Between the Wars

Post-war Revival

After the First World War, attempts could be made to revive the York Symphony Orchestra. This proved difficult, however, as many of the former players, including Miss Knocker, were no longer available, and the social and economic conditions were now drastically altered. Symphony concerts faced increased competition from more ‘popular’ forms of mass entertainment, and the financial prospects were at best uncertain. Though it was possible to gather together some 32 of the former members, and another 13 new ones, they were rather unsatisfactorily distributed among the instruments, and the new players were inexperienced. Nevertheless, a rehearsal was arranged, in 1919, which was attended by between 30 and 40 musicians.

The Conductorship

A further major difficulty, however, was the conductorship of the Orchestra. Miss Knocker was no longer in York, and Edward Bairstow was unwilling to take on this role, preferring to devote his energies to the York Musical Society. The committee made several attempts to find a suitable replacement, and a number of conductors were engaged, though none proved entirely satisfactory, and the attendance at rehearsals fell considerably. Eventually, Harold Bennett, the Deputy Minster Organist, was appointed, and, in 1921, rehearsals could begin again. These culminated in a fairly modest strings-only concert in April of the following year, to be followed, over the next four years, by five further concerts. The local press were supportive and enthusiastic, and the concert programmes were adventurous. The YSO appeared to be finding its feet once more, though it was clear that the orchestra could not hope to attain its pre-war reputation, and it had to compete for its audience, not always successfully, with other attractions.

Mr Bennett’s Departure

But the arrangement with Mr. Bennett, like those with his predecessors, eventually broke down in 1926, as his other duties – he had moved from York to Doncaster – made it difficult for him to attend rehearsals. The orchestra was again without a conductor. It gave a concert in 1927 (at which a little light relief was provided by the use of a Player Piano , rather than a live performer, to play the Grieg piano concerto), but after this it proved impossible to maintain the momentum, and no more concerts or rehearsals were arranged. The orchestra had virtually ceased to exist as a force in the musical life of the city. The committee did not meet again until 1931, when it made repeated attempts to revive the orchestra. Eventually it proved possible to arrange a concert in 1933, under the baton of Frederick Kell, musical director of the Empire Theatre, with financial assistance from York Corporation.

Carol Concert

Though this rebirth appeared promising, it was found to be impossible to repeat the success until 1937, when two more concerts were given in the Folk Hall , New Earswick, this time conducted by Owen Le P. Franklin, Assistant Organist at the Minster. After this, all that could be managed was a carol concert later that year. No more concerts took place until the outbreak of the Second World War.

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