Happy Birthday LSO: How it all began

‘Gentlemen, from now on there will be no deputies. Good morning’. This was the controversial statement that triggered the formation of the LSO. And to celebrate the anniversary of the Orchestra's inaugural concert, Archivist Libby Rice took a look back at how it all began! 

At the turn of the 20th century, London’s music centre was the Queen’s Hall, located in the heart of the West End in Langham Place. Opened in 1893, it was run by musical entrepreneur Robert Newman who, together with the young up-and-coming conductor Henry Wood, founded the Proms concerts. But a concert needs musicians, and a new orchestra was formed to present the Proms series: the Queen’s Hall Orchestra. And so it was that in August 1895 the Queen’s Hall Promenade concert season was born!

London's Queen's HallQueen's Hall, London

However, although they were able to offer steady work to the orchestra's players, Wood and Newman simply could not pay as much as London’s music halls and opera houses. It was the norm for players to take up a more lucrative engagement should it be offered, and when that did happen, the player would send along a ‘deputy’ to take his place. This meant that Wood was often faced with a sea of faces he didn’t know at rehearsals, and sometimes even at the concerts themselves! Quite rightly, he and Newman decided that this practice had to stop as it was compromising their artistic standards. So in early 1904 Newman issued his ultimatum – ‘Gentlemen, from now on there will be no deputies. Good morning.’ – and it did not go down well! The majority of the players were aghast at losing their freelance status and their enhanced income.

The four founding members of the LSOThe story goes that a plan was hatched on a train to Manchester by four ringleaders: Adolf Borsdorf, Henri van der Meerschen, Thomas Busby and John Solomon (pictured) – all brass players. They would form an orchestra of their own which would be run as a co-operative, a ‘Musical Republic’, where the players would choose the conductors and not the other way around.

A meeting was convened where Busby laid out their ambitious plan and consequently, 45 members of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra resigned to join the new London Symphony Orchestra. Busby was to become the Orchestra’s first Managing Director and remained in that post for 20 years. The renowned and respected conductor, Hans Richter, was working with the Hallé in Manchester at the time and was persuaded by his friend Borsdorf to conduct the LSO’s first concert and to become its first Principal Conductor.

In time, it became clear that Wood and Newman had been right and some years later the deputy system came to an end. Ironic, as it was, of course, the original ‘raison d’etre’ of the new orchestra.

On 9 June 1904, the LSO held their inaugural at the Queen’s Hall with Wood and Newman in the audience. As so many of the players had engagements at the Opera House in the evening, this inaugural event had to be held in the afternoon. Nevertheless, it was a great success and the critics hailed the new orchestra as one of the best in Europe!

'…the volume of tone was magnificent, and the effect of the performance under Dr Richter was truly memorable … the large audience applauded the orchestra with the utmost enthusiasm' (The Times, June 1904)

LSO Inaugural Concert flyer and conductor Hans Richter

The programme for that first concert included works by Wagner, Bach, Mozart and Liszt as well as Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Beethoven’s Symphony No 5. The programme has been repeated at several anniversary concerts over the years and excerpts from some of these pieces were played at the LSO’s Centenary Concert at the Barbican in 2004.

The LSO's centenary gala at the Barbican on 9 June 2004The LSO's Centenary Gala at the Barbican on 9 June 2004

Did you know…?

Many years later John Solomon wrote to Henry Wood to explain that one of the reasons for their split was that the players had feared he would become famous and be snapped up by some foreign orchestra and as a result, the Queen's Hall Orchestra would be left high and dry. 

Until the first series of LSO concerts took place starting in October 1904, it was the norm in England for ensembles to have a resident conductor but the fledgling LSO took the opportunity to invite some of the world’s greatest conductors to join them including Frederick Cowen, Arthur Nikisch, Fritz Steinbach, Edouard Colonne, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Edward Elgar.

You might also like

> For a more in-depth story, you might like to purchase Richard Morrison's book, written for the LSO's centenary in 2004, Orchestra The LSO: A Century of Triumph and Turbulenceavailable from Amazon.

> Watch this short video showing the Queen's Hall before and after it was wrecked by bombs.

> Read our blog about all the Principal Conductors of the LSO through the years.

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