In 1902 Herbert Fricker, Leeds City Organist, inaugurated a series of 'Saturday Evening Free concerts' in which several local organisations, choral and orchestral were invited to assist. 850 seats were reserved at prices of 1/-, 6d and 3d. In 1903/4 the title was changed to Leeds Municipal Concerts and the 50 strong Leeds Municipal Orchestra was formed, chiefly of professional players with Fricker as principal conductor. Thus began fifty two years of Leeds based professional orchestras. By 1905 the Orchestra was formed entirely of professional players and their names are listed in the concert programmes. Mr. Edward Elliot was the principal violin.
Leeds Symphony Orchestra
This continued in 1908 when the orchestra became a limited company entitled the Leeds Symphony Orchestra. In 1912 Mr. Elliot retired from the leadership of the orchestra and Mr. Alex Cohen was appointed principal violin. Fricker stayed as conductor until 1917 when he left Leeds to take up the conductorship of the famous Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. Conductors following Fricker include Julian Clifford, Sir Hamilton Harty and Eugene Goosens. Four years later in 1921 Alex Cohen retired from the orchestra and Mr. Edward Maude was appointed principal violin. Between 1925-1933 Julius Harrison was principal conductor of the orchestra, which, from 1930, was given a guarantee against loss by Leeds Corporation. A further change came in 1933 when John Barbirolli became principal conductor (an appointment he fitted in with his conductorship of the Scottish Orchestra). Barbirolli was credited with reviving the orchestra's fortunes and its parlous finances.
A change of name
In 1935 Leeds Symphony Orchestra changed its name to the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra and increased its concert commitments around Yorkshire. Barbirolli left two years later to succeed Toscanini as conductor of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. In the 1937/8 season the Northern Philharmonic concerts in Leeds Town Hall were conducted by Malcolm Sargent, Heinz Unger, Albert Coates, Eugene Goossens and Leslie Hewerd. The orchestra arranged 8 concerts for the upcoming Town Hall season. The last concert before the outbreak of World War II took place in April 1939 conducted by Malcolm Sargent.
Saturday afternoon concerts
In 1940 the Northern Philharmonic Town Hall concerts resumed but on a Saturday afternoons instead of evenings due to wartime blackout conditions. Initially, precautions for increased public safety included the closure of the gallery, the audience being restricted to the stalls area. By 1945 when Peace had broken out there was a huge public appetite for live music which had been fuelled by the War. Leeds and some neighbouring authorities considered the feasibility of a permanent professional symphony orchestra estimated to cost £50,000 per annum.
YSO is born
In 1947 the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra was born with respected conductor Maurice Miles as its music director. The inaugural season of 120 concerts included 60 in Leeds. Over thirty 20th Century British works were featured in the season. Crucially though, Sheffield and Bradford Corporations, loyal to the Manchester based Halle, declined to support the ambitious project and the 70-strong orchestra was killed off in 1955.
The Northern Philharmonic, displaced from its regular Town Hall dates by the YSO, continued to give four concerts annually in Leeds under the auspices of the West Riding Opera Circle. It also accompanied amateur choral performances elsewhere – such as Bradford Festival Choral Society but was finally disbanded in the early 1950s.
Orchestra of Opera North
Happily though, Leeds once again has its own full time professional orchestra – the Orchestra of Opera North, founded in 1978 as the English Northern Philharmonia. In addition to giving around 130 opera performances annually at the Grand Theatre and on tour, it has an independent life as a symphony orchestra giving some 30 concerts each season in Leeds and throughout the region.
The Orchestra is a cornerstone of the Leeds International Concert Season giving up to 6 concerts annually as well as being the "resident band" for the Leeds Conductors Competition.
Since the autumn of 2003, the Orchestra has been responsible for the management and given the bulk of the concerts in Huddersfield and Dewsbury Town Halls, in collaboration with Kirklees Cultural Services.
A strong commitment to educational and community projects is a feature of the work of the musicians, collectively and also in collaboration with Opera North Education. Many of the musicians are outstanding teachers with several holding professorships at the Royal Northern College of Music and at northern universities.
There are a number of fine chamber ensembles within the Orchestra. They include Arcturus, The Cafe Band, CSQ, Mirage, Music Serenade and Yorkshire Classic Brass. All of these give regular concerts throughout our region and beyond. The Orchestra has toured abroad both with the opera company and in its independent role as a symphony orchestra. Recent European engagements have included Monaco Dance Forum and Ravenna Festival, as well as contemporary music festivals in Vienna and Strasbourg.
Successive music directors of Opera North have combined the role with that of principal conductor of the Orchestra. David Lloyd Jones (1978-90) was succeeded by Paul Daniel (1990-97) Elgar Howarth (principal guest conductor 1985-89 and music advisor 1996-99) Steven Sloane (1999-2002) and from 2004, Richard Farnes.
A roster of distinguished guest conductors has included Mark Elder, Dietfried Bernet, Oliver von Dohnanyi, Wyn Davies, Alexander Polianichko, Howard Shelley and Andras Ligeti. Leeds Conductors Competition winners Grant Llewellyn, Martyn Brabbins, Philip Ellis, Brad Cohen and Garry Walker have worked extensively with the Orchestra in both concert hall and opera house.
|Click images to enlarge|
Lord Mayor's letter, 1899
Fourth Municipal Concert, 1904
Leeds Symphony Orchestra, Saturday Concerts, 1927-8
Leeds Symphony Orchestra, Saturday Concerts, 1927-8, programme
Northern Philharmonic Orchestra with Barbirolli conducting and pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch
Festival of Britain programme, 1951
English Northern Philharmonia programme, 1986/87
David Greed, 2006
Full orchestra, 2006