Playing along on the Crest of a Wave; Christopher Morley Reviews a New Book Tracing the History of the City's Leading Amateur Orchestra

The Birmingham Post (England), April 3, 2000 | Go to article overview

Playing along on the Crest of a Wave; Christopher Morley Reviews a New Book Tracing the History of the City's Leading Amateur Orchestra


Now in its 60th year, the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra has had a rollercoaster of an existence over the decades, but is now riding on a high which looks set to continue.

But ups and downs there have certainly been, as Margaret Worsley's enthralling new History of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, 1941-1999 fascinatingly details.

As one of the orchestra's principal second violinists and, since 1981, honorary secretary of the society, she is uniquely placed to chronicle the BPO's story, right from its beginnings as the 'South Birmingham Orchestra' formed to accompany an open-air performance of Handel's Messiah in November 1941 in Billesley.

It was not until 1948 that the orchestra decided to adopt the comparison-risking name of 'Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra'. By that time it had already appeared with such great names as pianist Eileen Joyce, sopranos Joan Hammond and Isobel Baillie, basses Robert Easton and Dennis Noble - and was shortly to do so with the inimitable violinist/conductor/comedian Vic Oliver. It had also featured in a live BBC radio broadcast from Birmingham's Central Hall in Corporation Street.

In 1950 the orchestra made a nine-day tour of Holland, flying out of Elmdon in what was at the time reported as the largest civilian plane to have flown from Birmingham Airport. The BPO returned with several prizes won at an international festival mounted in Oosterbeek, organised to commemorate the heroes of the Battle of Arnhem in the Second World War.

But it returned, too, to internal wranglings, with ill-feeling between the administration and rank-and-file membership, and disputes over repertoire. Stability was gradually resumed and later in the 1950s began what Margaret Worsley describes as 'a very long and colourful association' with Kenneth Page.

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