require the following:

  • A chair without arms per musician
  • Ideally, for a concert performance, a conductor’s podium
  • If amplification is required, enough electrical sockets (usually one per person) to hook up all the amplification equipment

In almost all cases orchestras will provide their own music stands but again, we highly recommend talking through all the requirements with the orchestral manager before the event. With over 30 orchestras in the UK to choose from, you might find that most of the equipment required by an orchestra is the same.

What about parking and space for the orchestra at the venue?

Usually, it is necessary to provide the following:

  • A minimum of two large dressing rooms (or equivalent smaller rooms) for players to change and warm up on their instruments
  • Good access to unload instruments and equipment
  • Sufficient parking space for a coach and possibly an additional car

Do I need to provide PA system?

Most classical orchestras will not need amplification at all, as in most cases the scale of the ensemble means they are easily heard. However, if you are working with a particularly large or noisy venue, or the orchestra will be performing outdoors, this may be worth considering. Many orchestras will have microphones or pickups for their players, but not all, so these may need to be hired. Most larger venues will have a PA system the orchestra can hook up to.

Do I need to provide food for the orchestra?

Musicians will appreciate bottled water and light refreshments (sandwiches or tea/coffee/biscuits) upon arrival. Meals are always welcome, though generally not required unless your event is at dinnertime.

Can an orchestra play outside?

Yes, as long as the weather is warm enough and adequate shelter (a gazebo or marquee that completely covers the group, even if it is not raining) and, where relevant, a power source is provided. It’s important that you let the group know in advance if you would like them to play outside as this will affect their preparations.

What dress code can I expect?

This is flexible and you can specify your preferences—in general, orchestras tend to perform in all black semi-formal clothing or in black tie, but this is by no means set in stone!

How long will the orchestra play for?

This depends on what you’d like them to play and your plans for the day. For a concert performance, if it is longer than 45 minutes, in most cases an interval will be necessary. For a ballroom setting or background music, or for any other prolonged periods of playing, we recommend a short break of 10–15 minutes every 45 minutes or so. It is unusual for an orchestra to perform for more than 3 hours, with or without breaks.

How long does the orchestra’s setup and soundcheck take?

Roughly an hour to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the orchestra.

Siegried Camerata
Siegfried Camerata is an orchestra that specialises in period music

Booking an Orchestra

How far in advance should I hire an orchestra?

We advise booking as early as possible, especially if you have special musical requests. Orchestras require a great deal of organising, and high-quality ensembles book up well in advance—sometimes even years! That said, we handle last-minute bookings all the time at Encore and it’s possible we will be able to help at short notice.

How do I handle contracts and payment?

The easiest way to handle contracts and payment is to book and pay through Encore and our secure payments system, Encore Pay. Our bookings process is extremely straightforward, and once you have confirmed a booking with your chosen band, contracts and payments will be handled painlessly and effortlessly at our end. 

Browse all Orchestras →

To discuss booking an orchestra with Encore, please email [email protected] or have a look at our fantastic orchestras available to hire.

James McAulay

Encore Co-Founder & CEO. Cellist, pianist, singer and aspiring guitarist.

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