Ipswich Symphony Orchestra is the new name for an orchestra which has been giving concerts in the town for 113 years. Ipswich Orchestral Society was established in 1902 by its founder and first Conductor, Dr Walter Sinclair, an Ipswich optician. A friend of Sir Henry Wood, he modelled the programmes of the Society on those of Sir Henry's famous Promenade Concerts. In those days, with the phonograph a new invention, and well before the introduction of radio, access to orchestral music was difficult and people were limited in what they could hear played in their own home or circle - thus there was an appetite for a wide range of music at public concerts.
The first concert was given on 27 November 1903 at 8.00pm in the Public Hall in Westgate Street, (now the site of Primark). The programmes of those days show how fashions in musical taste have changed - it was not unusual for the orchestra to perform ten musical items at one concert with three individual soloists, one of whom would have been a singer with piano accompaniment.
The Orchestra has always been well supported by members living in the country districts, and it is amusing to recall that many of the players came to the weekly rehearsals in horse-drawn vehicles! Special trains were even laid on from Stowmarket and Felixstowe to bring concert audiences into Ipswich.
June 2012 concert with soloist Jennifer Pike
A notable concert in November 1913 brought world-famous “celebrity” pianist and composer Percy Grainger to play Grieg's piano concerto, after which he conducted two of his most popular pieces, Walking Tune and Mock Morris. In November 1914 the Orchestra gave a Grand Patriotic Concert to raise money for relief in recently-invaded Belgium. Dr Sinclair resigned in 1919 owing to ill-health, to be succeeded by Mr Edgar Wilby, Professor and Conductor at the Blackheath Conservatoire of Music, and a violinist of the London Symphony Orchestra. He continued as Conductor until the outbreak of World War II, with his final concert bringing the celebrated pianist, Solomon, to play Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.
After the War, regular rehearsals restarted, with Peter Burges appointed conductor in 1948 and remaining in post until 1953 when he was succeeded for two seasons by the young Colin Davis, later a renowned maestro.
After the Public Hall burned down in 1949 concerts were given in school halls and local churches until 1977 when the Orchestra celebrated its 75th anniversary in the Grand Hall of the newly refurbished Corn Exchange. Beethoven's Emperor Concerto was performed by John Lill and conducted by Christopher Phelps.
IOS's annual Family Concerts have been popular since the first was held in 1979 - a rather informal event in the Willis Faber sports hall at Rushmere. Five years later the Family Concert also moved to the Corn Exchange and continues a unique tradition, that children are allowed to go onstage during the interval to handle and try the orchestral instruments. Many local musicians will admit to having first been inspired to take up their instrument at an IOS Family Concert.
The Orchestra marked the millennium by appointing its present conductor, Adam Gatehouse. A professional conductor, and a senior editor with BBC Radio 3, Adam has led and inspired the orchestra to a high level of performance in concerts with international soloists such as Nicola Benedetti, Julian Lloyd Webber, Dame Felicity Lott and Benjamin Grosvenor. The next concert in June, presents young Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, who is currently receiving 5-star reviews, performing Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, and in November, renowned British pianist, Steven Osborne, plays Brahms' First Piano Concerto.
After 113 years as IOS, the Orchestra recently voted to update its name to Ipswich Symphony Orchestra, which sounds more modern, and also more accurately describes this large orchestra of around 75 players. ISO is proud that Ipswich now has its own symphony orchestra, continuing a long tradition of high quality music making with top-class soloists performing here in our county town.
Pat Grimwade (Chairman ISO) www.ipswichsymphonyorchestra.org