Wilmslow Symphony Orchestra

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 condctor was Clarice Donninton and 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. Distinguished soloists have included Heddle Nash, Raymond Cohen, Evelyn Rothwell, Daphne Oxenford, Martin Roscoe, Jack Brymer 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 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.

Later conductors

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.

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

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.

Recent leaders have been Elizabeth Brown, Mary Anderson in 1988, Louise Latham and Jem Bradley.

Present day

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

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