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“You’re interested in conducting, aren’t you?”

John Willison, a highly respected colleague in the London Philharmonic Orchestra and occasional Guest Leader for the Southend Symphony Orchestra, was driving me home after a recording session at Wembley Town Hall.

“Because the Southend Symphony are looking for a new conductor,” he explained. “Are you interested?”

A few weeks later, early in 1972, I was appointed - although why on earth the orchestra should have risked its reputation by engaging a young, untried violinist as its conductor I cannot think – and conducted our first concert together on 29th April that year.  But when, a little over a year later, I was appointed Associate Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony, I soon found it increasingly difficult to devote sufficient time to the SSO and sadly felt I should resign.

I had remained for just two short years, conducting seven concerts in all, including a Festival Concert at the Cliffs Pavilion combined with the Southend Philharmonic (interestingly, the concerto was the same as tonight – Rachmaninov 3, played then by Malcolm Binns).  But, however short the time, what I learned from the players of the SSO during those Monday evening rehearsals and few concerts at Belfairs School was to be the bedrock of my technique and destined to last me through a life of professional conducting that has, so far, spanned almost forty years.

No-one will know how many times I have mentally thanked this orchestra for the trust they put in me all those years ago.  I well remember how eyebrows were raised at some of the repertoire I suggested – Moeran Sinfonietta, Berkeley Serenade for Strings, Sibelius Symphony No. 5 and Bartok Piano Concerto No. 3, to name but a few – but I also remember the energy and enjoyment with which the orchestra rehearsed and performed them, and indeed ‘enjoyment’ is the word that best sums up my association with the SSO.

Not long after I left, I was deeply honoured to be invited to become the Orchestra’s President, a position which I’ve proudly held ever since.
I returned to conduct one further concert, in February 1991, when the soloist was the then Chief Conductor, Antoine Mitchell.  But for anyone who played on that occasion, one of the main memories must be of spending much of a Sunday morning digging cars out of the snow in the rehearsal hall car park!

My link with the SSO has always given me enormous pleasure, and it can therefore be no surprise that, when I was asked to share the 90th anniversary concert with Matthew Andrews – a friend and colleague of long standing – I jumped at the chance to renew a musical acquaintance with the orchestra that had nurtured the birth of my career.

I am deeply grateful that the orchestra has allowed me to maintain my connection in the role of President for so long, and can only end by wishing everyone connected with the Orchestra – players, conductor, administrators and of course Friends and supporters – every possible success in the future.

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