20130322 Farewell Symphony

Text of address given at the Post-Concert Reception on 22nd March 2013:

(email address semt@jdsl.co.uk)

Madam Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Almost 70 years ago, at a time of rationing and post-war austerity, the enlightened members of Guildford Corporation established the Guildford Municipal Orchestra.

43 years ago, what had become the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra… was still largely employed by the Council and its activities were supplemented by ‘The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra Development Fund Committee” which, from 1972, became the South East Music Trust. 

The Trust was set up with a fairly wide brief but a clear purpose, to enable the Guildford Philharmonic (in the words of Vernon Handley at the time) “to take this orchestra to towns which did not have access to live symphonic music”. 

Here are a couple of typical examples from the Trust’s Minutes in the 1970’s which show just how proud Guildford could be of its orchestra: 

1974: “Comments reporting on the high artistic standard of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert in Canterbury Cathedral had been received from several members of the South East Arts Association panel who had been in attendance.  Vernon Handley informed the meeting that Sir Arthur Bliss had stated that it was the best performance of ‘Meditations’ that he had heard.”

1978: “The Secretary informed the meeting of future concerts planned for the South East.  These were as follows:

October  – Dorking

October  – Maidstone

November  – Folkestone

February  – Folkestone

May  – Eastbourne

May  – Ashford“ 

These were full symphonic concerts and hark back to a time when, based in the old Civic Hall, Guildford Philharmonic’s home concert season was fifteen to twenty concerts. 

Indeed, I grew up regularly going to Philharmonic concerts – and, as a small boy, queuing backstage at the Civic Hall on a Sunday afternoon for autographs of rising stars in the music world.  I even learnt that not all ‘good’ music has a tune! 

Budgetary pressures have, increasingly, led to the reduction of staff… to only two in the office (programming and marketing the concert season and organising the concerts) and, in addition, a fixer and a legion of part-time helpers and volunteers working at concerts. 

Don’t get me wrong, over many years Guildford Borough Council provided great support for the Orchestra, and much of the budget reduction was unavoidable. 

Some time ago, we saw the end of the substantial ‘friends’ organisation, The Philharmonic Society, which also staged recitals for its members in the Methodist Hall on Woodbridge Road – as Rowland and Nicola currently do for everyone… in Guildford’s lunch-time Guildhall concert series – another likely casualty of the cuts. 

The demise of the Philharmonic has been played out particularly since 2009 when the Council Executive at the time, behind a veil of secrecy, gave instructions to close the orchestra by 2012. 

At this time, South East Music Trust was frustrated in its attempts to re-establish a modern equivalent of the Philharmonic Society to help fund concerts in Guildford.  Initially, we wanted to do this because we recognised the significant increase in finance required to stage symphonic concerts at G-Live when it opened). 

Many shamelessly misleading Council reports, and several committee meetings later, however, and it looks as though the Farewell Symphony, played this evening, will be just that. 

Despite the obvious personal agonies and the stress suffered by them both as they watched their jobs and careers being torn apart, with the Sword of Damacles hanging over their heads, Nicola and Clare have continued to provide sell-out concerts and have been an absolute credit to the Borough Council, the Philharmonic and to Guildford itself, both in front of house and behind the scenes. 

In the Home Section of the Sunday Times in November, Guildford was described as an ideal place for executives to live – a major factor cited in the article was ‘the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra’.  Nicola and Clare should take the credit for that

At a recent trustee meeting of the South East Music Trust, we reaffirmed our commitment to the highest quality of classical music provision in Guildford, and we will be working to see how best to make this happen.       We will clearly need to engage in much more overt fundraising to achieve this, but this evening’s fabulous concert demonstrates clearly what is at stake. 

Crescendo, the Friends organisation we started to operate – and our thanks go to so many of you who joined up – may well form the base for this, and we will be in touch with our Friends over the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, on behalf of the South East Music Trust, I would like to thank Nicola Goold and Clare Lister for their professionalism and dedication to high quality professional music in Guildford – and for their friendship.       Their futures, played out in the pages of our local papers, are uncertain at this stage but I am sure you will all want to wish them well, and I ask you please to raise your glasses in a toast to Nicola and Clare.

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