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wrexham symphony orchestra

Wrexham Symphony Orchestra - a history

Wrexham Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1969 by the late Bryn Williams, then senior lecturer of Music at Cartrefle Teacher Training College in Wrexham. He gathered together a small number of local string players to put on a concert, and they were billed as the “Clywedog Ensemble”.

The gathering of musicians, conducted by Bryn Williams, and with local peripatetic violin teacher Keith Dawber as leader, was an apparent success, and after this initial concert they decided to expand the group to include woodwind and brass players. The Wrexham and District Orchestral Society was born, with its performing arm more commonly known as the “Wrexham Orchestra”. It was not until 1992 that the orchestra changed its name again, this time to the current “Wrexham Symphony Orchestra”.

Incidentally, it is difficult to determine whether the Wrexham and District Orchestral Society has ever had more than one “arm” other than its performing one! In the Orchestra’s constitution the name still exists but it is generally a redundant term. As it is, changes of county boundaries have made the words “and District” inconsequential – Wrexham is now also a County Borough, with the town of Wrexham at its centre. Meanwhile, older members still tend to refer to the orchestra affectionately as “Wrexham Orch”, which is reflected in the current website address and twitter feed.

The WSO has grown to its present day membership numbering over sixty players and regularly attracts professional guest conductors and outstanding soloists. The increase in membership has allowed the orchestra to undertake increasingly ambitious programmes of music and in increasingly important venues. Since 1997, the orchestra has been resident at the prestigious William Aston Hall in Wrexham. The year also saw the orchestra make a successful bid for funding to the Lottery unit of the Arts Council of Wales. The percussion equipment bought with this grant is now housed at the William Aston Hall, Glyndŵr University.

The orchestra was given charitable status in the early 1990s, which has enabled it to raise money for many other charities. Many local charities have benefited – a full list can be seen in the Concerts section – and over the years many thousands of pounds have been donated. In 1999 the orchestra was presented with a community award for its charity work by British Steel.

In 2004 the WSO was inaugurated Orchestra in Residence at the NEWI William Aston Hall. The year also saw the orchestra presented with a workshop alongside players from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and receive a grant towards music hire and expenditure from the Arts Council of Wales. 2006 saw the orchestra receive a second grant through the Welsh Amateur Music Federation (WAMF) which has enabled it to purchase a greatly needed “Clavinova” keyboard to enhance its repertoire and functionality.

The second decade of this century has featured in particular its Mahler series. With generous sponsorship from Betrinac, the orchestra hopes to complete the cycle of numbered Mahler symphonies within the decade. The highlight of the cycle so far has been a trip to the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester in May 2015 where the WSO played Mahler’s second symphony.

Conductors

The orchestra has had many conductors through its history. Bryn Williams was its first, succeeded by Keith Dawber, then Andrew Lansom. He was followed by Eve Armitage, then Chris Roberts.

By the late 1980s the orchestra realised it needed a more flexible approach, rather than the “for life” status the position had previously enjoyed. By nominating a different conductor per season it was felt that more people would be attracted to the post, and it could even deter members from leaving the orchestra if they didn’t appreciate a certain conductor! The fresh approach worked, and conductors from this period include (in no particular order) Alan Lees, Graham Marshman, Andrew Lansom, Paul Whittaker and Tom Attwell. By the mid 1990s things were taken one step further, and since then the committee has invited a different conductor each concert. Since then conductors have included Laurence Perkins, Garry Walker, Patrick Williams, Huw Gareth Williams, Mark Lansom, Alan Lees, Paul Whittaker, Ian Morgan-Williams, Robin Newton, Ian Jones, Matthew Wood, Russell Gray, Kenneth Woods, Richard Adamson, Greg Williams, Richard Howarth, Peter Litman, Nic Fallowfield, Jonathan Small and Nicholas Simpson. Mark Lansom has gone on to conduct the orchestra more times than any other person in its history.

Leaders

The orchestra’s first leader was Emlyn Evans, followed by Andrew Roberts. Between them they led almost all the concerts in its first twenty seven years. Since Andrew Roberts’s departure the committee decided, as with conductors, to appoint per concert, though the most regular leaders have been Craig Clewley and Mark Lansom. Other people who have led the WSO through its history include Norma Rothwell, Helen Chesworth, Nerys Farmer, Mike Vellacott, Giulia de Rosa, Benjamin Lowe, Sam Aylward, Hiroshi Amako and Bethan Allmand.

Rehearsal Venues

For many years the orchestra rehearsed at Rhosddu Primary School. Since then they have most notably been housed at The Groves Secondary School, Yale Sixth Form College (at its old site on Crispin Lane), and most recently at Glyndŵr University. Their most unusual venue, however, was during the 1970s in the basement of the then new Wrexham Swimming Baths. Apparently the orchestra could be clearly heard by the underwater swimmers, which must have proved disconcerting! Meanwhile, however, the sound of the swimmers was quite noticeable during the orchestra’s pianissimos….

Throughout the orchestra’s history, rehearsal night has always been a Wednesday, these days starting at 7.15pm, until 9.30pm.

Concert Venues

These have been many and widespread. Most churches large enough (and some not quite large enough!) in the Wrexham area have held WSO concerts in the orchestra’s history. Many concerts in the late 1970s and early 1980s were held in Acton School hall. Significant venues since include Theatr Clwyd, St Asaph Cathedral, and the town’s own magnificent parish church, St Giles (especially when its Canon, Barry Smith, was a member of the viola section!). For many years in the early 1990s the orchestra was host to a “Come and Sing Messiah” event held every January at St Giles. After a gap of many years, the orchestra returned to the work for a repeat event in 2007.

During most of the 1990s the orchestra played many concerts at Wallasey Town Hall, usually one per year and usually in a programme of lighter music. Since the late 1990s almost all of its concerts have been at the William Aston Hall, Glyndŵr University. In 2017 the orchestra played its first outdoor concert, a Proms in the Park at the British Ironwork Centre near Oswestry.

By far the most prestigious venue, however, by some distance, has been Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, where the orchestra played an acclaimed performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony.

Not many orchestral members who were there, however, will forget the low of playing in front of about seven people (probably artistic licence there, but it wasn’t many) in the canteen at local firm BICC. Not a great night, but a tremendous yardstick to show the orchestra’s progression since!

Chairmen

Chairmen of the orchestra have included Bernard Jones, Emlyn Evans, Geoff Blore, Alun Thomas, Andrew Lansom, Myra Roberts, Tim Rowland, Jason George, Frank Thorne, Heather Thomas, Becky Jarvis, Martin Oliver, and Matthew Ellis, the current chairman.

Long Serving Members

Current members who first played in the orchestra twenty or more years ago include Myra Roberts, Stella Lansom, Mark Lansom, Tim Rowland, Matthew Ellis, Craig Clewley, Anna Aylward, Jonathan Pye, Andrew McCaddon, Gwyneth Hughes, Joy Thomas and Karen Pearson. Joy Thomas is the only current member who actually performed in the Clywedog Ensemble concert of 1969.

Young Player Award

Since the late 1980s, this occasional award has been made to a promising player under the age of twenty one. People who have won this award include Helen Chesworth (violin), Nia Roberts (double bass), Janet Davies (clarinet), Matthew Ellis (French horn, and now current chairman), Jessica Spalding (bassoon), Sam Aylward (violin) and Rebecca Tattersall (double bass). In 2001 the award’s name was changed to the “Andrew Lansom Young Player Award”. Since then the recipients have been:

2001: Krista Williams (Cello)

2003: David Pfeiffer (Violin)

2004: Christine Ellis (Violin) and Alison Butler (Double Bass)

2005: Iolo McGregor (Cello)

2006: Laura Murphy (Double Bass) and Robert Guy (Viola/Violin)

2007: Edward Wadon (Cello)

2008: Rhian Davies (Percussion)

2009: Hiroshi Amako (Violin)

2010: Alice Dunbabin (French Horn)

2011: Bethan Allmand (Violin)

2012: Lucy Arch (Cello)

2013: Tom Blomfield (Oboe)

2014: Peter Cowlishaw (Tuba)

2015: Simon Rowland (Viola)

2016: Rhiannon Collins (Viola)


Ernest Aubusson Violin Award


Purchased by the orchestra with money generously bequeathed to the orchestra in the estate of the late Ernest Aubusson, a good quality violin has been bought in his memory. The instrument is to be loaned to student members deserved of such an instrument. The first person to win this award, and current user of the instrument, is Abbie Jones.


The above was written by Mark Lansom, mostly through personal recollection, and with, in most cases, little or no written evidence. There are therefore probably many inaccuracies and therefore profuse apologies are offered in advance to anybody inadvertently omitted. Please get in touch through e-mail if you can offer any additions, omissions or anecdotes. Or just speak to Mark Lansom on a Wednesday night at the William Aston Hall.

Last Updated: 10 June 2017

 

 

 

 

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