Here is an article by Peter Craddock about the earlier history of the Havant Symphony Orchestra, from the July 1987 souvenir programme "Havant Symphony Orchestra – The First Twenty Five Years".
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF PROGRESS
A History of the HSO
Fifteen years ago, Havant and District Orchestral Society published a souvenir 'Symposietta' to celebrate Havant Symphony Orchestra's 10th Anniversary. This has been out of print since 1972. Fortunately, a copy of the original has been found in the archives and the history of HSO's first ten years are reprinted for your enjoyment. Peter Craddock has been persuaded to bring the chronicle up to date and we are most grateful for his reminiscences. It is amazing how some of his comments in the first part are still very relevant today!
A Decade of Progress — 1962–1971
1961 – Plans
During the Autumn of 1961 discussions took place between Eric Hopwood, Havant District Further Education Organiser, and Jack Willis, Principal of Havant Further Education Centre, concerning the possibility of introducing instrumental music into the programme of evening classes offered by the Further Education Centre. Attempts had been made in previous years to include some form of music in the curriculum but these had all proved somewhat abortive. With the healthy upsurge of instrumental work in the local educational field — several schools at that time having their own orchestras — and with evidence of a good deal of chamber music being played in and around the district, it was felt that the time had come when another attempt to form a local amateur orchestra might be made. It was at this stage in the proceedings that I was approached with a view to my becoming conductor of the proposed new orchestra. Coincidentally, in the previous July I had recruited an assembly of local amateur musicians for Havant Grammar School's third summer concert to accompany the school choir in a performance of a cantata by Armstrong Gibbs, and this ensemble of pupils, parents and chamber music friends also played an item by themselves — Two Minuets from the Serenade, Op. 11 by Brahms. Maybe this had something to do with my being chosen for the venture! At any rate, after subsequent discussions and a great deal of canvassing amongst musicians in the area the following item appeared in the County Press.
Early next year it is proposed to form a Havant and District orchestra for the purpose of rehearsing and publicly performing works in the standard concert repertory. The orchestra will be run as an evening class under the auspices of Havant Further Education Centre, and meetings will take place in the Havant Grammar School Hall on a Thursday or Friday evening.
Whilst catering mainly for adults, the minimum age of entry will be 14 years, in order that older children, who are fairly proficient instrumentalists in their own school orchestras, may benefit from adult technique and experience while also filling instrumental gaps where necessary.
A number of musicians have already stated their willingness to support the venture.
Anyone interested is asked to communicate with the conductor etc. etc.
1962 – Beginnings
The first rehearsal eventually took place in January of the following year, with an initial attendance of twenty-eight, ten of which came into the category of 'fairly proficient school instrumentalists'. Apart from the general enthusiasm expressed after the rehearsal, the only significant thing I can remember about the occasion concerns an experienced gentleman viola player who came up to me afterwards and announced that he felt it was nothing more than a glorified youth orchestra, that he had been in at the beginning of so many amateur orchestras which had soon fizzled out, and that we should not, therefore, be having the pleasure of his company again! That gentleman is now a good friend and one of our staunchest admirers, in spite of constantly being teased about his comments. By the end of the summer term the size of the orchestra had increased to around thirty-five players and, with the addition of a small amount of 'professional stiffening', the first public concert was given on Friday, 27th July, 1962, a joint effort with Havant Choral Society and its new conductor, Reginald Vidler. To an audience of just approaching a hundred the following programme was, in the best journalistic tradition, rendered...
|Suite 'The Water Music'||Handel arr. David Stone|
|On hearing the first cuckoo||Delius|
|Capriol Suite||Peter Warlock
|Cantata 'The Turning Year'||Armstrong Gibbs|
|Almand and the Queen's dolour||Purcell|
|Symphony No. 92, 'The Oxford'||Haydn|
The next season contained two public events, the first, in February 1963, being a sort of orchestral workshop, very similar in style and aims to John Pritchard's 'Musica Viva' concerts with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, in which a number of relatively unfamiliar pieces were discussed, dissected, rehearsed and then performed in their entirety. I look forward perhaps to repeating this experiment one day with a complete programme of contemporary works. In the end of season concert we were again joined by the Havant Choral Society, this time for a performance of Borodin's 'Polovtsian Dances', a fruitily-scored work which gives some indication of the continued growth in size and instrumentation of the orchestra. Apart from the music performed on these two occasions a number of other pieces were rehearsed including Borodin's 2nd Symphony, Bizet's Symphony and the Violin Concerto of Max Bruch, none of which really came near enough to the standard necessary for public presentation. The Borodin Symphony, besides giving me a salutary lesson on over-estimating the capabilities of the orchestra (some players will grin ruefully, questioning whether the lesson WAS ever learnt), also brought about, indirectly, the beginning of our fine music library. Up to this time all full scores and orchestral parts had been hired for us by the Further Education Centre, a practice which often entailed a great deal of extra work — cleaning up the music on arrival, erasing our own markings before return, and constantly chasing up missing parts by the hiring deadline. The pattern changed drastically when the bill for one month's hire of the Borodin arrived — £25! Since then the Further Education Centre has always purchased scores and parts for us whenever possible, and the library now contains over 130 works — including a complete set of Russian parts of the Borodin Symphony which cost just £5!
The first outside visit took place in November, 1963, when a concert was given at Merchistoun Hall, Horndean. This proved to be a singularly unfortunate experience since the orchestra virtually burst the seams of the hall even before the members of the audience were squeezed in, and the resultant congestion not only made a decent balance of sound impossible but also rendered life extremely dangerous, especially for those onlookers within eye-shot of the string players. Fortunately there were no casualties that evening apart from the music and a few lingering headaches, and yet another lesson was learned. Never accept an away fixture without first exploring the playing conditions.
1964–65 and 1965–66
The next event of significance occurred during the 1964/65 season when the Havant Chamber Orchestra emerged in a rather casual way. During this and the previous season the Further Education Centre had sponsored a series of chamber concerts given by local string quartets and wind ensembles, largely comprised of the cream of the area's instrumental talent, and the final concert of this second season brought all these instrumental groups together into a small chamber orchestra. The resultant 'grand finale' proved so musically successful and enjoyable from the players' point of view that it was decided to continue the chamber orchestra in future seasons. Since then, whilst the Havant Symphony Orchestra has provided the district with the heavyweight orchestral diet of 19th and 20th Century music, the Havant Chamber Orchestra has supplied a complementary fare with music from the Baroque, Pre-classical and Classical periods, together with Romantic and Modern works of chamber orchestra dimensions. One of the results of this orchestral dichotomy was that our erstwhile leader, Ivor Crocker, moved over into the hot-seat of the smaller orchestra and Brian Brown became the new leader of the symphony orchestra. On Brian's removal to Leamington Spa some six months and one concert later, Raymond Fullalove stepped into the breach for the succeeding season, one of the highlights of which was a concert given at Portsmouth Cathedral on 14th May. 1966. I don't know whether the setting had anything to do with the rapt devotion to the 'dots' but the orchestra certainly produced its finest playing to date, particularly in Beethoven's Second Symphony.
Season 1966/67 saw us with yet another leader when Raymond Fullalove, through no fault of the orchestra, entered a monastery. Jack Perks had joined the Symphony Orchestra in the Autumn of 1965, soon after his return from a spell in Canada, and we were extremely fortunate in having someone of his skill and experience to take over. Needless to say, Jack has proved to be an ideal leader, full of patience and enthusiasm, always ready with helpful suggestions concerning string technique, and he is a tireless worker on behalf of the orchestra both in and outside rehearsals. He became leader at a time when the orchestra was just beginning to realise its potential, with a membership now approaching sixty, and when audiences had begun to top the 200 mark. It is no coincidence, therefore, that Jack's first concert as leader was also marked by our daring to engage a professional soloist for the first time. Arnold Ashby, a pupil of the great Casals, came and gave a splendid performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto and afterwards was kind enough to write and say how well he thought the orchestra accompanied him. Perhaps lulled by this and by a fine performance of Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony in the same programme we made arrangements for a local firm to come and record our concert in the following July, an all-Russian programme. In the meantime we had an engagement at St. Mary's Church, Alverstoke, and this produced some of the worst playing we ever perpetrated on an audience. Things had gone reasonably well in rehearsal — apart from the fact that I had spiked my foot on an upturned nail and was conducting on one leg — and the general balance (!), in spite of the anticipated resonance, was quite good. We thought that the presence of an audience would improve the acoustics but for some reason it had precisely the opposite effect. From the start of the performance it became increasingly clear that the various sections of the orchestra could not hear each other. Consequently the ensemble suffered and rhythms became very ragged and eventually a matter of anticipation and guesswork. The acoustics must have played tricks in other parts of the church because in the subsequent newspaper report, incredibly, the headline ran. . . 'Magnificent — the only word for it'. I daresay the orchestra could have supplied a few others.
The recording of the July concert turned out to be a very useful experience and produced some revealing glimpses of our shortcomings, particularly spotlighting the problems of intonation which beset all amateur orchestras. It is really quite surprising just what does evade the ear's tonal filters during the exhilaration of concert performance, only to jump out as glaring errors when subject to the cold scrutiny of a gramophone recording. I think the experience taught us to listen to our own playing just that extra bit more carefully.
The year 1967 brought a complete transformation to the cultural scene in Havant with the formation of the Havant & District Arts Society. It had been obvious for some time that the steady growth of interest in the arts within the area would benefit from some sort of co-ordinating and organisational framework — able to promote, balance and adjust the flow of public events, to offer these evens a much wider publicity, and perhaps to stimulate those areas of the parts which had so far remained dormant. Clause 2 of the Society's constitution clearly states its aims. . .
'The objects of the Society shall be to co-ordinate the activities of the various musical and art societies in the Havant district, to present and promote concerts, exhibitions and other activities during the year as the occasion may arise, and to create public interest in and awareness of music and the arts'.
Financed initially by patrons, season-ticket subscriptions and by a deficit grant from Havant & Waterloo U.D.C., the first seasonal programme of public events, including our own orchestral concerts, was launched in the Autumn of 1967. Apart from the much wider publicity and the concomitant growth of audiences, the orchestra benefitted enormously in having its concerts sponsored financially by the Arts Society. It meant a much broader, more critical type of audience, an increase in the number of concerts from two to three, and also enabled us to hire first-rate soloists — a great stimulus to both players and audience. All this has naturally led to a more purposeful use of rehearsal time, an increased work ratio, and a greater sense of commitment on the part of the players. The scope of our programmes has enlarged considerably and the spirit of adventure in respect of actual programme-content has since proved surprisingly successful, besides helping to attract more players of professional standard into our ranks.
This first season of the Arts Society turned out to be an extremely hectic one. In addition to the newly-established pattern of three concerts each by symphony and chamber orchestra, visits were made by the symphony orchestra to Highbury Technical College and to St. Anne's School, Fareham. Besides this frenzied round of orchestral rehearsals and concerts many of our players took part in the rejuvenated series of chamber concerts sponsored by the Arts Society. The December symphony orchestra concert, a nostalgic affair for me since the soloist, Celia Mitchell, was an old school friend, proved to be somewhat hair-raising. Almost a third of the orchestra were smitten by the current influenza epidemic and if the string section for the Havant concert looked a little on the thin side it had reached alarming un-proportions three days later when we repeated the programme at Highbury. Fortunately we were able to recruit a few experienced players to come in and virtually sight-read the concert, thereby avoiding a complete fiasco. One of the major highlights of the season for me was the April concert in which the young Southampton pianist, Andrew Ball, astounded everyone with his brilliant performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto, and in which the orchestra itself admirably coped with the difficulties of Sibelius' 2nd Symphony.
Another important organisational landmark was reached in the following season, 1968/69, when the Havant & District Orchestral Society came into being. The fons et origo of this new society stemmed from a request made by the Arts Society to the Arts Council of Great Britain for some financial aid towards its expanding seasonal programme of events. The Arts Council, replying, suggested that the two Havant orchestras should be merged into one society which could then take up membership of the National Federation of Music Societies, a body largely financed by the Council, and thus qualify for an annual grant under the Federation's financial aid scheme. It seemed a bit daft that, having just tried to bring the arts in the district together under one banner, the Arts Society could only receive indirect Arts Council aid by having its musical units channelled into separate societies! (The Havant Choral Society was already a member of the Federation.) Nevertheless, in spite of adding further complications to the financial administration of the Arts Society, the possibility of some extra money could not be ignored, besides which the orchestras themselves would considerably benefit by such a step. A meeting of the players was therefore called and the decision to form the H.A.D.O.S. was taken. From the player's point of view the most important factor of that decision was that we now had a properly constituted committee with responsibility for making policy changes on behalf of and in consultation with the members of the society. For my part it was a great relief to be able to unload some of the growing menial chores onto a secretary, treasurer, librarian and publicity officer. The symphony orchestra still functioned as a further education class and its concerts continued to be financially promoted by the Arts Society. The annual grant received from the National Federation in respect of professional expenditure at these public events is naturally passed on to the general fund of the Arts Society. A very useful supplementary benefit of Federation membership lies in the fact that we are able to borrow music from other member-societies under a nationwide library scheme, and this has helped to ease the increasing financial burden of the Havant Further Education Centre in respect of spiralling music costs over the past few years. Scores and parts from our own library are likewise loaned to other orchestral societies up and down the country. All in all the operation turned out to be a pretty painless one and the long-term advantages are already beginning to emerge.
Musically the 1968/69 season was immensely enjoyable with audiences averaging well over 300 for the four Havant concerts of the Symphony Orchestra. In the concert on 20th December, Enloc Wu, the charming young Hong Kong pianist, delighted a huge crowd with her spirited playing of that old 'war-horse' of piano concertos — the Tchaikovsky No. 1. The following evening marked our first appearance at the Guildhall, Portsmouth, as guests of the Portsmouth Choral Union, amongst the items we played being the amusing 'Cornish Dances' of Malcolm Arnold which scored a distinct hit with the audience and the newspaper critic. The novelty of the season was a children's concert given on Sunday afternoon, 30th March, to an extremely attentive audience of over 400, in which a programme of well-tried educational pieces was played, including 'Peter and the Wolf' and 'Carnival of the Animals', the two pianists for the latter work being Theresa Dillner and Reginald Wassell. The soloist in the final concert was Colin Bradbury, Principal Clarinettist of the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra, who agreed to forego the first night of the 'Proms' in order to join us for Weber's Clarinet Concerto No. 1. In the same programme the Havant Choral Society sang Elgar's 'Bavarian Highlands Suite' in conjunction with a somewhat dubious display of levity on the part of their conductor, and the orchestra itself produced a truly magnificent and sustained piece of concentration in the 'Eroica' Symphony.
The highly encouraging growth in audience size continued in the 1969/70 season, the average for the three symphony orchestra concerts only falling short of the 400 mark by the merest whisker. One is tempted to account for this rise solely in terms of the popularity of the programmes but this is only part of the story. Havant audiences showed that they were just as willing to come and hear large chunks of unfamiliar music in the form of Malcolm Arnold's 2nd Symphony and the 1st Symphony of Carl Nielsen. Nor was it the case that the soloists proved the main draw, only Iris Loveridge's name being at all well-known, and she was a somewhat late, though splendid replacement for Joseph Cooper who felt that he had to withdraw when we could not produce a 'decent' full-size concert grand for the Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto. Some excellent pre-concert publicity with photographs in the local press undoubtedly helped a great deal — this, plus some super-salesmanship on the part of the orchestra members. The concert on March 21st, given in an atmosphere that would not have disgraced a Turkish bath, was attended by 480 people, the last fifty of which were allowed in free because there were no seats to be had. How Iris Loveridge managed to cope in such heat and with the audience literally breathing down her neck I shall never know, but cope she did, in the most brilliant manner, giving as fine a performance of the Rachmaninov as I have ever heard.
An event of major significance occurred in January, 1970, when we became designated as an 'advanced' further education class. This meant that we could now audition prospective members instead of having to accept anyone who paid their further education fee, irrespective of their standards. Whilst this has had a partial limiting effect on the flow of new players, particularly in the string sections where amateur orchestras need a good deal of depth, it is an important safeguard in maintaining and even improving the quality of the orchestra. We intend to continue with the policy of encouraging promising young players to join us in order to give them the chance of widening their orchestral and technical horizons. In many instances these young instrumentalists come to play vital roles in the orchestra — our current brass section, for example, has a large proportion of schoolchildren, most of whom are the recipients of instrumental scholarships and who play in the County Youth Orchestra. The audition level for young players therefore requires a minimum standard of Grade VI (Associated Board) whereas that for adults is much higher, depending on the extent to which vacancies occur. A note of gloom accompanied the granting of this new 'advanced' status. In future we were to restrict the number of rehearsals/F.E. meetings to ten per term and in addition the members of the orchestra had to pay a proportional extra fee since our rehearsals lasted for 2½ rather than the usual 2 hours. In view of the increased concert commitments within recent years this curtailment of rehearsal time was a serious blow and served not only to offset the advantages of having players of greater calibre but also led to some items in the repertoire being presented in public in a perilously under-rehearsed state.* It has also had the effect of somewhat inhibiting the 'spirit of adventure' in future programme planning which, to my mind, is a great pity, and a retrograde outcome.
1970–71 and 1971–72
For most of us the undoubted zenith of last season (1970–71) was our appearance in the Portsmouth Festival on May 4th, when we repeated the all-English programme previously performed at Havant on April 3rd. This was the first time we had sampled the pleasures of Portsmouth Guildhall for a full symphony concert and I must say it considerably whetted our appetites for more. Though the audience was a disappointingly small one — perhaps due in part to the fact that it was a repeat programme — I think we would still have relished the occasion and the splendid playing conditions had there been no-one to listen. That the programme itself fitted in with the theme of the Festival — 'The English contribution to the arts' — was one of those strange coincidences. This particular English meal had been chosen for our Havant Spring concert back in January, 1970, long before we were invited to play in the Festival! On both occasions the symphony orchestra was reinforced by members of the Havant Chamber Orchestra and this gave a considerable boost to the string tone, being particularly noticeable in the 5th Symphony of Vaughan Williams. It was a triumph for local cellist, Bryan Burdett, making his concerto debut with the Elgar Cello Concerto, and it was a great pity that references to his fine Guildhall performance were cut from the printed newspaper report.
The soloist in the December concert was Derek Collier, who at one time led the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and such was the impression he made with a flawless and beautiful account of the Bruch Concerto that he was promptly invited back for the current season. Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony in the same programme proved to be a very tough nut indeed and was, alas, more than a match for our intonation and rhythmic precision. Oddly enough, the modern work in the programme, Fricker's 'Dance Scene' — on the face of it a much more difficult piece — came off rather well. The final concert of the season, approached with some very poorly-attended rehearsals, and with much trepidation on my part, found the orchestra at the top of its improvisational form, somehow, and the decade ended, perhaps appropriately, with Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony, a work ending with a blaze of optimism.
*Three years ago the average total rehearsal time per concert was 32 hours, last season it was cut to 25 hours, and in the current season we are reduced still further to 20 hours. This may give some idea of the immense effort and concentration we shall need from our players this season. Poor rehearsal attenders please note!
1972–1987 — The Continuing Story
The 10th Anniversary season of HSO indirectly brought about a most important change of venue for our concerts. In the December concert we had to move to Oaklands School Hall, Waterlooville because the usual hall at Havant Grammar School was unavailable. The Oaklands Hall had also been booked for the 10th Anniversary concert itself in July in anticipation of a larger-than-usual audience. In the event, we so enjoyed giving these two concerts at Oaklands, with better acoustics, improved player and audience comfort, better lighting and bigger audiences, that we decided to place some of our concerts there in future seasons. The 10th Anniversary Concert itself attracted an audience of over 500 for the first time at one of our events, and was notable for the premiere of a commissioned work 'Dance Diversions' by Michael Hurd, which has gone on to become a popular work with amateur and youth orchestras. At the post-concert buffet Peter Craddock was presented with a gold watch by the orchestra, prompting the critic, Michael Allen, to write 'on present form this admirable team looks wound up for at least another ten years'! How right he was!
It was the July concert at Oaklands the following season that proved to be the most memorable. A sultry summer evening persuaded the orchestra to forsake its normal dress appertaining to a penguin rookery for shirt sleeves and gay summer dresses. With Peter Craddock sporting an incredibly pungent tie, and soloist Clifford Benson draped in blue velvet and enormous black bow-tie the mood was perfectly set for a dazzling performance of Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue'.
By season 1973–74 all concerts were held at Oaklands and attracted large audiences — the average for the season (6 concerts) was 374, nearly 100 better than any previous season. Encouraged by growing support the orchestra began to move up-market in terms of soloists, and amongst the eminent names whose performances were most noteworthy were Julian Lloyd Webber in the Dvorak and Valerie Tryon in the Liszt No 1. The final concert of the season contained another HSO commission — the jazzy 'Divertimento' by Joseph Horovitz which captivated players and audience alike. (When the Arts Council pulled the plug on our Silver Jubilee commissioned work — it was to have been the 6th Symphony of Derek Bourgeois — this festive Horovitz work seemed to offer an ideal substitute.)
Mention must be made of a valiant effort by the HSO to play John McCabe's Symphony No I in the December concert, its rugged sounds didn't particularly enthrall the less enterprising amongst the audience but there were those who realised the enormity of the task we had undertaken.
1974–75 and 1975–76
A larger-than-usual clutch of major works appeared in the following season's programmes, most of them performed with some degree of success. These included Bruckner's 1st Symphony (revised version) — a stirring account which drew praise from Denby Richards, one of the country's leading music critics; Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 with Clifford Benson vainly trying to make the small Oaklands School baby grand sound majestic; and the 9th Symphony of Shostakovitch which proved to be great fun. The deficiency of the Oaklands piano finally led to the launching of a 'Havant Piano Fund' and by the following season (75–76) extra events were in full swing. In October, 1975, the HSO played the ne plus ultra of popular classics programmes — Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, Eine kleine nachtmusik, Beethoven's 5th and the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1, soloist Andrew Ball. Terry Barfoot made his debut as programme-note-writer at this concert which drew an appreciative audience of over 700. The least said about Eine kleine the better; judging by the absence of rude letters afterwards there couldn't have been too many Mozart lovers in the crowd. In January 1976 the HSO were at it again for the Havant Piano Fund — this time with a novel event entitled 'The Innocent Ear' (with apologies to the BBC). The audience were not informed of the works and composers until the end of the concert and most seemed to enjoy the chance of hearing neglected music by major and minor composers. The first of the main season concerts in December 1975 had no less a guest conductor than Simon Rattle — shortly after he had won the John Player Conducting Competition that set him on the road to fame. He led the orchestra through vigorously exciting readings of the Shostakovitch Festival Overture and Brahms 2nd Symphony. The composer Dominic Muldowney also appeared on the same stage brilliantly directing (without too much success on our part) his 'Music at Chartres' which provoked 'News' reporter Charles Green to suggest that 'Music at the Portsmouth Tricorn' would have been a more suitable title.
Some hair-raising moments are recalled from the 76–77 season. In the March concert the solo pianist was intent on finishing well before the 9 o'clock news and had the orchestra stretched to its limit to keep up with the constant accelerandos — somehow we all finished together but it was not a nice experience. It was unfortunate for the July concert that the Oaklands school play, Shakespeare's 'Romeo & Juliet', should follow the week after our event. Just for the purpose we had joined forces with Portsmouth Choral Union to put on Beethoven's Choral Symphony. Fitting 200 performers around the elaborate stage set which extended almost to the front row of the audience was no mean feat. To say that the sound as a result was somewhat dislocated is to put it mildly. In the same programme, with rather less dissipated forces, Martin Jones gave the premiere of another HSO commission, the Piano Concerto by Charles Barnes; a work which was later broadcast by the BBC Welsh Orchestra with the same soloist. Meanwhile the Havant Piano Fund was nearing £3000 but progress was becoming sluggish and barely keeping pace with the spiralling price of a new Steinway grand, our original target having been £6000. Fortune smiled on us in the end. A 9' concert grand Bechstein had been purchased for some reason for the opening of a new Hayling Yacht Marina, but regrettably the project went bust. We stepped in with a bid of £3000 and the instrument was ours. At a special concert on 8th January, 1977 Sandra Craddock, on behalf of the Havant Piano Fund, presented the Bechstein to the Mayor of Havant for the Borough. We were all thrilled at the prospect of an imminent multi-purpose hall which was scheduled for Phase 3 of the new Civic Centre, and such an instrument would grace the new concert hall. Ten years on and the Havant Civic Hall is no nearer now than it was in 1977, if anything it has assumed a much lower priority. It was left to Fareham to show the way and their enterprise and belief in such a project is now paying off handsomely. The soloist for the presentation concert was our great friend and keen supporter Iris Loveridge who had previously participated in Havant Piano Fund concerts. She gave a beautiful performance of the Grieg concerto and also played a group of solos on the new instrument.
1977–78 and 1978–79
The next two seasons, 1977–78–79 saw the return of some popular soloists. Julian Lloyd Webber performed the Elgar concerto with an 'A' string in a very dangerous condition, the wire binding gradually peeling away during the course of the finale; Hideko Udagawa made her third appearance with the lovely Glazunov concerto; Andrew Ball played the Liszt Eb concerto in the January fund-raiser, and Iris Loveridge was engaged for the rarely-performed Delius concerto in the March concert. When it came to the performance we found to our horror that we were using two vastly different editions. Iris had the original Universal edition whilst the orchestra had hired the Beecham version from Boosey & Hawkes which differed considerably in both tempo and dynamic markings. In the end we all decided that we preferred the Delius original to the Beecham tamperings.
Season 1979–80 contained three major symphonies, Brahms 4 which we had played before, Sibelius No 1 in E minor which turned out to be very difficult despite its familiarity, and the First Symphony of Kallinikov, a Russian contemporary of Tchaikovsky whose music is seldom played outside the Soviet Union. We shall certainly perform this symphony again, it is a joy to play and contains some memorable themes and exciting climaxes, and went down very well with our audience. We were somewhat unlucky with soloists that season. Derek Collier had a decidedly off-day in the Tchaikovsky Concerto of the December concert; Sylvia Kersenbaum, the Argentinian pianist, was taken to hospital in Holland shortly before she was due to play the Rachmaninov 4th Concerto with us in March, being eventually, and none too successfully, replaced by Yonty Solomon, who read from the music and still played wrong notes; Julian Byzantine, who failed to appear on a previous occasion, pulled out of the Malcolm Arnold Guitar concerto through 'sheer exhaustion after an Indian tour', Anthea Gifford stepping in at a very late stage. Incidently this was the first time we had decided to offer Season Tickets for the 6-concert series and we were quite pleased that over 90 people took advantage of the concessions offered.
The most memorable event of the 1980–81 season was not a main concert but a charity evening that we gave in aid of the International Year of the Disabled. The star attraction was the current Dr. Who, Tom Baker, who took time off from his Chichester schedule to come and narrate 'Peter and the Wolf' in front of an audience of almost 750. Peter Craddock had a hard job persuading him to undertake the role, the first time he had done anything 'musical' but after strenuous promises to bring him in at the right moments he agreed, and so enjoyed it that he donated half of his fee to the proceeds.
Soloists were again the problem in Season 1981–82 although in a different way. Having decided to include the Brahms Double Concerto and the Beethoven Triple Concerto we were looking to minimise the cost of the extra soloists' fees. Glowing reports from agents' brochures regarding the international successes of up-and-coming young artists persuaded us to offer them the engagements. Alas, the performances left much to be desired both musically and technically and we have always probed into glossy-brochures-of-the-unknown more thoroughly since. Infinitely more successful was the orchestra's playing of Prokofiev's 7th Symphony in the December concert, and the extremely sensitive account of that lovely piece of 'English cow-pat School' — 'Tarn Hows' of Maurice Johnstone. It was even better played in the recent Ferneham Hall concert.
Martino Tirimo — fresh from his recording triumphs with the Brahms concertos — was the first HSO soloist in Season 1982–83, and he gave a marvellous account of the Brahms Bb, confessing afterwards how staggered he had been by the quality of the accompaniment. Malcolm Binns again came to our rescue in the July concert when Sylvia Kersenbaum was once more rendered 'hors de combat', this time, quite understandably, by the Falklands conflict. Although we had rehearsed the Dohnanyi Variations on a Nursery Theme reasonably thoroughly the performance had some shaky moments; particularly in the demonaic scherzo variation, and Malcolm Binns was less than impressed with us on that occasion. The concert itself was billed as a 'Prom' and though no-one had to stand we did have some splendid 'Prom' singing by the audience in 'Jerusalem' and 'Land of Hope and Glory'. In amongst the Havant concerts Peter Craddock had a nerve-wracking weekend in November when he was asked to step in at very short notice and conduct the Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra when the conductor was indisposed. The soloist turned out to be Rasma Lielmane, a familiar guest with the HSO, and the resultant Beethoven Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony are still talked about apparently (!)
Season 1983–84 was important in two ways — it marked the first of our seasonal associations with Radio Victory who provided sponsorship money for the soloists fees, and secondly, thanks to the generosity of Larry Dillner of the Monitor Magazine, we had a striking new brochure which did much to boost season ticket sales and audience figures throughout the season. One disappointment however was, that having been designated a 'Truly Outstanding' Society by the NFMS in the previous season (for standards and enterprise) the main London committee of NFMS felt unable to endorse the recommendation of the Southern Region NFMS Committee that we should retain the 'Truly Outstanding' status for the 1983–84 season. The reason given was that the programmes were 'not quite so enterprising as in previous years'. We actually thought they were more adventurous than ever, and they certainly outshone those of some subsequent seasons for which our coveted status was restored. It's nice to have had such recognition of our concert series, especially since we were, apparently, the only orchestral society in the country to be so designated along with a handful of choral societies. Apart from the useful publicity derived it also meant that our seasonal support grant from the NFMS went up by 10% or so. One of the highlights of the year was a performance of Christopher Headington's beautiful Violin Concerto, eloquently played by Ralph Holmes. We were looking forward to Ralph giving a repeat performance at some future date but this was not to be. Tragically Ralph died a few months later of a brain tumour, possibly aggravated by a mugging in Soho. We'd like to think that the performance scheduled for July 1988, with Rasma Lielmane as soloist, will be in the nature of a memorial for Ralph.
Following the undoubted success of the 1983–84 season, regardless of what the NFMS might have envisaged(!), we became rather more bold in our choice of soloists, and a whole array of internationally eminent players was engaged for 1984–85. Craig Sheppard was a knock-out in the Gershwin Piano Concerto — he even regaled us with an encore, his own potted 'Readers Digest' version of 'Rhapsody in Blue'; Nigel Kennedy was brilliant in the Elgar Concerto, despite breaking a string halfway through the opening movement. It's taken Peter Craddock some time to get over the shock of being called Maestro, and having the whispered direction just before the finale 'Let's go get 'em! Vanya Elias Jose charmed us all with a very emotional reading of Rachmaninov's 1st Concerto, and in the same July concert we all thoroughly enjoyed performing the 3rd Symphony of Rutland Boughton, suggested to us by Michael Hurd and attended by various members of the Boughton family from all over the country. That is another work that we shall most certainly perform again in the near future. The strong soloist line-up seems to have paid off because the average audience for the season shot up from 378 to 456.
1985–86 and 1986–87
Good attendances were maintained in 1985–86 (average 455) and the sale of season tickets leapt from 203 to 256 despite the absence of any really top-notch soloists. In the January concert, re-scheduled because Oaklands School decided not to allow outside bookings in December, the Welsh composer, Daniel Jones, was present to hear us play his excellent 'Dance Fantasy', also chosen for the Proms that year. It was not one of our best attempts at a modern work but we did redeem ourselves in the Shostakovitch 9th Symphony that followed. Another distinguished visitor came to the March concert, the eminent journalist, author and music critic, Michael Kennedy, who was participating in the morning in a Vaughan Williams Day School. He wrote afterwards to say how much he enjoyed our performance of the Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony, which he had found more secure than some professional readings he had heard. He was also entranced by Prokofiev's 'Winter Bonfire Suite' which was new to him. The July concert, with Malcolm Binns at last a soloist in his own right (Liszt 2nd Concerto) was one of the least successful of recent HSO concerts, and we were all particularly despondent after the performance of Brahms' 3rd Symphony — a work we had waited many years to tackle. Towards the end of the season there were indications that our activities at Oaklands School were not welcomed in quite the same way as in the days of Sister Catherine. Apart from the recently imposed restriction on audience-size (not a decision of Oaklands but brought about through revision of the fire regulations), we were asked to remove the Borough grand piano from the hall and find a new home for it in order that the imminent new flooring in the hall would not be damaged, and later to remove our music library, conductor's rostrum and music stands from the sub-hall grotto. These, together with a number of minor irritations persuaded us to look for a new venue for our events. Sadly, there was nowhere else in Havant that could accommodate us so we decided to investigate the new Ferneham Hall at Fareham, serving an area that already provided us with our third largest support. So far we are quietly satisfied with the move — the superior acoustics of Oaklands will be missed, but we are working on ways of improving the Ferneham sound. Seating, lighting, audience comfort, refreshment facilities, very helpful, technical staff, box office and general 'concert hall' ambience are very much positive gains. What is surprising is that Season Tickets for the first year of the Ferneham move have actually risen by 100 to 356 when we expected them to fall. For that we thank you all, our loyal supporters, and hope that you will continue to encourage us to maintain our enterprise and standards in the orchestral concerts we promote.