Harrow Symphony Orchestra

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HSO: 80 years from WW2 to COVID-19

HSO was formed in the autumn of 1939 from the remnants of the Pinner Conservative Club Orchestra. It was initially called the Pinner and District Orchestral Society, under the direction of local musician Kenneth Tucker. The Orchestra was self-financing through membership subscriptions, with local guarantors ‘in the event of a loss being sustained on the season’s work’. The Carnegie UK Trustees fulfilled this role for at least one year.

Early piano soloists included Moiseiwitsch, Clifford Curzon and Cyril Smith. The first two later received CBEs, and Smith an OBE. The local pianos that were provided at Wembley Town Hall and the Kodak Hall in Wealdstone were almost certainly better than many they had to play during their war-time travels! In 1943 Arthur Catterall and his daughter, Audrey, played a double violin concerto.

In 1944 the Orchestra had three concerts broadcast on ‘Make your own Music’ on the BBC Home Service. Dr Denis Wright took up the baton between 1945 and 1949. Eric Coates, the famous composer and viola player, was guest conductor at a concert on 7th November 1947. In 1948, the Orchestra held two concerts at the Harrow Granada Theatre.

There was apparently a ‘junior section’ of the Orchestra, though this was for young adults rather than under 18s. In 1952 it was noted that ‘membership was high in numbers but individual playing ability and experience was low’! In the same year, ‘to save a considerable amount of time addressing envelopes’, the Committee spent 6d per member to engrave plates for an addressograph machine owned by a member.

The Orchestra changed its name several times before becoming the Harrow Symphony Orchestra (HSO) in 1953. The conductor at the time was Charles Hambourg, who served a total of 21 years until his retirement in 1972. For many years HSO benefited from grants awarded by the Harrow Arts Council and the National Federation of Music Societies, and in 1958 could afford to purchase its own set of music stands.

In 1968 the Orchestra joined the Harrow Adult Education programme. Under this arrangement, the Conductor and the Leader were employed by and paid by the Council. Conductors included Adrian Brown (1973-1978), Doron Salomon (1978-1984), Rupert Bond and Philip Lee. In 1972 HSO participated in the Greater London Borough Festival. The Jubilee Concert on 11th June 1977 included Elgar’s Coronation March. The Orchestra was run as an “evening class” until 1990, when the pricing became prohibitive.

HSO became self-financing again in 1990. Since then, conductors have included Brian Pickering (1995-2002), Matthew Thomas, Bashár Lúlua (2003-2004), Jean-Louis Gosselin (2004-2005) and Michael Teychenné (2005-2010). In 2012 HSO was recognised by HMRC as a charity, and in 2017 became a registered charity. The two most recent conductors have been Gustavo Ubeda (2010-2016), and currently Tom Kilworth.

The Orchestra’s challenges have changed little over the past 80 years, namely: the recruitment of new members (particularly string players); finding suitable venues for rehearsals and concerts; and the quest for financial stability! Amusingly for the current Committee, minutes from 1978 record that a concert made a loss of £110 despite having an audience of 250. It was concluded that a greater effort must be made to sell tickets for the following concert, with the optimistic aim of achieving an audience of 500. In any event HSO benefits from a loyal membership, and five of our current members have each contributed over 20 years’ service.

Choral collaboration has been achieved a few times during the lifetime of the Orchestra. In March 1970 Handel’s “Zadok the Priest” was performed; this took one year to reach fruition according to a local newspaper report. We can easily believe this from our more recent experience with Mozart’s Requiem in June 2012, and our current efforts to put on Beethoven’s 9th (the Choral) Symphony. We started performing our cycle of Beethoven’s Symphonies a few years ago, but have kept the 9th and last in reserve hopefully to be performed in Summer 2021.

Concerts over the last few years have raised money for the Muze Trust, CVSS (Sailing for People with Disabilities), the Watford Peace Hospice, the Western Eye Hospital, and the Harefield Scanner Appeal.

HSO’s aims and objectives have remained unchanged over the years:

  • To encourage local musicians with the object of giving them and their audiences the opportunity to enjoy and participate in orchestral music-making;
  • To raise donations for charitable purposes.
  • Long may we continue!