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Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra - From 1893 to the World
A history in pictures of a world class orchestra
Edited and written by Andy Martin
ISBN: 978-0-9933533-7-6
160 pp hardback
Published 2016

This is a fascinating history in pictures of the world-renowned orchestra that is the pride of the southern English seaside resort from which it takes its name. Illustrations include hundreds of photographs and reproductions of posters and concert programmes.

The book’s contents are organised into eight sections: the first covers the period 1893 to 1939 and then there's one section for each decade of its history up until 2016. Each section is prefaced by notes on the orchestra’s achievements during those times. The roll-call of eminent conductors including such guest luminaries as Sir Edward Elgar, Sibelius, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Henry Wood, Walton, Beecham, Boult and Barbirolli lengthens decade by decade and impresses strongly.

Its first concert, with some 30 musicians, dressed in military-style blue and gold uniforms, with pill box hats, was held at the town’s original all-glass Winter Gardens on 22 May 1893. At the time of its inauguration it was known as the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra. Its first leader was Sir Dan Godfrey; he was knighted in 1922. He was to lead the orchestra for 41 years. During those years the orchestra played in London, began its illustrious recording career with 78rpm recordings for HMV in 1914 and also made its BBC broadcasting debut. From the start, Godfrey chose to emphasise British music in the orchestra’s concerts. In 1934 Sir Dan was succeeded by Richard Austin who oversaw the growth of the orchestra to 61 players by 1937.

The orchestra soldiered on through the dark days, of World War II, its player strength dramatically reduced. Austin resigned and was succeeded by Montague Birch who stiffened the orchestra’s resolve and drove it forward. Service men and women swelled audiences and the number of players increased to 55. After the war, Austrian Rudolf Schwarz, was appointed conductor and the orchestra moved into the more solid, conventional building that was the new Winter Gardens. Schwarz broadened the horizons of the orchestra introducing music by Bruckner and Mahler. Sir Charles Groves took up the baton in the 1950/51 season and the orchestra expanded its performances across the English southern region. In the 1954/55 season the orchestra played under its new name - the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. By 1958 it was 75 strong and was becoming an international force. Concentration on British music did not falter; I was especially interested to see on page 39, a picture of a performance of John Ireland’s choral and orchestral masterpiece, These Things Shall Be.

The 1960s saw the charismatic Constantin Silvestri take the orchestra to even greater heights. The BSO made its television debut in 1965 in Winchester Cathedral. It accompanied the Bolshoi Ballet at Covent Garden; and in 1965 there was an extensive European tour. George Hurst conducted the newly formed Bournemouth Sinfonietta and was de facto Principal Conductor of the BSO from 1969 to 1972. A number of notable recordings were made under his direction. Performances were given before Royalty. From 1972-79 Paavo Berglund was Principal Conductor. He significantly raised performing standards. During the 1980s conductors were Uri Segal, Rudolf Barshai and significantly, Andrew Litton. Litton was the BSO’s youngest Principal Conductor. He began his career with the orchestra, made some very successful recordings and to this day is held in great esteem by both players and audiences. He won the prestigious title of BSO Conductor Laureate. Andrew Litton conducted the Orchestra until midway through the 1990s. America beckoned the orchestra, so too did the Musikverein in Vienna and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Gala and outdoor concerts with fireworks began. The 100th anniversary was celebrated in style with many eminent soloists and guest conductors. Yakov Kreizberg (1959-2011) took over the baton into the next century. Again British music was not forgotten. Performances included Delius’s Mass of Life at St Paul’s Cathedral under Richard Hickox.

In 2002 American, Marin Alsop took up the BSO baton, the first woman conductor to do so. The final concert at the Winter Gardens took place on 20 January 2002. The Orchestra would move to the Lighthouse in nearby Poole. BBC Radio 3 concerts became a regular feature. The popular film music composer and BSO light music conductor Ron Goodwin passed away in January 2003. After Alsop, came the current Principal conductor Kirill Karabits who has developed and strengthened its international reputation.

This history, in fact, has a Foreword written by Kirill Karabits who is at present (2016 as I write) Chief Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He has forged a special working relationship with the players. He remarks: ‘The BSO has been described as “one of this country’s cultural miracles” and I wholeheartedly endorse that. It has a global reputation.’ Karabits goes on to anticipate the 2018 concert programme in celebration of the BSO’s 125th anniversary.

The town’s daily newspaper is an appropriate publisher for this history since the BSO’s activities have always been enthusiastically proclaimed by the Echo. The newspaper’s archives are augmented by material contributed by Bournemouth Library and the orchestra’s own photographic archives supplemented with contributions from the staff at the orchestra.

This book is of necessity something of an overview of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s rich history. Surely there is now a place for a much more detailed ‘biography’ to embrace descriptions, statistics and anecdotes. about the concerts, conductors, players, audiences, tours, recordings, broadcasts and venues.

Ian Lace



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