New Yorkshire orchestra puts an end to sixty years of silence

The Yorkshire Philharmonic's founding conductor Alex Conway on stage at the Grand Opera House in York.'''' Picture: James Hardisty
The Yorkshire Philharmonic's founding conductor Alex Conway on stage at the Grand Opera House in York.'''' Picture: James Hardisty
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ALMOST SIXTY years to the day since The Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra played its final notes, God’s Own Country finally has a professional orchestra again.

On Sunday evening, The Yorkshire Philharmonic will perform its first concert at York’s Grand Opera House - the culmination of two years of work by founding conductor Alex Conway. Along with orchestra manager Rebekah Martin, he has scoured the region for aspiring musicians and established professionals to represent Yorkshire’s musical heritage, and the journey is almost complete.

Violinist Richard Powell.

Violinist Richard Powell.

Mr Conway, 24, was studying music at the University of York two years ago when he discovered more about the fate of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra (YSO) and felt moved to fill a sixty year silence.

“While studying I came across an Arts Council report about musical provision in Yorkshire and it was a fairly damning,” he said. “We have high quality ensembles but no orchestra that represented the region.

“A lot of my friends were training to become violinists and were worrying about where they might be able to play. If you take Manchester for example, it has the Hallé, while Bournemouth and Birmingham both have symphony orchestras. If you’re studying in those areas, you have the opportunity there to experience their level of music - but that simply didn’t exist here in Yorkshire.”

And so planning began. Mr Conway found Ms Martin, the former manager of Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, who shared his passion, and together they searched for the talented players that would make up the orchestra. Musicians who had already played with the BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool, the Aurora Orchestra, Opera North and the Royal Northern Sinfonia were keen to get involved.

The Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra disbanded in 1955.

The Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra disbanded in 1955.

“We went through the entire region, from Skipton to Scarborough, looking for musicians that might be interested,” Mr Conway said. “We emailed every ensemble and musical society we could find - and the reaction was fantastic.”

In total, 50 musicians will perform in Sunday’s Summer Solstice Showcase, each receiving a share of the ticket price.

While the demise of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra was down to funding, the new Yorkshire Philharmonic will be entirely funded through sales of tickets, so its imperative to its future survival that people attend, Mr Conway said.

“We are a small team, working very, very hard - and there is literally no money or funding. Every penny goes to the musicians you will be watching,” he said.

Zo� Craven, John Cummins, conductor Alex Conway, Jacob George, and Richard Powell.''''Picture James Hardisty

Zo� Craven, John Cummins, conductor Alex Conway, Jacob George, and Richard Powell.''''Picture James Hardisty

“We want to grow organically, and crucially, move around Yorkshire - possibly to Huddersfield or Leeds. But most importantly, we want to be able to provide opportunities - both to musicians, and to give people the chance to hear classical music right here in Yorkshire.

“We have just had the tremendously exciting Tour De Yorkshire, and Hull City of Culture is coming up - the time is now right for the county to have its own symphony orchestra.”

Tickets for the Summer Solstice Showcase, which begins with Glinka’s fast and furious Overture and includes Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony and Dvorak’s ninth, are available from www.yorkshirephilharmonic.co.uk

‘A very bad moment for Yorkshire’

“Future historians of the music of Leeds will look back with wonder at the dark season of 1954-55....”

Music critic Ernest Bradbury wrote in The Yorkshire Post On February 24, 1955, as he reported how “immediate consideration” was to be given to winding up the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra (YSO).

The orchestra, the article said, had been “held up as a model of municipal enterprise to more tardy authorities” and “unique in the land”, but loss of support was blamed.

The orchestra’s final performance was held just five months later at Leeds Town Hall led by conductor Norman Del Mar, who described it as “a very bad moment for Leeds and Yorkshire.”