Death Of An Orchestra


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Alan Bennett recalls his regular boyhood visits to hear the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. With other keen supporters and former members, he tells the Orchestra's history from 1947 to its demise in 1955.

Amid the austerity of the post-war years, the YSO was founded in a spirit of great optimism to provide first class orchestral music for the citizens of Yorkshire. It was based in Leeds Town Hall, and funded entirely out of the Rates. The inaugural concert book expressed the hope that it would "find a permanent place in the musical life of Yorkshire and rank with the finest orchestras of this country".

The founder conductor was Maurice Miles, who appears in the only recording of the YSO to survive in the BBC Archive.

There were guest appearances by Sir Malcolm Sargent, Sir Thomas Beecham and Sir Adrian Boult, and visits from glittering soloists such as Joan Hammond and Tito Gobbi.

As a Leeds schoolboy, Alan Bennett found these figures from the outside world "tinged with great glamour". Violinist Rodney Friend, another supporter, was a winner of the YSO's competition for young soloists before becoming leader of the LPO, the New York Philharmonic and the BBC SO.

Eight former members of the orchestra, now scattered around the country, describe life in the YSO: cold rickety buses, romance, and the thrill of the great conductor Nikolai Malko arriving for the final season. They recall their shock on discovering that the Orchestra was to be disbanded and the sadness of the final concert.

Produced by Susan Kenyon

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.