Following the demise of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra the City became dependent on imported orchestras for its musical provision. The 1955/56 and succeeding seasons of visiting orchestras from London, the regions, Europe and North America, funded and promoted by the City Council, broadly established the pattern which exists today.
The City Council's Music and Civic Theatre Committee was allocated a budget of £15,000 for the promotion of its first season of orchestral concerts and recitals. This was less than a third of the budget to maintain the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra for a year. The first season was opened by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Pritchard.
Orchestras from London, Vienna and Stuttgart
Glamorous foreign visitors during that first season of 10 concerts included the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Andre Cluytens and the first provincial appearance of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra conducted by Karl Munchinger. Home teams included the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves, which featured an all Sibelius programme to mark the composer's 90th birthday. The first of many appearances by the four London Orchestras occurred in January 1956 with a concert by the Philharmonia conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent and including more Sibelius his Symphony No. 1.
Monteux, Ancerel and Van Beinum
The 1956/57 season, expanded to 15 concerts, was opened by the celebrated Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by 81 year old maestro Pierre Monteux. Their programme included a work by contemporary American composer Paul Creston: his 2nd Symphony as well as Rossini's Semiramide Overture, Brahms' 3rd Symphony and a suite from Richard Strauss's opera 'Der Rosenkavalier'. Two more famous foreign orchestras under their respective chief conductors gilded the season. The Czech Philharmonic conducted by Karol Ancerel and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw under the renowned Eduard van Beinum. The Concertgebouw making the first of several Leeds appearances performing symphonies by Anton Bruckner: on this occasion No.7 in E.
Vaughan Williams and 'Glorious John'
Famous British orchestras included the Royal Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham and the London Philharmonic conducted by Anitole Fistoulari. Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle introduced Leeds audiences to Ralph Vaughan Williams' recently composed Eighth Symphony. The score bore the following dedication to Barbirolli : 'For Glorious John with love and admiration from Ralph'.
Though there were fewer than half the number of concerts than in the YSO years, the variety of glamorous foreign ensembles, regular appearances by the London orchestras, their distinguished chief conductors and star soloists proved to be highly popular with the Leeds audiences. The Music and Civic Theatre Committee became progressively bolder in their programming of music by living composers and unfamiliar works from the 19th and early 20th Century including the massive symphonies of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner.
In 1958 prolific German composer Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) conducted the Halle in a programme of Bach, Beethoven and two of his own works: the 'Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber' and the Ballet Suite, Nobilssima Visione. Barbirolli and the Halle included Bruckner's 4th Symphony in their May 1958 programme. Another famous orchestra from across the Atlantic graced the Town Hall stage: the Philadelphia Orchestra under the legendary Eugene Ormandy, playing more music by Paul Creston his Chant for 1942. The other pieces in the Philadelphia's delectable programme were Haydn's Symphony No. 68, Respighi's exotic symphonic poem, 'The Pines of Rome' and Prokofiev's mighty 5th Symphony.
Mahler and Bruckner Symphonies
The first of a series of Mahler symphonies began in 1958 with Jascha Horenstein and the London Symphony Orchestra playing No.5. Barbirolli with the Halle Orchestra and Choir followed a year later with No.2 the Resurrection Symphony. The Concertgebouw returned, not with Mahler's 7th Symphony conducted by van Beinum as originally advertised, but with Bruckner's monumental 8th Symphony conducted by Eugen Jochum. This change was due to the tragically early death of Eduard van Beinum just 3 weeks before his Leeds concert. The Bruckner 8 was played by another celebrated orchestra from Central Europe in May 1964: the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik.
The Warsaw Philharmonic's January 1960 concert included Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.1 (Soloist Wanda Wilkomirska) and the first Leeds performance of Shostakovitch's 5th Symphony. The City had to wait until 1960 for Mahler's 7th Symphony (paired with Mozart's Symphony No.29) in a performance by Barbirolli and the Halle. Due to the length of the concert the interval was restricted to just 10 minutes. Yorkshire Post Music Critic Ernest Bradbury in his programme notes for the concert wrote: 'In recent years, Leeds audiences have done well in the cause of Mahler and Bruckner and it is highly likely that the majority of listeners tonight are by now well acquainted with the general structure and particular Lokalton of a Mahler symphony'.
Hindemith returned to Leeds Town Hall in February 1961 to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in his Concert Music for Brass and Strings, his clarinet concerto and Bruckner's 3rd Symphony. The Liepzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Franz Konwitschny made the first of a number of eagerly awaited Leeds visits. Their 1960 programme included Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture and Max Reger's Hiller Variations. Other contemporary music included: Walton's Symphony No.2 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Maurice Miles), Malcolm Arnold's Sinfonietta (English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard), Arnold's Symphony No.2 (Bournemouth Symphony/Charles Groves), Katchaturyan's Symphony No.2 (Halle/Herman Lindars). Sir Adrian Boult conducted the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony.
Stravinsky's 80th Birthday
Mahler's 'Das Lied von der Erde' 'The Song of the Earth' received its first Leeds performance in February 1962. The distinguished participants were contralto Nan Merriman, tenor Fritz Uhl and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Kletski. Sir John Barbirolli conducted the Halle Orchestra and Choir in a complete performance of Ravel's sumptuous Ballet score, 'Daphnis and Chloe'. Stravinsky's 80th birthday was marked by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antal Dorati in a concert of his music: the Symphony in C, Violin Concerto (Soloist Ivry Gitlis) and the ballet, 'Petrouscha'.
Classical 'pops' were also occasionally programmed notably by the BBC Concert Orchestra an annual visitor in those days. The orchestra's 1960 concert conducted by Vilem Tausky was an evening of opera and ballet 'pops' with singers Helen Watts and Era Harrison with the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus.
Barbirolli goes to Seacroft
In a rare out of town excursion for the concerts, the splendid Assembly Hall of Foxwood School, Seacroft, was the setting for one of Barbirolli's famous Viennese evenings of waltzes and polkas of the Strauss family, in which Sir John conducted a section of the Halle orchestra. Yorkshire Post Critic Ernest Bradbury described the venue as 'a kind of miniature Royal Festival Hall'.
The Rite of Spring
Returning to heavier fare, the South Poland Philharmonic Orchestra's concert included Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for strings, Chopin's 2nd Piano Concerto and two more Leeds first performances: Shostakovich's Ballet Suite, The Age of Gold and Stravinsky's ballet, 'The Rite of Spring'. The Rite had provoked riots of protest during its Paris premiere in 1913.
Davis and the LSO
Another legendary musical partnership, which still blossoms in this new Millennium, performed in the Town Hall back in December 1963: the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Davis played Mozart's Symphony No. 32, Shostakovich's Violin Concerto (soloist Erich Gruenberg), Michael Tippett's Concerto for Orchestra and Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements. A daring programme for an out of London concert by the LSO and one that audiences would be unlikely to experience in todays stringent financial climate.
In 1980 the series was expanded to 30 concerts and re-launched as the Leeds International Concert Season.
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Programme, 1955, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Programme, 1956, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Advertisement for Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra concert
Programme, 1956, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Programme, 1956, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Programme, 1957, Concertgebouw Orchestra
Programme, 1956, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Hindemith conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, 1961
Barbirolli rehearsing, Sydney Errington in the centre, 1960.
Rehearsing with Hindemith, 1958
Leeds International Concert Season programme, 1980 - 81