Maurice Handford - Conductor 1962 - 65
Maurice Handford took over as conductor in 1962 and for three seasons the Society had the benefit of his professional approach. For some years he had been principal horn player in the Hallé but he had conducting ambitions which led to his leaving the Hallé in 1961 to pursue this career - and he was then anxious to obtain as much conducting experience as possible. Before long he returned to the Hallé as Associate Conductor, and although he continued to conduct the Beethoven Society until 1965, increasingly his Hallé duties meant that he was not able to be with the orchestra on a regular basis.
That the orchestra's playing improved under Maurice Handford there is no doubt. The AGM Minutes in 1964 express accurately the feelings of most members of the orchestra:
'If on some occasions we went home feeling we had been run over by a steam roller, it was no great price to pay for the sense of achievement we experienced.'
His usual practice of taking the orchestra through a work non-stop at the first reading originally misled many members into thinking everything was going smoothly. Invariably, however, this was only the prelude to some detailed criticism and a hard stop and start rehearsal.
To accommodate Maurice Handford's Hallé duties and to try to ensure that the orchestra had a regular rehearsal conductor, Peter Rorke (another aspiring young professional) was appointed joint conductor in 1964. He took over entirely at the following AGM when Maurice Handford finally decided that he must give full attention to the Hallé. The association with Peter Rorke was successful but unfortunately short, since in 1966 he emigrated to Melbourne for a job with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Following this, David Ebbage conducted the orchestra for one season, but he then left, and the orchestra was again without a conductor.
It was agreed that an approach should be made to John Crosdale, a local music teacher, who was known to be interested in conducting the orchestra. He had begun his career as a trumpeter, then trained as a conductor and had considerable experience of conducting other amateur orchestras (The Gorton Philharmonic among others). Happily, he accepted the position. After the rapid turnover and the turmoil of the previous few years, the orchestra appreciated the stability and the knowledge that they were in safe hands. The appointment was felt to be a great success: John Crosdale served and continues to serve the Society well and he still guides the orchestra in the Centenary year.
With greater confidence, there was a strong feeling that there should be additional concerts played. Although in the past there had been more than one a year, since 1960 the orchestra's only commitment had been the annual Town Hall concert.
An invitation was received through Joan and Rosalind Corser (violins and Membership Secretaries) from Rochdale Entertainments Sub-Committee for the orchestra to give a concert in the Champness Hall, Rochdale. This was accepted and concerts were given there for the next five years. Although the audiences in Rochdale were never very large, they were enthusiastic and the experience gained by the orchestra was useful.
Other concert venues were also explored, and the orchestra played in a number of different places including Wilmslow Girls Grammar School and Brookdale Park Adult Centre, Newton Heath.
During the late 1960s the affairs of the Society were affected by a number of problems, including the loss of Chorlton Town Hall as a rehearsal room, and generally increasing costs. The charge for using Manchester Town Hall for the annual concert, for example, grew beyond the Society's means. At about this time, discussions took place with the Further Education Authorities about the possibility of merging with a small orchestra of theirs. There were advantages for both parties: financial relief for the Beethoven Society and survival for the other orchestra. After guarantees had been given that the Beethoven Society would not lose its name and identity, the merger went ahead, and for the next few years the orchestra played as an official Evening Class under Manchester Education Committee.
This arrangement brought some financial subsidy, but the search for a satisfactory rehearsal room with secure space for storing instruments and music was not so readily solved. The orchestra used Longsight Public Hall in 1968, the College of Commerce for the next two seasons, followed by a school in Newton Heath, and then the North Hulme College of Further Education for several years. This continued moving was detrimental to music and equipment, but worst of all to members' loyalty. Fortunately the Society had a core of officers and committee members who were deeply concerned for the orchestra's future and whose commitment did not waver through these difficult times. At first the move to North Hulme FE Centre was satisfactory, but after a few years the orchestra ran into difficulties. Other groups scheduled to use the premises at the same times caused a disturbance, and in addition the storage room was broken into and all the percussion instruments stolen. It was with some relief that a move to St. Margaret's School, Whalley Range was organised. The hall at this school is spacious, and is
'an attractive room in which to rehearse with a cheerful and obliging caretaker.'
Although storage of stands, percussion and equipment under the stage is a little awkward, this can be coped with if there are plenty of willing helpers. The Society is happy to be rehearsing there still in the Centenary year.
One of the advantages of the link with the Education Authorities was the opportunity and finance to engage a professional leader, who would also act as Assistant Conductor. David Usher was appointed to this position, and, as was noted at the 1971 AGM, his appointment
'brought an improved cohesion to the ensemble playing of the strings'
Unfortunately, however, complications arose in the relationship with the Education Authorities. It became necessary for residents outside Manchester to obtain permits (on payment of a fee) if their local authorities had not entered into a reciprocal arrangement with Manchester. Over the next few years more neighbouring authorities failed to enter into such arrangements. Since the Society's membership is drawn from a very wide area round Manchester, these difficulties contributed largely to the eventual break with the Education Authority in 1982.
From 1970 to 1973 the annual concert was given in the Renold Theatre at UMIST, a fine auditorium, though some members felt it was not sufficiently central. The Manchester Evening News (15.4.1970) were enthusiastic about the 1970 concert, and although they criticised some of the technique used they noted that
'What shone through was the players delight in the music. It came across vividly.' and
'John Crosdale and the orchestra went on to revel in Rossini's Soirees Musicales (with some colourful work especially by the woodwind).'
From 1974 the venue changed to the Friends Meeting House, Mount Street (behind Central Library), and since it was generally agreed that this was a satisfactory welcoming venue, annual concerts have been held there ever since.
A second concert, organised by Susan Hartshorne (flute), was held in the same place early in the year in aid of the charitable fund of Mosscare Housing Ltd. In the following 10 years concerts were held in aid of this charity, and then in 1985 the beneficiary of that charitable concert was changed to Oxfam. An additional charitable concert was held in the autumn of 1984 in aid of the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital Laser Fund. These concerts continued the earlier tradition of the Society in playing for charity.
Another innovation was on the social side. A Christmas dinner organised in 1970 by Susan Hartshorne was reported to be a success - the chief guest being Ida Carroll, Principal of the Northern School of Music. Thereafter a Christmas dinner became an annual event, held either in Hulme Hall or one of the other University Halls of Residence.
At the Christmas dinner in 1980 suitably inscribed plates were presented to Murray and Lorna Whiteway and Philip Lewis in recognition of their 50 years with the Society. The orchestra was saddened to learn of the death of Murray Whiteway two days after the AGM in 1985.
A highlight of the 1984 Christmas dinner was a showing of slides taken by David Drackley (flute) and his wife Anne during a walking tour to Annapurna in the Himalayas earlier that year. The occasion was reminiscent of Gordon Cockrell's lantern show of his journey down the Nile so many years ago.
The Society has been fortunate over the years in the men and women who have led the orchestra. Some of the earlier leaders have been paid professionals, but many have given their time to the orchestra just for the love of music and for a modest honorarium. Wilfred Lewtas, who leads in the Centenary year has held this position since 1981.
The Society continues to meet regularly for rehearsal and although there have been many changes over the years, young and old enjoy playing together as they have for the last hundred years. The programmes for the annual concerts are still embellished with the traditional design - what The Manchester Evening News called
'Scrolls and William Morrisy letters and a portrait of Beethoven wreathed in something resembling mahonia japonica in berry'. (15.4.1970)
In 1986 John Allen (cello) took over from Maurice Horwood (clarinet) as Secretary. Maurice Horwood joined the orchestra during the war years in 1945; became Treasurer in 1948; Secretary in 1967; and as President is active in the Centenary preparations. He continues the tradition of a long line of officers who have given unstinting service to the Society.