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Amateur Operatic, Orchestral and Choral Societies

Musical institutions proliferated in 19th Century Leeds as the Industrial Revolution fuelled a rapid increase in the population of the Borough. Many musical societies had religious roots, emanating from the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church and the burgeoning number of non-conformist chapels. Members of choirs from church and chapel congregations formed the foundations of the choral societies in industrial Leeds and other West Riding towns and cities.

Leeds Madrigal and Motet Society
Was formed in 1850 with Dr William Spark as its conductor. By 1860, the 150-strong choir had performed many of the standard choral works - some of them for the first time in Leeds.  Following the Leeds Musical Festival, staged to open the new Town Hall in 1858 - and for which auspicious occasion the Leeds Festival Choral Society had been formed - the committee of the Madrigal and Motet Society felt that Leeds would be best served by one united choral society.  Accordingly, a resolution for the amalgamation of the two societies was drawn up and adopted at a general meeting of the members of the Madrigal and Motet Society in St George's School Room, on 30th August 1860.  The Festival Choral Society initially declined the offer of amalgamation and the two societies did not unite until 1864.

Leeds Festival Chorus
The amalgamated choirs eventually became the Leeds (Triennial) Festival Chorus.  The renowned 300-strong chorus was auditioned for each Triennial Festival and members were attracted from thriving choral societies in all parts of the West Riding - especially Leeds Philharmonic and Huddersfield Choral Societies.  In 1976 the Chorus became independent of the Triennial Festivals and was re-formed as a leaner, more flexible body of 120 singers. Since then, the Festival Chorus (now with a permanent strength of 170 singers) has continued to promoted concerts independently, as well in partnership with Leeds International Concert Season.  The Festival Chorus broadcasts frequently on BBC Radio 3 and performs at such prestigious venues as London's Royal Albert Hall (BBC Proms) and Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. They have a long tradition of commissioning and championing new music. Festival commissions or premičres include Belshazzar’s Feast (Walton), Choral Symphony (Holst), The Fall of Jerusalem (Muldowney) and works by Dvorák and Elgar. Their extensive discography includes a classic 1937 Triennial Festival performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, and Handel's oratorios Israel in Egypt (1970) and Saul (1972) with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Charles Mackerras.  

Orchestras the Chorus works with include the English Chamber Orchestra, The Hallé, BBC Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, and Northern Sinfonia. Simon Wright, the Conductor and Artistic Adviser, has earned considerable respect and acclaim for his interpretations of
wide-ranging and challenging orchestral and choral repertoire.

Leeds Philharmonic Society
This was founded in 1870 by T. Dobbs. The 300 strong chorus was first conducted by James Broughton and then by his brother Alfred. In 1896 Adolph Beyschlag was appointed conductor. Charles Villiers Stanford who conducted the Society for 11 years during which time performances were also given in London and Paris succeeded him. The music directorship of 'The Phil', as it is affectionately known, has continued to attract some of the most distinguished musicians of the day including Sir Edward Bairstow, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Meredith Davies, Sir Charles Mackerras, Sir Charles Groves and Richard Hickox.
In recent years the choir has taken part in the first Leeds performance of Mahler's 8th Symphony the so called 'Symphony of a Thousand', Schoenberg's 'Gurrelider' and Franz Schmidt's 'The Book of the Seven Seals'.

Leeds Choral Society
Was founded in 1902 by H.Matthias Turton. He was succeeded as principal conductor in 1926 by Herbert Bardgett and the name was changed to the New Leeds Choral Society.  Bach's Christmas Oratorio was performed annually for many years (as an alternative to the seasonal performance of Handel's Messiah given by other societies). The Choir sustained a high standard of performance until the outbreak of war in 1939 forced it to disband.  Activities were resumed in 1944 under George Jefferson. The choir was re-constituted in 1946 with Norman Stafford as principal conductor and reverted to its original name - Leeds Choral Society.

Leeds Choral Union
This distinguished choir was founded in 1886 by Alfred Benton, organist of Leeds Parish Church, with the financial backing of H.C Embleton - a wealthy amateur and friend of Edward Elgar. The Choral Union toured widely in England, France and Germany in addition to its regular Leeds concerts.  Embleton's generous funding even extended to paying for the London Symphony Orchestra to accompany some of the Choral Union's concerts in Paris.  Sir Henry Coward, recognised as the finest choral director of the day, was principal conductor from 1905-31.  He was succeeded by Norman Stafford, but the deteriorating financial position of the organisation following Embleton's death in 1930 eventually forced it to disband before the outbreak of war in 1939.

The Leeds Symphony Society
Founded in 1890 as a successor to the Amateur Orchestral society. The orchestra gave many of their early concerts in the Albert Hall, Cookridge Street (now the Civic Theatre) and the Church Institute in Albion Place.  Conductors have included St Anne's Cathedral organist Arthur Grimshaw from 1896-1911 and from 1920-1948 Harold Mason, under whose leadership the orchestra became a major musical force in Leeds. It remained active during the Second World War and among the guest soloists in that period was Fanny Waterman. In 1970 the society changed its name to the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and Martin Binks was appointed conductor. He was already artistic director of West Riding Opera for which society the orchestra provided the accompaniment. In addition to their Leeds concerts, the 90 strong orchestra is frequently invited to play in other Yorkshire towns.

The Edward Maude String Orchestra
It was formed in 1917 for wartime concerts and continued until 1948 under the baton of Edward Maude, the leader of the Northern Philharmonic. The orchestra comprised 30 amateur players who rehearsed weekly. Their many concerts in and around Leeds included the Leeds Corporation Tercentenary Concert in 1926 and oratorio performances in Leeds Parish Church for over 30 years.  They accompanied Lloyd Hartley's piano pupils at the Church Institute and University and took part in broadcasts from the BBC Leeds studios. The orchestra accumulated a catalogue of 158 sets of parts and scores of works for string orchestra. Mr Edward Maude generously donated this collection to the Music Section of Leeds City Library in 1961.

XXV String Orchestra
Originally 25 players who gave recitals at churches in and around Leeds from 1930-1950 under conductor J.Chalmers Park.

Leeds Music Club
The Yorkshire Evening News published the following item on 19th July 1932:
"The Leeds Music Club is the title of a new musical organisation inaugurated at a meeting in the Leeds Institute. The idea of the club originated with Mr G Marston Haddock and Mr Victor Helliwell of the Leeds College of Music, Mr Edward Maude, leader of the Leeds Symphony Orchestra; Mr H Percy Richardson, Town Hall organist and Mr Alec Ashworth. The aims of the new Music Club are to secure performances of music by and among its members who will themselves form the audience.  Performances of works by as many members as possible will be the chief aim, and with that in view membership will be confined to people who can sing or play, with a few possible exceptions sanctioned by the committee. It is hoped by this means to discover new talent, and for this purpose music students are especially welcomed as members."  

Leeds Music Club still flourishes today and about 15 meetings take place annually. These used to be in Ramsden's Music Shop, Park Row (long since demolished) and the Church Institute, Albion Place.  More recently, the Lecture Theatre of the City Art Gallery has been used.

Leeds University Union Music Society (LUUMS)
"It is hoped, of course, that the University (Union) Music Society will claim the enthusiastic services of all instrumentalists and music lovers.  The Orchestra has unlimited vacancies and the chorus has a speculative ear for Freshers with a tenor voice.  All newcomers of whatever musical aspiration are earnestly solicited to cross the Secretary's palm with the membership fee of 2/6, and to do their utmost to preserve and increase the influence of this long-established society."

Source: University of Leeds Union News, October 6th, 1947

In addition to the extensive concerts programme run by the University's School of Music, today’s Union Music Society promotes around 14 concerts annually; these are given by its own constituent ensembles.  The objective is to provide all students (not just those in the School of Music) with opportunities to carry on musical activity when they enter the University - regardless of skill level or experience. The eight ensembles making up LUUMS include brass band, chamber orchestra, chamber ensemble, symphony orchestra, sinfonia and chorus.

Leeds Guild of Singers
This highly regarded chamber choir of 25 singers was originally formed in 1948 by Dr Melville Cook, then Master of the Music at Leeds Parish Church, to present authentic performances of the music of J.S Bach.  The choir celebrated their Golden Jubilee in 1998 with the premiere of Songs from Mount Grace, a commission from Leeds composer Philip Wilby.   Leeds Guild of Singers  give ten concerts each year, singing mostly unaccompanied music in venues across Yorkshire and further afield.  Concerts are occasionally presented in collaboration with the West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra.  Graham Coatman has been the choir's principal conductor since 1999.  

Amati Chamber Orchestra
Local concerts during the 1950s and 60s under conductor Bernard Armour.

Alwoodley Sinfonia
Originally known as the Alwoodley Chamber Orchestra, this orchestra has been in existence since the the 1950s.  The ensemble expanded in 1993 when Leeds Arts Orchestra disbanded and a number of the players joined the Alwoodley Sinfonia.  Concert repertoire has included popular classics such as Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, Schumann's Piano Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, Butterworth's On Banks of Green Willow and in 2005, a performance of Handel's Messiah at St Edmund's Church, Roundhay. The Alwoodley Sinfonia gives regular concerts in St Chad's Far Headingley and St Edmund's, amongst other venues in North and East Leeds. Barbara Bancroft is the current conductor and her predecessors have included Tom Newall, Howard Wyborn and Bryan Cobley.

West Riding Opera
The society has collaborated in professional operatic concert performances and also promoted concerts by the Northern Philharmonic Orchestra until the latter's disbandment in the early 1950s.
West Riding Opera has been producing fully staged operas at the Civic Theatre since 1954. The first, Smetana's 'The Bartered Bride', was conducted by W. Lles Pulford and produced by Anthony Besch. In 1956, a triple bill comprising Menottis's 'The Telephone', Schubert's 'The Conspirators' and Bizet's 'Doctor Miracle' was produced. Other rarities, some of which have been given their first Northern performances by WRO include: Quilter's 'Love at the Inn', Vaughan William's 'Hugh the Drover', Lalo's 'Le Roi d'Ys', Bellini's 'Il Pirata', Marschner's 'The Vampire', Berlioz' 'Beatrice and Benedict', Lortzing's 'The Poacher', Delibes' 'Lakme' and Gounod's 'Mireille'. Martin Binks has been conductor and artistic director of the society since 1969.

Leeds Youth Opera
Introduces to young people aged from 12 to 25 the unique experience of performing in a fully staged opera. Far from being content with the standard repertoire, LYO has earned a reputation for adventurous production style and daring choice of repertoire. Productions, which are staged at the Civic Theatre, have included Britten's 'Peter Grimes', Verdi's 'A Masked Ball', Puccini's 'Turandot', Philip Glass's 'Satyagraha' and Sondheim's 'Merrily We Roll Along'.

City of Leeds Youth Orchestra
The orchestra numbers over 80 playing members aged between fourteen and nineteen. It is part of City of Leeds Youth Music which is supported by Education Leeds through the Leeds Music Support Service. Widely recognised as one of the finest ensembles of its kind, the CLYO has performed in many concert halls and cathedrals in this country. International tours have taken the orchestra to the USA, Austria, Germany, Catalonia, Tuscany and Paris. The CLYO has also given annual Town Hall concerts as part of the Leeds International Concert Season as well as playing for Leeds Youth Opera's Civic Theatre productions. Past conductors have included Bernard Armour and Colin Brackley Jones. Paul Mountain is the current artistic director.

Sinfonia of Leeds
The orchestra was originally formed in 1972 by Graham Bennett, one time proprietor of a highly regarded classical record shop in Leeds. In 1991 David Greed, leader of the Orchestra of Opera North, became the Sinfonia's musical director. In recent seasons the move towards large scale works has seen performances of Elgar's Second, Bruckner's Eight and Shostakovitch's Seventh symphonies.

West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra
This Leeds-based orchestra was founded in 2003 and gives concerts in churches and community venues, mainly in north Leeds, but occasionally further afield. WYSO began its 2007 season in Wakefield Cathedral with a programme conducted by Catherine Parsonage and including Ravel's Mother Goose Suite and Bizet's Symphony in C.  The orchestra regularly collaborates with Leeds Guild of Singers and their June 2007 concert, in St Edmund's Church Roundhay, features Dvorak's Te Deum and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances.   Randall Whittaker is the WYSO's founder conductor.

Yorkshire Late Starters Strings (YLSS) is a string orchestra for adult learners (or returners) playing a stringed instrument. Started in Spetember 2000, the emphasis is on friendly, stress-free, non-competitive playing, with tuition offered by some of the finest professional musicians in the region.

The music played is specifically chosen with beginners in mind. The group covers a wide range from classical to contemporary composers, sometimes even a little film music to keep things fun! There is no minimum standard for joining the orchestra, and the ethos is very much “have a go” to join in and play along where you can.

YLSS meets every Saturday morning during term-time from 10am to 12.30pm at:
West Park Centre, Spen Lane, Leeds LS16 5BE

The Massed Voices of Inspiration
300 local voices make up this Leeds-based community choir whose inspiration might be said to be their musical director, Gary Griffiths. Griffiths founded Inspiration in 2008 with the simple ethos that everyone can sing. In the spirit of this ethos, no one has to audition for membership of the choir. Repertoire is chosen from the musical theatre, light classical, rock or pop, and the soloists are selected from the ranks of the choir. All the music is arranged for Inspiration's massed voices and the Orchestra of Opera North. Inspiration collaborates with the Orchestra of Opera North for at least two annual sell-out concerts in Leeds Town Hall.







Associated Links
Sinfonia of Leeds

Leeds Symphony Orchestra

Leeds Youth Opera

West Riding Opera

Leeds Festival Chorus

Leeds Philharmonic Society

West Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra

Alwoodley Sinfonia

Leeds Guild of Singers

Yorkshire Late Starters Strings

Leeds Music Club

Click images to enlarge
Madrigal and Motet Society programme, 1851
Madrigal and Motet Society programme, 1851
Leeds Festival Chorus in concert in Leeds Town Hall
Leeds Festival Chorus in concert in Leeds Town Hall
Simon Wright, Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Leeds Festival Chorus
Simon Wright, Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Leeds Festival Chorus
Leeds Philharmonic Society programme, 1930
Leeds Philharmonic Society programme, 1930
Leeds Choral Union, 1899
Leeds Choral Union, 1899
Henry Coward, conductor, Leeds Choral Union
Henry Coward, conductor, Leeds Choral Union
Leeds Symphony Society concert, 1904
Leeds Symphony Society concert, 1904
Leeds Symphony Orchestra and Leeds Philharmonic Society, 1930
Leeds Symphony Orchestra and Leeds Philharmonic Society, 1930
Edward Maude String Orchestra
Edward Maude String Orchestra
West Riding Opera, Oberon, 1984
West Riding Opera, Oberon, 1984
West Riding Opera, Ernani, 1987
West Riding Opera, Ernani, 1987
West Riding Opera, Le Roy d'Ys, 1996
West Riding Opera, Le Roy d'Ys, 1996
West Riding Opera, Le Roi d'Ys, 1996
West Riding Opera, Le Roi d'Ys, 1996
West Riding Opera, Mary Stuart, 1997
West Riding Opera, Mary Stuart, 1997
Leeds Youth Opera, programme
Leeds Youth Opera, programme
Inspiration
Inspiration
LUUMS Leeds University Union Musical Society March 2010
LUUMS Leeds University Union Musical Society March 2010
LUUMS Leeds University Union Musical Society March 2010
LUUMS Leeds University Union Musical Society March 2010
Inspiration & Orchestra of North July 2012
Inspiration & Orchestra of North July 2012
Leeds Festival Chorus March 2010
Leeds Festival Chorus March 2010




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