Vernon Handley

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Vernon George "Tod" Handley CBE (11 November 1930 – 10 September 2008) was a British conductor, known in particular for his support of British composers.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born of a Welsh father and an Irish mother into a musical family in Enfield, Middlesex. He acquired the nickname "Tod" because his feet were turned in at his birth, which his father simply summarised: "They toddle".[1] Handley preferred the use of the name "Tod" throughout his life over his given names.[2]

Handley attended Enfield Grammar School.[3] While in school, he watched the BBC Symphony Orchestra in its studio in Maida Vale, where by his own account he learned some of his conducting technique by observing Sir Adrian Boult. Later the two corresponded in the early 1950s and met around 1958. He spent a period in the Armed Forces and then attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he read English philology and became musical director of the University Dramatic Society. He also studied at the Guildhall School of Music in London, where his performing instrument was the double bass (in addition to the trombone and violin). After graduating he worked as a nursery gardener, bricklayer and petrol pump attendant during the day, studying and conducting amateur orchestras and choirs in the evening.[4] He then became Sir Adrian Boult's pupil. During their first meeting he "was put through the worst two hours of counterpoint and harmony that I've ever faced" and was then asked how he would conduct a page of a score that Boult put in front of him, Arnold Bax's Third Symphony, which Handley happened to have studied.[1] Handley later conducted that work in the first concert he gave in London, with the symphony orchestra of Morley College.[5] Handley remained a devoted champion of the music of Bax throughout his career.[6][7][8]


Vernon Handley's first professional engagement was in 1960, conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.[4] In 1962, Handley was appointed the musical director of the newly formed Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, with which he programmed much of Bax's music and made the first recording of Bax's Symphony No. 4. Handley and the orchestra also recorded Gerald Finzi's Intimations of Immortality.[9] He also began conducting non-UK orchestras such as the Amsterdam Philharmonic, Stockholm Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Malmö Symphony and Berlin Radio Symphony; he led the Strasbourg Philharmonic through a UK tour in 1982 consisting of French and Russian music.[10] In 1983 he was appointed Associate Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He was Principal Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra from 1985 to 1989, and had the title of Conductor Laureate from 2003 until his death. From 1986 to 1988, he was chief conductor of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and was active with several other Swedish orchestras, broadcasting regularly on Swedish radio.[11] [12]

He held assistant conductorships elsewhere, was Conductor Emeritus of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted a number of others in concert, for broadcast and for recording. Handley was appointed Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra in January 2007.

Handley is much revered for his enthusiastic and untiring championship of British music, including many lesser known, unfashionable or relatively neglected composers whose artistic reputations and popularity he often helped to revive.[3] Although he claimed to be just as attached to composers from elsewhere, the majority (some 90 out of 160) of Handley's recordings were of British music.[3] He is said to have recorded as many as a hundred premières of British works,[3] including highly successful series on Hyperion Records of the symphonies of Robert Simpson and Sir Granville Bantock. Simpson dedicated his Symphony No. 10 to Handley. According to Lewis Foreman, Handley "single handedly transformed the reception of the music of Granville Bantock."[3] He also went on to make the first largely complete official recording of Bantock's monumental Omar Khayyám setting.[13] He contributed a foreword to Alan Poulton's Dictionary-Catalog of Modern British Composers (Greenwood Press) and to a book on Adrian Boult. He also recorded symphonies by Bax, Moeran and Stanford for Chandos Records as well as discs of other orchestral works. Handley recorded the symphonies of Elgar and Vaughan Williams for EMI. Handley also recorded many works by Sir Malcolm Arnold for Conifer Records, which were subsequently reissued in the UK by Decca Records. He felt that his career might have suffered because of to his championing of British music, but said "I believe there are two sorts of conductors – musician conductors and career conductors. I have always tried to be the former... and I really wouldn't have it any other way".[10]

Handley held clear views on the style of conductors, saying "Music isn't mime; you shouldn't fraudulently convince people that they have heard what they haven't", and stating "jet-set musical careers... are little to do with the work, more to do with PR".[4] Questioning the influence of television on conducting, Handley recalled Boult telling him, "Do remember, won't you, that you are playing to the blind man in the audience."[14]

Handley received numerous awards, such as The Gramophone magazine's Special Achievement Award in 2003 for services to British Music[15] (sparking a "Nod for Tod" honours campaign);[16] and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Classical BRIT Awards on 3 May 2007 at the Royal Albert Hall. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours[17] (having declined appointment as an Officer of the order in 1988). He held an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Surrey and was a Fellow of the Royal College of Music.

Handley died at home in Monmouthshire on 10 September 2008.[18][19] He had been scheduled to conduct Prom 2 of the 2008 BBC Proms season on 19 July, but withdrew because of ill health; Paul Daniel replaced him.[20][21] After Handley's death, the director of The Proms, Roger Wright, announced the dedication of the 10 September Prom concert (Prom 73) to Handley.[19]

Handley married and divorced three times. He met his first wife, Barbara Black, while studying at Balliol. They married in 1954 and had a daughter and two sons, one of whom died aged 13 months. His second marriage in 1977 to Victoria Parry-Jones produced a son and a daughter. His third marriage to the flautist Catherine Newby in 1987 produced a son.


Year Recording
  • Geoffrey Bush - Music for Orchestra with London Philharmonic Orchestra for Lyrita.
  • Gerald Finzi - Intimations of Immortality with Guildford PO for Lyrita.
  • Frederick Delius - Summer Night on the River, A Song Before Sunrise, The Walk To the Paradise Garden, On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, La Calinda, Sleigh Ride and Irmelin Prelude with London PO for CfP.
  • Elizabeth Maconchy - "Proud Thames" Overture with London PO for Lyrita.
  • Vaughan Williams - A London Symphony with London PO for EMI.
  • Patrick Hadley - The Trees So High with Guildford Philharmonic Choir and New Philharmonia Orchestra for Lyrita.
  • Grace Williams - Symphony No. 2 and Ballads with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra for BBC Regium reissued by Lyrita.
  • E. J. Moeran - Violin Concerto with London Symphony Orchestra for Lyrita.
  • Elizabeth Maconchy - Serenata Concertante with LSO for Lyrita.
  • Arthur Bliss - Discourse for Orchestra, Edinburgh Overture, and Meditations on a Theme by John Blow with City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra for EMI.
  • Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 6 and Prelude and Fugue with London PO for EMI.
  • Elgar - Pomp and Circumstance Marches with London PO for CfP
  • Sibelius - Concert works for Violin: Two Pieces, Op.77, Serenades, Op.69, Six Humoresques, Op.87 with Ralph Holmes, Berlin Radio Orch (Koch-Schwann)
  • Elgar - Symphony No. 1, Symphony No.2 and Sea Pictures with LPO for CfP
  • Delius - Brigg Fair, In A Summer Garden, Eventyr, and A Song of Summer with Halle Orchestra for CfP.
  • Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 5 and Flos Campi with Royal Liverpool PO for CfP
  • Robert Simpson - Symphonies No. 6 and 7 with Royal Liverpool PO for Hyperion.
  • Stanford - Symphony No. 5 and Irish Rhapsody No.4 with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Moeran - Violin Concerto, Symphony and Overture for a Masque with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos
  • Jean Sibelius - Violin Concerto and Ernest Chausson's Poeme for violin and orchestra with Royal PO for Chandos.
  • Dvorák - Biblical Songs, Op. 99 with Birgit Finnilä, alto and Malmö Symphony Orchestra for Big Ben Phonogram
  • Fernström – Symphony No. 12, Op. 92 with Malmö Symphony Orchestra for Big Ben Phonogram
  • Dvorák – Tone Poems op. 107, 109, 110 with Malmö Symphony Orchestra for Big Ben Phonogram
  • Stanford - Piano Concerto No. 2 and Down Among the Dead Men with Ulster Orchestra and Margaret Fingerhut for Chandos.
  • Stanford - Symphonies No. 4 and 7 and Irish Rhapsodies No. 3 and 6 with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Bax - Enchanted Summer, Walsinghame and Fatherland with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Brighton Festival Chorus for Chandos.
  • Moeran - In The Mountain Country, Nocturne, Lonely Waters and Whythorne's Shadow with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos
  • Bliss - Cello Concerto, The Enchantress and Hymn To Apollo with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Grieg - Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Lyric Suite and Piano Concerto with Ulster Orchestra and Margaret Fingerhut for Chandos.
  • Ludwig van Beethoven - Egmont Overture
  • Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 8
  • Mozart - Symphony No. 40
    • with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Tchaikovsky - Romeo and Juliet Fantasy with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Dvořák - Violin Concerto in A minor
  • Bruch - Violin Concerto No. 1
    • with Royal Liverpool PO and Tasmin Little for CfP.
  • Rutland Boughton - Symphony No. 3 and Concerto for Oboe with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Stanford -Concert Piece for Organ and Orchestra and Oedipus Rex Prelude with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Granville Bantock - Celtic Symphony, Hebridean Symphony, Witch of Atlas and The Sea Reivers with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Vaughan Williams - Sinfonia antartica, Partita for Double String Orchestra, Oboe Concerto, Fantasia on Greensleeves, Serenade to Music and English Folk Song Suite with Royal Liverpool PO for CfP
  • Simpson - Symphony No. 2 with Bournemouth SO for Hyperion.
  • Simpson - Symphony No. 10 with Royal Liverpool PO for Hyperion.
  • Malcolm Arnold - Symphonies No. 7 and No. 8 with Royal PO for Conifer.
  • Stanford - Symphonies No. 1 and 2, Irish Rhapsody No. 2 and Clarinet Concerto with Ulster Orchestra for Chandos.
  • Herbert Howells - Three Dances with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for Hyperion
  • Howells - Hymnus Paradisi and An English Mass with Royal Liverpool PO and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir for Hyperion.
  • Sibelius - Violin Concerto
  • Brahms - Violin Concerto
    • with Royal Liverpool PO and Tasmin Little for CfP
  • Vaughan Williams - Pastoral Symphony and Symphony No.4 with Royal Liverpool PO for CfP
  • Bantock - Pagan Symphony, Fifine at the Fair and Two Heroic Ballads with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Vaughan Williams - Piano Concerto
  • John Foulds - Dynamic Triptych for Piano and Orchestra
  • Howells - Piano Concerto No. 2 and Concerto for Strings with Royal Liverpool PO for Hyperion.
  • Simpson - Symphony No. 4 with Bournemouth SO for Hyperion.
  • Torsten Nilsson - Piano Concerto 1, op. 63, with Malmö Symphony Orchestra
  • Vaughan Williams - London Symphony and Symphony No. 8 with Royal Liverpool PO for CFP
  • Richard Wagner - Overtures with Royal PO for Intersound.
  • Gustav Holst - The Planets and St Paul's Suite with Royal PO for Intersound
  • Arnold - Symphony No. 6, Fantasy on a Theme by John Field, Sweeney Todd, and Tam O'Shanter Overture with Royal PO for Conifer.
  • Elgar - Dream of Gerontius with Royal Liverpool PO and Huddersfield Choral Society for CfP.
  • Eugene Goossens - Symphony No. 2, Concertino for Double String Orchestra, and Fantasy for Nine Wind Instruments with Sydney Symphony Orchestra for ABC Classics
  • Vaughan Williams - Symphony No. 6 and Symphony No. 9 with RLPO for CfP.
  • Vaughan Williams - Piano Concerto
  • Delius - Piano Concerto
  • Finzi - Eclogue
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff - Symphony No. 2 with Royal PO for Intersound.
  • Arnold - Symphony No. 2, A Grand Grand Overture, Carnival of Animals, Concerto for 2 Pianos (3 Hands) with Royal PO for Conifer.
  • Simpson - Symphonies No. 3 and 5 with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Bax - Overture To Adventure, Rogue's Comedy Overture and Work In Progress recorded with Royal PO for Lyrita.
  • Bantock - The Cyprian Goddess, Helena, and Dante and Beatrice with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • John Joubert - Symphony No. 1 with LPO for Lyrita.
  • Goossens - Divertissement, Variations on a Chinese Theme, The Eternal Rhythm, and Kaleidoscope with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for ABC Classics
  • Simpson - Symphonies No. 1 and 8 with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Arnold - Symphony No. 9 and Concertino for Oboe and Strings with Bournemouth SO for Conifer.
  • Arnold - Symphonies No. 1 and No. 5 with Royal PO for Conifer.
  • Arnold - Symphonies No. 3 and No. 4 with Royal Liverpool PO for Conifer.
  • Max Bruch - Scottish Fantasy
  • Édouard Lalo - Symphonie espagnole with Royal Scottish National Orchestra for CfP
  • Goossens - Symphony No. 1, Oboe Concerto, Tam'O'Shanter, and Concert Piece with West Australian Symphony Orchestra for ABC Classics
  • Bantock - Thalaba The Destroyer, Processional, Caristiona, Camel Caravan, and Two Preludes with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Wagner various including "The ride of the Walkyries" and "Lohengrin" Royal Philharmonic Orchestra RPO 204408201 Tring International PLC produced by Michael Infante and Steve Deakin-Davies
  • Benjamin Dale - The Flowing Tide with BBC SO for BBC Radio 3 broadcast (not released on record).[22]
  • Bax - Seven Symphonies, Tintagel and Rogue's Comedy Overture with BBC PO for Chandos.
  • Bantock - Song of Songs (Days 2, 3 and 5), Overture to a Greek Tragedy, Pierrot of the Minute and The Wilderness and Solitary Place with Royal PO for Hyperion.
  • Arnold - Symphony No 6, Beckus the Dandipratt, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and Flourish for a 21st Birthday with LPO for LPO Records.
  • Bainton - Symphony No. 3
  • Boughton - Symphony No. 1
    • with BBC Concert Orchestra for Dutton.
  • Bax - Northern Ballads No. 1, 2 and 3, Nympholept, Into The Twilight and Red Autumn with BBC PO for Chandos.
  • Bantock - Omar Khayyám (complete) with Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Toby Spence, Roderick Williams, BBC SO and BBC Symphony Chorus for Chandos.
  • Bax - The Happy Forest with BBC PO for Chandos.
  • Bowen - Piano Concertos No. 2 and 3 and Symphonic Fantasia with Michael Dussek (piano) and BBC CO for Dutton.

Awards and nominations[edit]

ARIA Music Awards[edit]

The ARIA Music Awards is an annual awards ceremony that recognises excellence, innovation, and achievement across all genres of Australian music. They commenced in 1987.

Year Nominee / work Award Result Ref.
1999 he Eternal Rhythm (with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) Best Classical Album Nominated [23]


  1. ^ a b "Vernon Handley". Telegraph. 10 September 2008. Retrieved 15 September 2008.
  2. ^ John Amis (12 September 2008). "Obituary: Vernon Handley". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e Lewis Foreman (11 September 2008). "Vernon Handley: Conductor and champion of British music whose extensive discography includes 100 premieres". The Independent. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 2 October 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Baton Charge. Sarah Jane Checkland visits the conductor Vernon Handley. The Sunday Times, 19 February 1984.
  5. ^ Rob Barnett S&H Concert Review - Vernon Handley 70th Birthday Concerts in Liverpool 2000.
  6. ^ Vernon Handley, "Back to Bax. Vernon Handley on His Enthusiasm for a Neglected Composer". The Musical Times, 133(1794), pp. 377-378 (August 1992).
  7. ^ Lewis Foreman, "Vernon Handley and the Symphonies of Sir Arnold Bax", with interview Archived 23 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine (PDF), Chandos Records, 2003. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  8. ^ Richard Adams Interviews Vernon Handley, on the Sir Arnold Bax Website. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  9. ^ Diana McVeagh, "A Finzi Discography". Tempo (New Ser.), 136, pp. 19-22 (March 1981).
  10. ^ a b Gillard, David. Vernon Handley : British Cosmopolitan. Music and Musicians, October 1982, p17.
  11. ^ Swedish media database search for Vernon Handley, accessed 15 April 2014.
  12. ^ Stockholms Konserthus search for Vernon Handley , accessed 15 April 2014.
  13. ^ Rob Barnett CD Review - Recording of the Month, MusicWeb International, 2007. Retrieved 2011-06-28.
  14. ^ "A Very Moral Maestro" (interview with Andrew Aschenbach), Gramophone, June 2002. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  15. ^ "Vernon Handley Special Achievement"[permanent dead link], Gramophone, Awards 2003. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  16. ^ "Tod Handley is an unsung hero of the British music scene", Gramophone, January 2004. Retrieved 2011-06-27.
  17. ^ "No. 57315". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2004. p. 7.
  18. ^ Conductor Vernon Handley has died, Gramophone website, 2008-09-10. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  19. ^ a b Conductor Vernon Handley dies, BBC News, 10 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  20. ^ BBC Proms 2008, p. 92, BBC ISBN 978-1-84607-526-1
  21. ^ What's On / Proms by Day—Saturday 19 July—Prom 2 Archived 18 July 2008 at the Wayback Machine, BBC Proms website. Retrieved 2008-09-10.
  22. ^ Christopher Foreman (2002). Benjamin Dale's The Flowing Tide Broadcast, BBC Radio 3, Thursday 25th April 2002 - First Impressions. MusicWeb International. Retrieved 2011-07-07.
  23. ^ ARIA Award previous winners. "ARIA Awards – Winners by Award". Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA). Retrieved 12 November 2018.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Principal Conductor, Ulster Orchestra
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Conductor, Malmö Symphony Orchestra
Succeeded by