Wilmslow Symphony Orchestra


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History of the WSO

First concerts

The Wilmslow Symphony Orchestra was set up shortly after the Second World War, in 1947. The first public airings for the orchestra were 'open rehearsals' in the Old Parish Hall in Water Lane. The first full concert was given on Sunday March 30th 1947 in the Rex Theatre and included works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Delius and Bizet.

The orchestra performed regularly, usually twice a year, at the Rex or in the Parish Hall. Clarice Dunnington was the conductor until 1955, followed by Michael Brierley of the RNCM till 1962. Distinguished soloists included Heddle Nash, Florence Hooton, Iris Loveridge, Raymond Cohen, Evelyn Rothwell and John Ogden.

Maurice Handford

At the suggestion of John Barbirolli the orchestra approached Maurice Handford, who had been principal horn in the Halle, to take over as the next conductor and he inspired the orchestra with his impressive conducting techniques for the next 10 years, sometimes enlisting the help of Reginald Stead, leader of the BBC Northern Orchestra, as his deputy. Maurice was to become associate conductor of the Halle and Conductor of the Royal Academy of Music in London.

During this time Mozart was the composer most often performed, followed by Beethoven, Brahms and Dvorak. Programmes also included works by Mahler, at a time when his works were much neglected.

Maurice's final concert was a performance of Carmina Burana which also featured Stockport Choral Society, St George's Singers and the Urmston Grammar boys choir, the orchestra having been trained for this concert by Peter Stallworthy. Peter then continued as permanent conductor until 1975, followed by Timothy Reynish and Nick Smith.

Later conductors

Highlights of Nick Smith's time with the orchestra included Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra with Daphne Oxonford, Weber's first clarinet concerto with Jack Brymer as soloist, and Brahms' Double Concerto with Dennis Simons, also solo performances by Peter Donohoe and Martin Roscoe.

In 1982 Martin Hardy took over as conductor and was to conduct the orchestra for almost 18 years. His first concert, in March 1982, was a performance of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony with the amalgamated forces of several local choral societies.

New venue

Later that year Anne Welton, the orchestra's leader for many years, stepped down in favour of Harvey Marsden. The following year, in April 1983, the orchestra adopted a new concert venue - the new Wilmslow Leisure Centre. The Evans Theatre, despite its acoustic drawbacks, has remained the main performance venue ever since.

To celebrate its 40th season the orchestra joined forces with Chester Symphony Orchestra and many local choirs to perform the mammoth Grande Messe des Morts by Berlioz in Chester Cathedral in May 1987.

Elizabeth Brown followed Harvey Marsden as leader, stepping down in favour of Mary Anderson in 1988, to return later. Louise Latham led the orchestra for several years eventually retiring in favour of Jem Bradley who has only recently retired from the orchestra.

Present day

In the last few years the orchestra has adopted a policy of using guest conductors and these have included Mark Robinson, Peter Stallworthy, Kenneth Woods, Juan Ortuno, Mark Heron and Tom Newall.

It has also been host to guest conductors from the United States, including Thomas Anderson from De Kalb Symphony Orchestra, Atlanta and the American composer Linda Robbins Coleman. It was chosen by Making Music for its debut concert at the Bridgewater Hall.

The orchestra has continued to consolidate and surpass the achievements of previous decades in works as disparate as Elgar's Falstaff, Nielsen's fourth symphony, Sheherazade, Strauss' Alpine Symphony, Young Person's Guide, Janácek's Tara Bulba, Holst's the Planets, Debussy's La Mer, Stravinsky's Petruschka and Rite of Spring, symphonies by Mahler and Shostakovich and also in more contemporary works by Ligeti, Martin Butler, Jane Cornish, and by the orchestra's president, Edward Gregson.