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Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, 1947 - 1955

By the end of the YSO's first year, nearly 100,000 people had heard the new orchestra in action. During that first season, 1947/48, they gave 41 concerts in Leeds Town Hall. The highest attendance achieved was 1,961, which included school parties seated on the orchestra rises. Concerts were also given at: Doncaster, Ritz Cinema; Dewsbury, Empire Theatre; Halifax, Victoria Hall; Huddersfield, Town Hall; Keighley, Municipal Hall; Hull, Queens Hall; Middlesborough, Town Hall; Wakefield, Playhouse; York, Theatre Royale and Rialto Cinema; Harrogate, Royal Hall; Rotherham, Baths Hall and Regent Theatre. The YSO certainly reached parts other orchestras, such as the Halle, had not reached. Neither was Leeds Town Hall the only city venue served: they gave a concert at Armley Baths Hall and made three appearances at the 2,540 seat Odeon Cinema on the Headrow.

Operatic Stars
One of the Odeon concerts featured Tito Gobbi, the young Italian baritone and then a rising international star. Another starred the Australian operatic soprano, Joan Hammond, whose best selling recording of Oh My Beloved Father, from Puccini's one act opera 'Gianni Schicchi', had made her a household favourite.

Festival of British Music
Under the music directorship of Maurice Miles, who conducted the lion's share of concerts during his tenure (1947-54), the orchestra played many 20th Century works, over thirty by British composers in the first season alone.1951 was Festival of Britain year and the YSO mounted a Summer's festival of British music in Leeds Town Hall. Elgar's oratorio 'The Dream of Gerontius' was conducted by Maurice Miles with soloists Marjorie Thomas, Webster Booth and Stanley Clarkson, with the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus. A second Festival programme featured Clarke's Trumpet Voluntary, Lennox Berkeley's Serenade for Strings, Vaughan Williams' Concerto for two pianos and orchestra with popular husband and wife duo, Phyllis Sellick and Cyril Smith. Elgar's Second Symphony completed the programme.

The YSO accompanied some of the region's choral societies including Leeds Philharmonic Chorus of which Sir Malcolm Sargent had been music director since 1949. Their March 1951 programme conducted by Sir Malcolm included Michael Tippett's wartime oratorio 'A Child of Our Time' (its first Leeds performance) and excerpts from Act 3 of Wagner's 'The Mastersingers of Nuremberg'.

Festive Traditions
A Festive Season tradition which developed during the YSO years was an annual performance in Leeds Town Hall of a concert version of Humperdinck's fairy tale opera of 'Hansel and Gretel'. The narrator in the January 1951 performance was actress Margaretta Scott. She later became known to much wider audiences as Mrs. Pomphrey, one of vet James Herriot's favourite customers, with her pampered Pekinese dog, Tricky Woo, in the hit Seventies BBC Television series, 'All Creatures Great and Small'.

Prestigious Engagements
The YSO was accorded the accolade of a concert in London's Royal Albert Hall and Edinburgh's Usher Hall. The YSO and Festival Chorus gave a rare performance of Arthur Honegger's oratorio King David, conducted by Maurice Miles, at the 1950 Leeds Triennial Musical Festival. At the 1953 Festival the YSO and Huddersfield Choral Society performed Frederick Delius's A Mass of Life, conducted by Sargent.

'A very sensitive instrument'
This was conductor Sir Adrian Boult's description of the YSO. Sir Malcolm Sargent, after conducting his first concert with the YSO in April 1949, told the audience they had an orchestra of which they could be proud. Sargent begged them to cherish it. Yorkshire Post Critic, Ernest Bradbury, in his review of a 1950 concert which contained the first Leeds performance of Shostakovitch's 1st symphony and probably the first Leeds hearing of any of the composer's symphonies: 'Sir Malcolm and the YSO played this music with gorgeous abandon'.

Voices of Dissent
Correspondence published in the Yorkshire Post in September 1952 following a YSO concert at Edinburgh's Usher Hall reveals that playing standards were not always of a consistently high level. 'All thinking persons agree that the municipal orchestra idea is a fine conception and essential to the cultural well being of the many towns served. When one considers, however, that upwards of 50,000 of public money is spent every year to support this orchestra and that it is far and away the most highly subsidised orchestra in the British Isles, we should expect and have from it better quality in all round interpretation and playing of great works'.

Clearly though, the YSO enjoyed fervent partisan support from some quarters. Ernest Bradbury in his somewhat ambivalent review of Schubert's 2nd Symphony, a few days after the above correspondence was published, quipped: 'Perhaps it will not be long before some of our YSO supporters turn up at concerts equipped with rosettes and rattles'.

A Change of Conductor
Maurice Miles was replaced as music director in 1954 by the much more glamorous Russian conductor, Nikolai Malko, who enjoyed great success during his all too brief tenure which came to an abrupt end when the decision was taken to disband the orchestra. Malko vowed that he would never conduct in Leeds again, and he upheld that vow.

The End Comes
The YSO's final performances, conducted by Norman Del Mar, were their customary Summer concerts nine in Leeds Town Hall during June and July 1955. The Arts Council's Yorkshire Calendar for the forthcoming 1955/56 season noted that the YSO's demise meant that 80 fewer orchestral concerts were listed. It continued: 'The disbandment had dealt a severe blow to the musical prestige of the country and left many Yorkshire towns and cities in a state of uncertainty about the prospects of orchestral concerts next season. 'Plans are being made to fill at least part of the gap: Huddersfield Corporation has arranged two concerts by the Halle and two by the Liverpool Philharmonic. In Leeds, the Corporation's newly formed music committee is completing arrangements for a season of concerts including two or three foreign orchestras, to be given in Leeds Town Hall, mainly on Saturday evenings'.

There had been a major shortcoming with the bold YSO experiment: namely, the allocation of the bulk of the concerts to Maurice Miles, a competent musician but an uncharismatic figure to have been at the helm for so long. Guest conductors were a rarity at the YSO: Sargent, who was by that time a senior international conductor and a high profile public figure because of his chief conductorship of the Henry Wood Promenade concerts since 1947, was the exception who guest conducted the YSO on numerous occasions.

Both Boult and Sir Thomas Beecham conducted one concert as did Eduard Van Beinum, the revered conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. But there should have been many more guest conductors to impart not only different styles of playing but those crucial ingredients variety, excitement and glamour. This might have also made the orchestra more attractive to Sheffield and Bradford, both cities stayed with Barbirolli's Halle Orchestra. They never supported the YSO project and the orchestra did not give a single concert in Sheffield.
Click images to enlarge
Review in orchestra's first year
Review in orchestra's first year
First programme
First programme
Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra
Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra
Concerts in various towns and cities
Concerts in various towns and cities
Programme, 1948
Programme, 1948
Triennial Festival programme, 1953
Triennial Festival programme, 1953
Encore - Journal of the Supporters Clubs
Encore - Journal of the Supporters Clubs
Yorkshire Post headline, 24th February 1955
Yorkshire Post headline, 24th February 1955
Defenders of the YSO
Defenders of the YSO
Final Performance for the YSO
Final Performance for the YSO




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003