Another Post-War Revival
When the YSO committee reconvened after the war, in June 1946, under the chairmanship of Herbert Hey, the prospects for a successful revival must have seemed remote, given the previous experience and the orchestra’s much reduced circumstances. The first priority was to find a suitable conductor, and the committee turned to Frederic Waine , music master at St. Peter’s School, who agreed to conduct for the first season. Another music teacher at St. Peter’s, Geoffrey Stevens, undertook to lead the orchestra. After the first season, the baton was passed to Francis Jackson , newly appointed Minster Organist (he had replaced Edward Bairstow, who had died in 1946), with Mr. Waine supporting him as assistant conductor. This arrangement proved to be immensely successful, and the partnership of these three musicians – Francis Jackson, Geoffrey Stevens and Frederic Waine – provided a stability which ensured that the orchestra would not merely re-establish itself, but also that it would regain something of the reputation that it had enjoyed in its early heyday. Francis Jackson continued to conduct the orchestra for the next 33 years, with Geoffrey Stevens supporting him as leader for 25 of those years.
The first post-war concert took place in the Mount School in March 1948, to be followed by no fewer than four performances in the spring of the following year, and a performance of Fauré’s Requiem in the Minster, together with the York Musical Society. After this, a regular pattern of one – and by the 1960s two – concerts a year was established, together with a performance of a choral work with the Musical Society at Christmas. In contrast with the very diverse fare of the Orchestra’s early concerts, the works performed reflected the modern pattern, with two or three works from the classical repertoire, usually including a concerto, though a modern English work often figured in the programmes, too – a reflection of Francis Jackson’s musical tastes and interests.
The music critics of the press found much to admire in these concerts, and had nothing but praise for the conductor, though at the same time they drew attention to the technical deficiencies of the players. Dr. Jackson also found it necessary to upbraid members for their poor attendance at rehearsals and their failure to rectify mistakes. However, the standard gradually improved, and by the 1960s the press were enthusiastic and appreciative.
Dr. Jackson’s Activities
Francis Jackson’s activities with the orchestra were not limited to conducting; he also appeared as soloist in a number of concerts, playing Saint Saëns’s second Piano Concerto, Schumann’s A minor Piano Concerto, and Franck’s Symphonic variations . He later performed, in a single concert, Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto and Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand. He was also commissioned to write a piece for the orchestra, the overture Brigantia , which received its first performance in 1971, and has remained in the repertoire ever since – it was performed again in March 2001, and in December 2007 (marking Dr. Jackson’s 90th birthday).
A number of prominent soloists were engaged during this period, for example the violinist Frederick Grinke (1961 and 1964) and the pianist Denis Matthews (1968). These were followed by others during the 1970s: Cecil Aronowitz, Sylvia Rosenberg, Barry Tuckwell and Julian Lloyd Webber.
In spite of these successes, there were also difficulties. Apart from the perennial financial problems which have dogged the orchestra throughout its life, attendance at rehearsals was not always good, and the standard of playing often left much to be desired. The founding, in 1980, of the new Guildhall Orchestra by John Hastie, music master at Bootham School, raised further problems. This orchestra, which has since established itself as one of the finest in the area, was established on a quite different footing from the York Symphony Orchestra, with players gathered together for specific concerts rather than having regular rehearsals throughout the year, and ultimately with the employment of some professionals. The two orchestras were eventually to accommodate themselves to each other with some success, having complementary roles, but initially the establishment of the Guildhall Orchestra provoked a crisis in the ranks of the York Symphony Orchestra, and the necessity of a reappraisal of its role.
Dr. Jackson’s Departure
In the process of this reappraisal, Francis Jackson decided to relinquish his post as conductor, bringing to an end a whole era in the history of the orchestra. Dr. Jackson’s achievements with the orchestra had been considerable: from the low point at which the orchestra had begun after the Second World War, he had raised it to the point where it was once more an institution in the musical life of the city. One must also acknowledge the important part played in this process by other members, including the long-time leader Geoffrey Stevens and other enthusiastic members such as George Summers and Jim Cooper. But it clearly could not stop there, and a new beginning had to be made.