AN era came to an end at Kingsland School on the evening of Saturday November 17, when Peebles Orchestra gave its Autumn Concert.

The orchestra, founded in 1976 and now a much loved and admired cultural institution in the town, said farewell to its founder and guiding spirit over the intervening 42 years, Claire Garnett, MBE, who had announced that this would be her final concert.

Speaking before the second half of the concert, Chris Dubé, the orchestra’s chairman, paid tribute to Claire’s unfailing energy, enthusiasm and commitment over all those years, attributes she brought to bear on all her musical endeavours including Peebles Youth Orchestra, Serenata and Peebles Players.

As ever, though, it was music rather than words that provided the most powerful testimony to Claire’s achievements, as the orchestra gave superb performances of four widely contrasting works spanning over 280 years.

Tony Kime, making a very welcome return to the orchestra which he led for several years, took on the role of conductor, though didn’t exchange violin for baton right away as he first appeared as soloist/director in a Double Violin Concerto by Vivaldi, alongside the orchestra’s current leader, Claire Taylor. These two fine violinists clearly enjoyed sharing the spotlight and revelled in Vivaldi’s brilliant solo writing, whilst the orchestra provided admirably polished accompaniment, even without the conductor’s baton to follow.

Fast forward from 1711 to 1994, travel from Venice to Mexico, and you find yourself transported to the world of the danzón, which is to Cuba and Mexico what tango is to Argentina. In Danzón No.2 by Arturo Márquez, the orchestra crossed the divide in time and space with ease, led by a beautifully played clarinet theme before erupting into the passionate rhythms associated with Latin America.

The orchestra has made a point of unearthing little-known composers and music and also of showcasing local young musicians. In this concert, they combined the two in a performance of the Flute Concertino by Cécile Chaminade in which the soloist was Kim Archibald. It proved to be a delightful piece with a graceful, lyrical opening, a lively and colourful central section, a technically demanding cadenza and an exciting ending. The young soloist, a former pupil of Peebles High School who is now continuing her studies at the specialist St. Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, played beautifully, with a lovely tone and lashings of virtuosity. Another top-class musician right here in Peebles!

The programme concluded with a real tour de force in the form of Borodin’s Second Symphony, a work that combines solemn Slavic foreboding, haunting beauty and rhythmic exuberance. The contrasting moods were superbly realised by all sections of the orchestra, with particular mention due to the deftly executed rapid-fire notes from the horns, taken up by the trumpets, in the Scherzo and the lovingly-played horn solo, with harp accompaniment, in the Andante. The magnificent dark sound from the four double basses ranged across the right hand side of the orchestra further intensified the impact of this dramatic work.

Regular followers of the orchestra over the years will confirm that it has gone from strength to strength and is now regularly playing a wide range of challenging major works to an extremely high standard, as this concert demonstrated.

There could be no better send off for Claire Garnett, who for future concerts can take a well-deserved seat in the audience, relax and enjoy the glorious music-making she has done so much to nurture.

John Fox