Snippets from history: Walton & the LSO

On 28 October Antoine Tamestit returns to the Barbican stage as part of his LSO Artist Portrait. The star viola player performs William Walton’s Viola Concerto and Robin Ticciati conducts Brahms Symphony No 4. During his lifetime William Walton had a long and close relationship with the LSO. Read on to discover more about the composer, his history with the LSO and his majestic Viola Concerto.


World Premieres with the LSO

It was in the early days of his career that Walton began to establish his long relationship with the LSO. In 1931 the LSO premiered Belshazzar’s Feast, in Leeds, conducted by Malcolm Sargent. Alongside his Viola Concerto (1929) this would become one of Walton’s most famous works.

Following on from the success of the Viola Concerto and Belshazzar’s Feast, Hamilton Harty, then conductor of the Hallé, recognised that the young composer should go on to create a symphony. Harty, now the LSO’s Principal Conductor, offered the invitation in January 1932, and the following month Walton set to work. The task was not, however, to prove easy. Almost four years passed before the score was ready. By late 1934 Walton had still not completed the work, so it was decided that on 3 December the LSO would take the unusual step of giving the first performance of the three completed movements only. Eight months later Walton completed the fourth movement was and it was then premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Film Music Pioneer

Much like his Austrian American contemporary Erich Korngold, William Walton was a gifted film composer. Perhaps his most famous score is for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 Shakespeare epic Henry V. Walton and Olivier were commissioned by the British government to make the film which, it was hoped, would boost morale at the tail end of the Second World War. Walton recorded the bold, patriotic score with the LSO that year and together they earned an Academy Award nomination.

Poster for Laurence Olivier's film Henry V

Walton becomes Honorary President of the LSO

As a token of the LSO's gratitude for Walton’s commitment to the orchestra, in 1948 he was invited to take up the position of Honorary President of the LSO. This position is the highest honour bestowed by the orchestra and was first offered to Lord Howard de Walden (1920-1946). The title of Honorary President publicly acknowledges the strong level of mutual respect held between Walton and the LSO. Walton remained Honorary President from afar from his home on the island of Ischia until 1957.

Walton takes a bow at his birthday concert.

Walton, the LSO and Antoine Tamestit...

Walton’s Viola Concerto, composed in 1929, is special for both the LSO and our viola soloist Antoine Tamestit. The LSO have performed the concerto 20 times since 1935, and it was the work of choice for Walton’s 70th and 80th birthday concerts in 1972 and 1982. Star conductors and soloists have performed the concerto with the LSO including Valery Gergiev, André Previn, Nobuko Imai, Hermoine Gingold, and Yehudi Menuhin, better known as a violinist.

Antoine Tamestit is no different, he feels a special connection to the concerto with it being the first that he performed with a full orchestra, and, on 9 January 2011, the first performance he gave with the LSO alongside our incoming Chief Conductor Antonio Pappano.

In a recent interview with the LSO, he described the experience of performing the Viola Concerto with the LSO as ‘fantastic’ and feeling ‘swept away by the orchestra’. Antoine’s performance of Walton’s 1962 version of the Concerto on Thursday 28 October is certainly not one you’ll want to miss!

Watch Antoine talk about his relationship with the Walton Concerto:

Antoine Tamestit performs at the Barbican.


Artist Portrait: Antoine Tamestit (Walton Viola Concerto)

Thursday 28 October 7pm, Barbican

Walton Viola Concerto (1962 version)
- Interval -
Brahms Symphony No 4

Robin Ticciati conductor
Antoine Tamestit viola
London Symphony Orchestra

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Top photo: former LSO Principal Conductor André Previn (left) with William Walton (right), taken during a 1970s recording session.

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