The New BBC Orchestra 

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From the Radio Times published 10 February 1966

William Glock, BBC Controller of Music, writes on the occasion of the orchestra’s first concert in the Music Programme on Wednesday morning. It is also the subject of an item in Music International (BBC-2, Monday)

Last summer I wrote an article describing the formation of a new BBC orchestra which would provide a training for young instrumentalists such as this country has never offered before. At that moment, seven months ago, no auditions had yet been held. We had persuaded Leonard Hirsch to take charge of the orchestra, and had planned a regime for the players which we hoped would increase their professional mastery and deepen their understanding of music. We still did not know that thirty-one flautists would compete for three places, and twenty-six clarinettists: or that we should have to show the most dogged persistence, on the other hand, in order to find enough string players of good to moderate ability to fill the ranks. I mention this because one of our chief ambitions for the new orchestra is that it should help to raise the standard of string playing all over the country. At present it would be idle to boast, as Stokowski is said to have done of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1920s, that every member of the first violins could play a Bach or Mozart concerto. Nevertheless, there are some fine instrumentalists in the various string sections, even though they are outshone on the whole by the woodwind and the brass.

When the orchestra gives its first broadcast on Wednesday, it will have had six weeks in which to settle in. During this time I have been able to visit Bristol on two occasions, to hear full rehearsals and also separate groups of woodwind, brass, and strings working under leading instrumentalists from London. Of course, these smaller groups can be subjected to a more sustained and searching criticism than is practicable when the full orchestra is there. That is the point of them. Sometimes the players are given what amounts to a series of magnificent private lessons, as when Eugene Cruft takes the double basses. At others — with Gareth Morris, for example, in charge of the woodwind and the horns in Strauss’s Serenade in E flat — they learn the virtues of simplicity (‘feeling in time’ as Artur Schnabel once said) and of a passionate attention to detail. All this is invaluable. But do not imagine that when Leonard Hirsch rehearses the entire orchestra in Mozart’s Linz Symphony or Dvorak’s D minor, then half the players can relapse into inconsistent bowings or indeterminate entries and escape notice. Far from it. He is a demon for ensemble, though a patient demon. The players have to know precisely what to contribute at any moment, and nothing is allowed to pass. But sensitivity of this kind takes time to develop, like any other complex activity of co-operation. At the root of it all is a simple proposition: to equate orchestral playing with being an artist.

How will it sound on Wednesday morning? I can only say that I noticed a dramatic change in the very first hour that this new orchestra played under Leonard Hirsch — one set of players at ten o’clock and another altogether at eleven; and that when I went again to Bristol a fortnight later the strings had a better quality and there were signs of a nobler and more sophisticated style in the performances as a whole. By now I would expect another noticeable advance, and there seems no reason why the process should not continue, especially since the players themselves are without a trace of that deadening attitude of ‘now let’s get on with it, and no nonsense,’ which sometimes afflicts orchestral musicians later on. They are there to learn, and their enthusiasm is heartening.

LEONARD HIRSCH, the orchestra’s conductor speaks in The Lively Arts (Sunday, Home Service)

The New BBC Orchestra will be heard playing on Wednesday mornings in the Music Programme for the next eight weeks and thereafter on Tuesday afternoons. It gives its first public concert on Friday, April 15

Certainly they have to get through a formidable number of works during the next five or six months — about seventy-five of them, ranging from Bach to Webern, from Mozart to Stravinsky, from Beethoven to Mahler. It is important, I’m sure, that this new orchestra should be associated with lively programmes. and we shall try to reconcile the basic requirements of a thorough training for the players with a choice of works which will look inviting and not too conventional. At first the programmes will last only fifty minutes, then in April they will expand to sixty. On June 25 the orchestra will take part in the Bath Festival, with a concert under Gary Bertini which includes Mozart’s Prague Symphony, Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Stravinsky’s Baiser de la fée, and Debussy’s Three Nocturnes.

By then, who knows? Yet I must remind you of something I said earlier on. We had a great struggle to recruit especially string players of the quality we had hoped to find. Those that were chosen have already made progress, and will make far more. But next year — and this is agreed by all who have felt the charm and excitement and opportunity of this new venture in Bristol — the standard will be higher. The news will spread.


Footnotes

  • The New BBC Orchestra was renamed the BBC Training Orchestra in 1968 when Leonard Hirsch resigned. It became the Academy of the BBC in the 1974 and was wound up in 1977.
  • Leonard Hirsch was born in Dublin on 19 December 1902 and died at Bristol on 4 January 1995. A violinist by training, he went on to become a professor at the Royal College of Music.
  • William Glock (1908-2000) was controller of music at the BBC from 1959-1972 and controller of the Proms 1960-1973, having started as a music critic with the Telegraph and the Observer before the Second World War. He was later director of the Bath Festival from 1976 to 1984. Glock was awarded the CBE in 1964, knighted in 1970 and made an Hon. Doctor of Letters by the University of Bath in 1984.

     

William Glock

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