A concert was given in Belle Vue as part of the Manchester and District Peace Festival to celebrate the end of hostilities, and it was expected that the orchestra would return then to its normal pattern of rehearsals and Town Hall concerts. This was not to be: normality was not restored until 1924. In 1920 the concert had to be held in the Houldsworth Hall as the Town Hall was being cleaned and redecorated; in 1921 the concert had to be postponed indefinitely in anticipation of a general strike; in 1922 Gordon Cockrell travelled to Australia and Canada; and in 1923 the concert was again cancelled because of his death.
Gordon Cockrell had served the Society well, and the 1923 AGM Minutes say:
'His work for it (the Society) has been in the fullest sense a labour of love, a love which found its expression in a tireless enthusiasm, an unlimited patience, and unfailing tact and courtesy. Only those who were personally in touch with him are really aware of the great and constant sacrifices he made for the Society'.
During Gordon Cockrell's absence Archie Camden had conducted most of the rehearsals and the Society appointed him permanently to that post in 1923. He was an inspiring conductor, but after the prolonged period of wartime and postwar difficulties, he did not have an easy task. There was an immediate improvement in the woodwind section, which was not surprising as he was a distinguished bassoonist - a member of the Hallé Orchestra and a teacher at the Royal Manchester College of Music. The Hallé connection was also of benefit since the Sodety was able to borrow music from the Hallé Concerts Society for a purely nominal sum. At the 1924 concert, the first under his baton, his wife Clarice was the solo violin - playing pieces by Saint-Saens, Rimsky-Korsakoff and Kreisler.
From 1924, concerts were again given regularly in the Town Hall, and when Archie Camden was unable to conduct the rehearsals he handed over the baton to his wife. Additional concerts were also held, not always with success. At a performance held in 1926 in connection with the Stretford Municipal Concerts, it is noted that although the orchestra played well 'their efforts were damped by the inordinate length of the interludes on the Organ' and the attendance was 'somewhat meagre'. Fortunately the audience at the Town Hall concert that year was large and enthusiastic and applauded heartily.
Alas, the improvements in standards did not continue and in 1929 it was said there had 'been a certain amount of slackness and apathy at rehearsals' and a falling off in attendance.
In 1930 Philip Lewis and Murray Whiteway (clarinets) joined the orchestra - no doubt they were at least partly responsible for the remark made in the 1934 Minutes: 'Our woodwind is the envy of many other societies'. Both of them were to play lasting and important parts in the life of the Society. In the Centenary year, Philip Lewis is still a playing member of the orchestra - assisting his wife Betty (tympani) in the percussion section He was appointed assistant conductor in 1939, and still occasionally takes the baton, and in addition he served on the committee for many years. Murray Whiteway became Treasurer, Secretary and then President until his death in 1985. He married Lorna Harrison who first joined the orchestra in 1922, and who led the cellos for many years.
Clarice Dunnington - Conductor 1934 - 47
In 1933, Archie Camden accepted a position in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (he later joined the Royal Philharmonic and the London Mozart Players) and the orchestra was again without a conductor. Eventually, but not until over a year and many committee meetings later, the Society appointed Clarice Dunington (formerly Camden) to the position. Shortly after Archie Camden left Manchester, Joyce Bond (principal cello) followed him to London, and eventually became his second wife.
Clarice Dunington was a remarkable woman. Not only did she conduct the Manchester Orchestral Society, but she was Conductor and Musical Director of the St. Anne's-on-Sea Pier Orchestra and also conducted Manchester Women's Orchestra. In an age before it was fashionable to be a feminist, she succeeded as a conductor in what was very much a man's world.
One of the present members, Eric Watson, recalls hearing Clarice Dunington's orchestra on the pier at St. Anne's and deciding then and there (at the age of about 5) that he would take up the violin.
The winter of 1935/6 was marked by the death of Robert Gill, a survivor of the original committee, the Secretary for 40 years and a past President of the Society.
As the Society's Jubilee year (1938) drew near, preparations were put in hand to celebrate this event. After much discussion it was agreed to revert to the original name of The Beethoven Society, as it was felt the reasons for the wartime renunciation no longer applied. Although there were still anti-German feelings, these were not transferred to composers like Beethoven. Regrettably it was decided (on grounds of expense) not to reprint the original history or to bring it up to date.
It was also decided to hold a special Jubilee Concert, and arrangements were made with the BBC to broadcast part of this. It was held in March and the programme was:
The Merry Wives of Windsor Overture had been played at the Society's first Concert in 1889 and also appears on the programme of the Centenary Concert.
The Manchester Guardian noted that
'The organ room of the Manchester Town Hall was crowded last night for the concert given by the Beethoven Society'.
The critic was forgiving in putting blame for some of the less than perfect tones on the acoustics of the Hall, but remarked that
'Occasionally the players, possessed by a spirit of daring, embark in public on works that are a little beyond their attainments'.
However, the conductor was praised, and whenever the orchestra got into difficulties, it was noted that
'Miss Clarice Dunington invariably came to the rescue gallantly and skilfully'.
The critic went on to muse:
'We wonder if when the Beethoven Society began the rehearsals for its performance in 1889 at the Gentlemen's Concert Hall in Peter Street it was considered quite nice for ladies to play the cello. At any rate, not long before that time the books on etiquette suggested that if women musicians did venture in this way it was because the age was becoming an undignified one and forgetful or careless of all proper ideas of decorum'.
Sadly the tremendous boost to the morale of the orchestra given by the broadcast concert in 1938 was all too soon followed by the outbreak of war in 1939, and the inevitable disruption of the Society's activities.