London Philharmonic Orchestra

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London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Philharmonic Orchestra logo.png
Official London Philharmonic Orchestra logo
Short name LPO
Founded 1932
Concert hall Royal Festival Hall
Principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), is one of the major orchestras of the United Kingdom. It was founded by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1932 when he was approached by the rising young conductor Malcolm Sargent with a proposal to set up a permanent, salaried orchestra. Originally envisioned as a reshuffled version of the London Symphony Orchestra, Beecham and Sargent formed the orchestra after the LSO balked at weeding out and replacing underperforming players.

Since 1951, the LPO has been based in the Royal Festival Hall. In addition, the LPO is the main resident orchestra of the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. The LPO also performs concerts at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne and the Brighton Dome. The LPO has made several video game and film soundtracks, of which the best known includes Lawrence of Arabia, and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.



Sir Thomas Beecham, founding father and first conductor of the LPO.

At the turn of the twentieth century there were no permanent salaried orchestras in London. The main orchestras were those of Covent Garden, the Philharmonic Society and the Queen's Hall; their proprietors engaged players individually for each concert or for a season. As there were competing demands for the services of the finest players it was an accepted practice that, even though under contract to play for a concert, a player was at liberty to accept a better-paid engagement if it were offered. He would then engage another player to deputise at him for the original concert and the rehearsals for it. The treasurer of the Philharmonic Society described the system thus: "A, whom you want, signs to play at your concert. He sends B (whom you don't mind) to the first rehearsal. B, without your knowledge or consent, sends C to the second rehearsal. Not being able to play at the concert, C sends D, whom you would have paid five shillings to stay away."[1] There was much competition for good orchestral players, with well-paid engagements offered by more than fifty music halls, by pit bands in West End musical comedies, and by grand hotels and restaurants which maintained orchestras.[2]

In 1904, the manager of the Queen's Hall, Robert Newman and the conductor of his promenade concerts, Henry Wood, agreed that they could no longer tolerate the deputy system. After a rehearsal in which Wood was faced with dozens of unfamiliar faces in his own orchestra, Newman came to the platform and announced: "Gentlemen, in future there will be no deputies! Good morning!"[3] Forty players resigned en bloc and formed their own orchestra: the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1931, Sir Thomas Beecham was approached by the rising young conductor Malcolm Sargent with a proposal to set up a permanent, salaried orchestra with a subsidy guaranteed by Sargent's patrons, the Courtauld family.[4] Originally Sargent and Beecham envisaged a reshuffled version of the LSO, but the orchestra balked at weeding out and replacing underperforming players. In 1932 Beecham lost patience and agreed with Sargent to set up a new orchestra from scratch.[5] The work of engaging and contracting the players fell largely on the shoulders of the impresario Harold Holt.[6][7]

Early years[edit]

The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), as it was named, consisted of 106 players including a few young musicians straight from music college, many established players from provincial orchestras, and 17 of the LSO's leading members.[8] The orchestra made its debut at the Queen's Hall on 7 October 1932, conducted by Beecham. After the first item, Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, the audience went wild, some of them standing on their seats to clap and shout.[9] During the next eight years, the LPO appeared nearly a hundred times at the Queen's Hall for the Royal Philharmonic Society alone, played for Beecham's opera seasons at Covent Garden, and made more than 300 gramophone records.[10] Its founding associate conductor was Malcolm Sargent.[11] During the early years, the orchestra was led by Paul Beard and David McCallum, and included leading players such as Anthony Pini, Reginald Kell, Léon Goossens, Gwydion Brooke, Geoffrey Gilbert, Bernard Walton and James Bradshaw.[12][13]

At one of the orchestra's early concerts, in November 1932, the sixteen-year old Yehudi Menuhin played a programme of violin concertos; those by Bach and Mozart were conducted by Beecham, and Elgar's Concerto in B minor was conducted by the composer.

In the 1930s the LPO was the orchestra for the international opera seasons at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, of which Beecham was artistic director.

Beecham conducted the orchestra in a series of 78-rpm recordings for Columbia Records, including a critically acclaimed 1939 recording of Brahms' 2nd Symphony, which was later reissued on LP and CD.

War and post-war years[edit]

In 1939 the orchestra's sponsors withdrew their financial support and the orchestra became self-governing, with members of the orchestra themselves taking decisions on the organisation's affairs. During the Second World War it was particularly active in touring the country and bringing orchestral music to places where it was not usually available. Many of the players' instruments were lost in an air-raid in the Queen's Hall in May 1941, and an appeal was broadcast by the BBC, the response to which was enormous, with instruments donated by the public enabling the orchestra to continue. During Beecham's absence, the orchestra was often conducted by Richard Tauber.

After the war, Beecham returned to the LPO for eighteen months, but left to found a new orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic (RPO). Guest conductors in this period included Victor de Sabata, Bruno Walter, Sergiu Celibidache and Wilhelm Furtwängler. In 1949/50 the LPO gave 248 concerts, compared with 103 by the London Symphony Orchestra and 32 each by the Philharmonia and RPO.[14]

After a period with no principal conductor, the orchestra engaged the Dutch conductor Eduard van Beinum in 1947. At that time, foreign nationals were allowed to work in Britain for only six months of the year. In van Beinum’s absences, a roster of conductors guest-conducted the LPO, including Jean Martinon. Van Beinum’s health obliged him to resign in 1950. The LPO's managing director, Thomas Russell, then invited Sir Adrian Boult to take up the principal conductorship, after Boult had retired from his chief conductorship with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In 1947 the London Philharmonic Choir was founded as the chorus for the LPO.

The orchestra underwent a crisis between 1949 and 1952 because Russell, who had been the leading force in keeping the orchestra going during the war years, came under pressure in the Cold War years because of his communist beliefs. The London County Council withdrew its understanding that the LPO would be the resident orchestra at the new Royal Festival Hall, and eventually the orchestra voted to dismiss Russell and replace him with Eric Bravington.

Boult headed the LPO’s tour of the Soviet Union in 1956.[15] He subsequently stood down as principal conductor, but remained closely associated with the orchestra, and was made its President in 1965. Most of his stereophonic recordings for EMI were made with the LPO.

The nom de plume 'Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra' was used by the orchestra in a variety of recordings for Westminster in the mid 1950s conducted by Boult.[16]

Through the late 1950s the LPO worked with new conductors including Constantin Silvestri and Josef Krips. This was a bad period financially for the orchestra, and it was forced to abandon fixed contracts for its players with holiday and sick pay and pensions, and revert to payment by engagement.

In 1958 the LPO appointed William Steinberg, also music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, as chief conductor. He was a noted orchestral trainer, and did much to restore playing standards to their former levels. Steinberg however resigned the LPO post after two seasons on the advice of his doctor, since the double workload led to arm problems.[17]

The 1960s and 70s[edit]

In 1962 the orchestra undertook its first tour of India, Australia and the Far East. The conductors were Sir Malcolm Sargent and John Pritchard. Pritchard was appointed the LPO’s chief conductor in 1962. He was also music director of the Glyndebourne Festival, and in 1964 the LPO replaced the RPO as Glyndebourne’s resident orchestra.

In 1967 the LPO appointed Bernard Haitink as its principal conductor. He remained with the orchestra for twelve years, to date the longest tenure of any principal conductor, and brought a continuity that had been lacking since Beecham’s departure in 1939.

During this period the orchestra gave fund-raising concerts in which guests from outside the world of classical music appeared, including Danny Kaye, Duke Ellington, Tony Bennett, Victor Borge, Jack Benny and John Dankworth.

In the 1970s the orchestra toured the USA, China, Western Europe, Russia and the USA for a second time. Guest conductors included Erich Leinsdorf, Carlo Maria Giulini, Eugen Jochum, and Sir Georg Solti, who became the LPO’s chief conductor in 1979.

The 1980s and 90s[edit]

In 1982 the orchestra celebrated its golden jubilee. A contemporaneous book listed the many famous musicians who had worked with the LPO in its fifty years. In addition to those mentioned above, others were conductors Daniel Barenboim, Leonard Bernstein, Eugen Jochum, Erich Kleiber, Serge Koussevitzky, Pierre Monteux, André Previn and Leopold Stokowski, and soloists Janet Baker, Dennis Brain, Alfred Brendel, Roberto Carnevale, Pablo Casals, Aldo Ciccolini, Clifford Curzon, Victoria de los Ángeles, Jacqueline du Pré, Kirsten Flagstad, Beniamino Gigli, Emil Gilels, Jascha Heifetz, Wilhelm Kempff, Fritz Kreisler, Julian Lloyd Webber, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, David Oistrakh, Luciano Pavarotti, Maurizio Pollini, Leontyne Price, Arthur Rubinstein, Elisabeth Schumann, Rudolf Serkin, Joan Sutherland, Richard Tauber and Eva Turner.

Klaus Tennstedt was principal conductor of the LPO from 1983 to 1987. After Tennstedt stood down because of ill-health, the orchestra was without a principal conductor for 3 years, until the accession of Franz Welser-Möst in 1990. Welser-Möst's tenure was controversial, during which time he received the nickname "Frankly Worse than Most" and many harshly critical reviews.[18] Welser-Möst did bring with him a recording contract with EMI Classics to his relationship with the LPO. However, management turnover, financial stresses, and political disputes at the Southbank Centre at the time contributed to the difficulty of the working atmosphere in the orchestra.[19][20] Welser-Möst concluded his LPO tenure in 1996.

21st century[edit]

After the departure of Welser-Möst, the LPO was without a principal conductor for 4 years, until the appointment of Kurt Masur, who served in the post from 2000 to 2007. In December 2001, Vladimir Jurowski first conducted the LPO as a substitute guest conductor, to critical acclaim.[21] He subsequently became their Principal Guest Conductor in 2003. He conducted the LPO in June 2007 during the concerts marking the re-opening of the refurbished Royal Festival Hall.[22] In September 2007, Jurowski became the LPO's 11th principal conductor. In November 2007, the LPO named Yannick Nézet-Séguin as their new Principal Guest Conductor, effective with the 2008–2009 season.[23] In May 2010, the LPO announced the extension of Jurowski's contract as principal conductor through the 2014–2015 season, and the contract of Nézet-Séguin as principal guest conductor through the 2013–2014 season.[24]

Pieter Schoeman, violinist who has studied under Sylvia Rosenberg and Eduard Schmieder, is the orchestra's current concertmaster.

The current LPO chief executive and artistic director is Timothy Walker.[25] The LPO has begun to issue CDs under its own label.[26]

Non-classical work[edit]

As well as giving its classical concerts, the LPO has made several film soundtracks, including Lawrence of Arabia, Philadelphia, The Mission, The Lord of the Rings film series, The Hobbit film series as well as some CD albums of video game music from the Square Enix series Dragon Quest composed by Koichi Sugiyama, Symphonic Poem: Hope for Final Fantasy XII, the soundtrack for Xenosaga Episode I composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and even Elkie Brooks' Screen Gems, the entire album of which was used in modern films. From 1992, they contributed to Lalo Schifrin's Jazz Meets the Symphony project. Also in 1992, Howard Shore conducted the LPO featuring Ornette Coleman on Shore's soundtrack to the film Naked Lunch. They can also be heard in the 1993 television production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, conducted by Simon Rattle and the 1989 EMI recording of the opera. The orchestra also occasionally plays on popular music and heavy metal music records like Nightwish's Once, Dark Passion Play, and Imaginaerum and the band's leader and keyboardist's Music Inspired by the Life and Times of Scrooge. In 1994, they featured in the 1994 Oasis hit "Whatever", providing the string section. In the mid-1990s the LPO even released tribute albums to rock bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and The Who with covers of the bands' songs, including a rendition of "Kashmir", and a version of "Baba O'Riley", which was featured in the movie Slackers. In 1999, the orchestra was featured on Chick Corea's album Corea. The LPO recorded 205 national anthems for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.[27]

Suspension of musicians[edit]

Four string players were suspended by the orchestra in 2011 for signing a letter to The Independent newspaper calling on The Proms to cancel a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, on the grounds of the latter's involvement with the Israeli state and its partnership with the Israel Defense Forces, who impede the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform. The suspensions was criticized as 'disproportionate' by Geoffrey Alderman[28] and 'too harsh' by Norman Lebrecht.[29] LPO chief executive Timothy Walker said 'Jewish pressure' led to the suspensions.[30] One of the suspended players later took a claim for discrimination on the grounds of belief to an employment tribunal.[31]

Principal conductors[edit]


  1. ^ Levien, John Mewburn, quoted in Reid, p. 50
  2. ^ Morrison, p. 12
  3. ^ Wood, p. 212
  4. ^ Aldous, p. 68
  5. ^ Reid, p. 202
  6. ^ Wesley McCann, H B Phillips Impresario: The Man Who Brought McCormack, Kreisler and Robeson
  7. ^ The Glasgow Herald, 22 September 1932
  8. ^ Morrison, p. 79
  9. ^ Russell, p. 18
  10. ^ Jefferson, p. 89
  11. ^ Aldous, p 69
  12. ^ Notes to EMI/WRC set SHB 201–204
  13. ^ Russell, p. 135
  14. ^ Hill, Ralph (ed) (1951). Music 1951. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. OCLC 26147349
  15. ^ Pepper, Maurice, "The London Philharmonic Orchestra in Russia" (February 1957). The Musical Times, 98 (1368): pp. 67–69.
  16. ^ Bromley P. Issue note. Booklet accompanying First Hand Remasters. The 1956 Nixa-Westminster stereo recordings, Vol 1, 2010
  17. ^ "Steinberg Quits London Post". New York Times. 31 July 1960. 
  18. ^ Ivan Hewett (2005-08-18). "Why all those insults made me stronger". Telegraph. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  19. ^ Nicholas Kenyon (1992-03-15). "A Young Conductor Starts at the Top". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  20. ^ James R. Oestreich (1994-11-13). "Battered but Unbowed, a Maestro Rebounds". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-05. 
  21. ^ Matthew Rye (17 December 2001). "Last-minute stand-in makes an electrifying debut". Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-11-20. 
  22. ^ Tim Ashley (15 June 2007). "LPO/Jurowski". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-09-02. 
  23. ^ Kevin Shihoten (20 November 2007). "Nézet-Séguin Named London Phil Principal Guest Conductor". Playbill Arts. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  24. ^ "London Philharmonic Orchestra extends contracts with Vladimir Jurowski and Yannick Nézet-Séguin" (Press release). London Philharmonic Orchestra. 19 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  25. ^ Erica Jeal (31 March 2003). "Lord of the dings". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  26. ^ Charlotte Higgins (24 March 2005). "London Philharmonic launches own label". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  27. ^ London 2012 hands baton to London Philharmonic Orchestra, International Paralympic Committee (IPC), 15 April 2011
  28. ^ Geoffrey Alderman (2011-09-28). "The wrong LPO punishment". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  29. ^ Norman Lebrecht (2011-12-20). "A time for orchestral compassion, and commonsense: Reprieve the LPO-4". Slipped Disc. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  30. ^ Marcus Dysch (2011-09-27). "LPO: 'Jewish pressure' led to suspensions". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  31. ^ Alex Needham (2012-01-13). "Violinist suspended for Israel Proms protest takes claim to tribunal". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 


  • Aldous, Richard (2001). Tunes of glory: the life of Malcolm Sargent. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-180131-1. 
  • Moore, Jerrold Northrop (1982). Philharmonic: Jubilee 1932-1982. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-147300-4. 
  • Morrison, Richard (2004). Orchestra – The LSO: A Century of Triumph and Turbulence. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-21584-X. 
  • Reid, Charles (1961). Thomas Beecham – An Independent Biography. London: Victor Gollancz. OCLC 500565141. 
  • Wood, Henry J (1938). My Life of Music. London: Victor Gollancz. OCLC 30533927. 

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