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The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is an Englishmarker orchestra. Originally based in Bournemouthmarker, the BSO moved its offices to the adjacent town of Poolemarker in 1979.

The orchestra played in the 'old' Winter Gardens from its inception until that building was demolished in 1935 (the last piece to be performed being Haydn's Farewell Symphony). After a time at the Pavilion Theatre, the orchestra moved back to the 'new' Winter Gardens with an inaugural concert on 18 October 1947. The orchestra performed regularly there until the mid 1980s, when the Poole Arts Centre became its main venue. The 'new' Winter Gardens were demolished in May 2006. In Poole, the orchestra gives its main season at the Lighthouse Centre for Performing Arts (formerly Poole Arts Centre), where the concert hall has 1,596 seats. Currently Portsmouth Guildhallmarker and the Great Hall of Exeter Universitymarker are the other main venues, with shorter series given in Bournemouth (Pavilion Theatre) and Basingstokemarker.

Origins to 1934: the Godfrey era

The Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra was founded in 1893 by Dan Godfrey as a group of 30 wind players and a drummer, though several of the instrumentalists - as is the current practice with military musicians - were proficient in both wind and string instruments. This flexible approach meant that the musicians could form a military band for open air concerts (playing on Bournemouth Pier) or a more formal classical ensemble for indoor programs. The group gave its first concert on Whit Monday 1893 at the Winter Gardens, with its first classical concert in October that year.

The band quickly expanded to become a full orchestra, gaining a reputation for championing Britishmarker music. Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst (among others) conducted the orchestra in their own works. The orchestra gave the UK premieres of major works by Richard Strauss, Camille Saint-Saëns and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. On 14 December 1903, the Orchestra gave its 500th symphony concert, conducted by Godfrey; a souvenir booklet listed all the works played by the orchestra since its inception, noting any first performances. The Bournemouth Municipal Choir, founded by Godfrey in 1911, sang regularly with the orchestra.

From 1922 (to 1940) an Easter Festival was an important feature in the Bournemouth calendar; in 1927 the Festival was devoted to music of British women composers. In 1934, Godfrey retired as principal conductor, having conducted over 2,000 symphony concerts.

The first recording by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra was made in 1914 and occasional records were issued during Godfrey's tenure: Godfrey's recordings included works such as Ferdinand Hérold's overture to Zampa, Daniel Auber's overtures The Bronze Horse and The Crown Diamonds, or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Petite Suite de Concert, along with "novelty items" with titles such as 'Slippery Sticks' and 'Whispering Pines' written by members of the orchestra and featuring them as soloists.

Godfrey remains the longest serving principal conductor of the orchestra, and his stewardship ensured that, unlike many of the seaside orchestras that functioned from the end of the 19th century up until the outbreak of World War II, the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra established an ongoing tradition of music making. Godfrey's programmes mixed populist elements, such as variety acts and light music, with extracts from more serious pieces. Alongside these, he instituted a series of symphony concerts which introduced diverse repertoire. He cultivated connections with most of the prominent British composers of the day including Edward Elgar, Hamilton Harty, Alexander Mackenzie, Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Ethel Smyth, Gustav Holst and the Australian Percy Grainger. Godfrey's knighthood came in 1922, largely as a result of a vigorous campaign on his behalf from Ethel Smyth. Godfrey was particularly cited for his 'valuable services to British music'.

From the very beginning, Godfrey had a difficult relationship with the Bournemouth Borough Councilmarker who saw the orchestra as a commercial concern which needed to pay its way. As part of Bournemouth's visitor attractions, any request for expansion of the orchestra or changes to their contracts were the subject of exhaustive debates in the Council chamber. However, in general, Godfrey was successful at balancing both high artistic standards and box-office success.

1934–1947: Austin, Birch and wartime austerity

After Godfrey’s retirement, the task of sustaining the orchestra fell to Richard Austin. Radio broadcasts took place from the Pavilion and a number of celebrated composers visited during this time, including Igor Stravinsky, William Walton, Ernest John Moeran, Sergei Rachmaninov, Roger Quilter, Balfour Gardiner and Percy Grainger. At the outbreak of war, the orchestra was cut from 61 to 35, and then in 1940 to only 24 players. Austin resigned in the same year and Montague Birch helped keep the orchestra going during the war, giving many 'popular' concerts.Whilst the Municipal Orchestra struggled in a depleted state, the war years saw concerts in the town by the Wessex Philharmonic, a freelance orchestra conducted by Reginald Goodall, which included some ex-members of the BMO.

1947–1954: Schwarz and Groves

After the end of the war, the orchestra found a new home at the 'new' Winter Gardens. In 1947, Rudolf Schwarz was appointed Musical Director of a re-formed orchestra of 60. He conducted the orchestra in its first concert in London since 1911, at the Royal Albert Hallmarker in 1948, and in two concerts at the Royal Festival Hallmarker during the Festival of Britain in 1951. Schwarz's tenure was marked by artistic consolidation, but also financial troubles.

Charles Groves took over as Musical Director in 1951, but a rising annual deficit and termination of players' contracts caused a crisis, averted only by support from the Winter Gardens Society. In 1952, a plan to merge the BMO with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was avoided by an arrangement with the Arts Council for the orchestra to accompany Welsh National Opera for several weeks. The continuation of the orchestra was only secured by the formation of the Western Orchestral Society. In 1954, the orchestra changed its name to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. At the inaugural concert, Groves and Sir Thomas Beecham shared the podium.

1954–1969: a new beginning–the Silvestri years

From 1954 the BSO developed its present role of giving concerts at more venues in the southwest of England. Other work included accompanying the Bolshoi Balletmarker on their first British tour in 1956.

In 1957 Groves and the orchestra made commercial recordings, for Classics Club (with a local engineer from Ronaldsons of Southbournemarker), of Beethoven's 4th Symphony, Brahms's Academic Festival Overture and Bizet's L'Arlésienne Suite.

In 1962, Constantin Silvestri became Principal Conductor and raised the standard and profile of the orchestra, with an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963, a first European tour in 1965, notable recordings and regular radio broadcasts. The orchestra gained its first international recognition during Silvestri's tenure, such as in a joint performance with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in the Winter Gardens by the combined string sections of both orchestras, playing Edward Elgar's Introduction and Allegro. His tenure was cut short by his death from cancer in 1969. His recorded legacy includes Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, and a 1966 recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture with the additional forces of the Band of HM Royal Marines .

1969–82: Hurst, Berglund's Scandinavian orchestra

In addition to its roster of principal conductors, other conductors affiliated with the orchestra have included George Hurst, who served as de facto principal conductor from 1969 to 1972, between the tenures of Silvestri and Paavo Berglund, without having been formally appointed to the post. Hurst ensured continuity during that conductorial interregnum.

Paavo Berglund's tenure as principal conductor from 1972 to 1979 included commerical recordings such as the complete symphonies of Jean Sibelius for EMI, and the first commercial recording of Kullervo with the Helsinki University Chorus (Male Voice Choir). Nordic repertoire became a staple of the orchestra, whilst other achievements included recordings of Shostakovich symphonies (the 5th, 7th 'Leningrad' and 11th 'The Year 1905') and the William Walton Violin Concerto (with Ida Haendel) and Cello Concerto (with Paul Tortelier).

After winning the Rupert Foundation Conducting Competition, Simon Rattle was "conductor in residence" from 1974 to 1976 in one of his earliest orchestra affiliations. The Bournemouth Municipal Choir was re-named the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus in 1979, when it entered into a closer relationship with the orchestra.

The Israeli conductor Uri Segal succeeded Berglund from 1980 to 1982. During his tenure, the BSO recorded suites from Benjamin Britten's Gloriana and The Prince of the Pagodas.

1982–2008: Russians and Americans

Rudolf Barshai served as the BSO's principal conductor from 1982 to 1988. His BSO recordings included the Symphony No. 8 of Dmitri Shostakovich, and a Gramophone Award-winning release of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 2 from 1988.

The American conductor Andrew Litton first conducted the BSO in 1986, and subsequently became the BSO's principal conductor from 1988 to 1994, the first American principal conductor of the orchestra. Litton subsequently was named the BSO's Conductor Laureate. His recordings with the BSO include William Walton's symphonies and concertos for Decca, and the complete Tchaikovsky symphonies (including the Manfred Symphony) for Virgin Classics. In February 1997 Litton's recording of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast with the BSO, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and soloist Bryn Terfel won a Grammy Award.

Principal guest conductors of the BSO have included Kees Bakels (1990-2000) and Richard Hickox (1992-1995).

Yakov Kreizberg was principal conductor from 1995 to 2000. Whilst he made no commercial recordings with the orchestra, he and the BSO toured the United Statesmarker, including their debut at Carnegie Hallmarker in April 1997. Kreizberg and the BSO also performed a 3-day residency at the Musikvereinmarker, Vienna in 1999.

Marin Alsop was appointed principal conductor from September 2002, the BSO's first female principal conductor and the first female principal conductor of a UK orchestra. She held the BSO principal conductorship until 2008. Her time with the orchestra continued the programming of American repertoire from Litton's tenure, which she often introduced to the audience from the podium in the style of her mentor Leonard Bernstein. She conducted all of the Mahler symphonies except the Symphony No. 8. She and the BSO recorded several CDs for Naxos, both European and American repertoire.

The present

In November 2007, the orchestra announced the appointment of the Ukrainian conductor Kirill Karabits as their 13th Principal Conductor, the first Ukrainian principal conductor of a UK orchestra. Karabits held the title of orchestra's Principal Conductor-Designate for the 2008-2009 season, and became Principal Conductor with the 2009-2010 season.. With the BSO, Karabits made his first conducting appearance at The Proms in August 2009.

The BSO's current chief executive is Simon Taylor. The president of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Council is David Mellor.


In 1968, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta was founded, with a complementary remit to tour the smaller towns of the south and west, as well as concentrating on classial repertoire. Despite artistic acclaim throughout its history, financial difficulties and funding withdrawals led to its sudden closure in November 1999. Since then, sections of the BSO occasionally tour to smaller venues in the south and west.

Kokoro is a contemporary music ensemble of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, consisting of players from the orchestra and freelance musicians (formed 1994).

Concert Programme

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra currently gives around 150 concerts a year. In September 1995 the orchestra, conducted by Richard Hickox, was the first to give a complete concert cycle of the symphonies of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The orchestra under Paavo Berglund made the world premiere recording of Sibelius's Kullervo in 1970. Other notable recordings include Deryck Cooke's completion of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10, conducted by Simon Rattle; Elgar's In the South with Constantin Silvestri, Tchaikovsky's 2nd Piano Concerto with Rudolf Barshai and Peter Donohoe as soloist (with Nigel Kennedy and Steven Isserlis in the slow movement); Anthony Payne's completion of Elgar's 3rd Symphony with Paul Daniel, and Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms with Marin Alsop.

The orchestra recorded a complete cycle of the Vaughan Williams symphonies for Naxos, initially with Kees Bakels for 7 of the symphonies. Paul Daniel completed the cycle by conducting recordings of A Sea Symphony and the 4th Symphony. The orchestra has also recorded for Naxos a complete series of the symphonies of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.

The orchestra performs regularly in the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hallmarker and has played in other great halls of the world, such as Carnegie Hallmarker in New York, the Musikverein Viennamarker, and the Rudolfinummarker in Praguemarker. For many years until his death in 2003, Ron Goodwin gave an annual series of Christmas concerts with the orchestra around the south and west of England.

First performances

Premieres given by the orchestra include the following:


In addition to the first acoustic recordings by the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra in 1914, early mass media activities included radio broadcasts from the original Winter Gardens on 2LOmarker in the 1920s. Subsequently the BMO gave regular concerts on the BBC, including Godfrey's farewell concert. The Pathé archive contains short films of the orchestra conducted by Dan Godfrey and Richard Austin made at the Pavilion Theatre in 1930 and 1937.

In 1963, the nave of Winchester Cathedralmarker was cleared for the first time in several hundred years to enable a live television broadcast of the orchestra, conducted by Constantin Silvestri, performing Wagner's "Good Friday Music" from Parsifal.

In the 1970s, the orchestra appeared in Southern Television's Music in Camera series, conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra recording of Gustav Holst's The Planets, conducted by George Hurst, is used on the soundtrack of Nicolas Roeg's film The Man Who Fell to Earth.

The orchestra were featured in a short-lived series of programmes on the local commercial radio station 2CR. Members of the orchestra and Bournemouth Symphony Chorus recorded a jingle for the Yellow Buses, Bournemouth's local bus company.

Principal Conductors


  1. Street, Sean, and Carpenter, R., The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, A Centenary Celebration. Wimborne, The Dovecote Press Ltd, 1993 (ISBN 978-1874336105).
  2. Miller, Geoffrey, The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Dorset Publishing Company, 1970 (ISBN 978-0902129061).
  3. The document also included a preface by Godfrey about the origins of the orchestra, a record of the players in 1903, and photos of the orchestra. Arts and Humanities Research Council,, accessed 30.8.08
  4. Croscombe B. A Chronology. In BSO 90 1893-1983 - A special souvenir edition of WOS News. 1983, Spring/Summer, p16-17.
  5. Stephen Lloyd, Sir Dan Godfrey: Champion of British Composers. Thames, 1995 (ISBN 978-0905210896).
  6. Stephen Lloyd, Liner notes to Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra 1893-1993. EMI CD CDM 7 64719 2, 1993.
  7. James Inverne, "Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra names new chief conductor". Gramophone, 23 November 2007.
  8. Lebrecht, Norman. "Too English for his own good". Daily Telegraph, 11 September 1995.

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