The Music Treasury for 8 September 2019 —Boyd Neel, Conductor

by | Sep 6, 2019 | Streams and Podcasts | 0 comments

The Summer broadcast time of The Music Treasury on KZSU 90.1 FM remains Sunday, from 19:00 – 21:00 PDG.  You can also listen online at during the broadcast time.  Appended notes on Boyd Neel adapted from Wikipedia.  As always, the show is hosted by the inimitable Dr Gary Lemco.

Boyd Neel, conductor

Neel was born (July 19, 1905) in Blackheath, London, and as a child wanted to be a pianist. His mother, Ruby Le Couteur, was a professional accompanist, and his father was an engineer.

Neel attended Osborne Naval College and then Dartmouth, and was commissioned in the Royal Navy. Soon afterwards, the armed forces underwent a drastic reduction, and Neel left the navy to study medicine at Caius CollegeCambridge. He qualified in 1930, and became House Surgeon and Physician at Saint George’s Hospital, London, and Resident Doctor at King Edward VII’s Hospital, London.

In 1930, while practicing medicine, Neel studied music theory and orchestration at the Guildhall School of Music.

For Neel, music was still a hobby. He conducted amateur groups and formed an orchestra of young professionals, whom he recruited in 1932 from the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music. The Boyd Neel London String Orchestra (later the Boyd Neel Orchestra) made its debut at the Aeolian Hall, London, on 22 June 1933. The programme included the first performance in England of Respighi’s Suite of Ancient Airs and Dances and the premiere of a new suite by occasional composer Julian Herbage. After the concert, Neel returned to his surgery and delivered a baby. The second concert, at the same venue, took place on 24 November 1933, and included the first performance in England of the Serenade for Strings by Wolf-Ferrari. On 18 December 1933 the orchestra was invited to broadcast by the BBC for the first time. When Decca offered Neel and the orchestra a contract, he left medicine to devote himself full-time to music. In February 1934 the orchestra performed a concert of chamber works by Ernest Bloch at the Aeolian Hall, conducted by the composer.

Among the orchestra’s early releases were the first recordings of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Britten’s Simple Symphony. Neel conducted the first music heard in the new Glyndebourne opera house in 1934. In 1937, Neel and his orchestra were invited to the Salzburg Festival, for which Neel commissioned Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. In 1939 Neel commissioned John Ireland‘s three movement Concertino Pastorale for string orchestra for performance by the orchestra at the Canterbury Festival, and recorded it in February 1940. The orchestra toured Great Britain and Europe until the outbreak of war.

During World War II, Neel returned to medical work and the Navy, while continuing to conduct when time permitted. Britten wrote his Prelude and Fugue for 18 string instruments as a 10th birthday present to the Boyd Neel Orchestra in 1943. After the war, Neel resumed his musical career, conducting for Sadler’s Wells Opera from 1944 to 1946, and the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company for its 1947 and 1948 London seasons at Sadler’s Wells, performing the Gilbert and Sullivan operas.

Beginning in 1947, he and the orchestra, embarked on a series of world tours, playing in AustraliaNew ZealandCanada and the United States, and appearing in festivals such as Edinburgh and Aix-en-Provence. Neel published a book about these experiences called The Story of an Orchestra. As well as modern works, the orchestra revived then seldom heard Baroque works by J S BachJ C BachHandelVivaldiTorelli and Geminiani, including the first ever recording of Handel’s Concerti Grossi, Op. 6. The orchestra also performed and recorded the piano concertos of Mozart.

In 1952 Neel accepted the post of Dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music at TorontoOntario. He served in this post for 18 years, reorganising and rebuilding the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. Soon after his appointment he formed the Hart House Orchestra in Toronto and toured with it extensively, at, among other events, the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, the Aldeburgh Festival in 1966 and Expo ’67. After this, he became Artistic Director of the Sarnia Festival Opera House on Lake Huron.

After Neel’s departure to Canada, the Boyd Neel Orchestra was renamed the Philomusica of London and continues under that name today. Neel was awarded the C.B.E. in 1953 and was an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music. He became a naturalized Canadian citizen in 1961.

As a radio commentator, Neel was heard on such CBC programs as Sunday ConcertTuesday NightConcerts from Two Worlds, and his own Opera with Boyd Neel (1954). He also wrote a series of essays, under the headline “This Week’s Music”, for the CBC Times in 1959, and his writings have appeared in Opera Canada, the Journal of Music Education, and the University of Toronto Bulletin. He was the subject of a CBC-FM series – The Boyd Neel Memoirs – in 1979. Neel became an instructor for the Student Conductors’ Workshop (run by the OAC and University of Toronto) at its inception in 1969 and continued to conduct with it until the late 1970s. In 1972, he became the first conductor of the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, continuing after 1978 as conductor emeritus.

In 1972, Neel was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, “For his contribution to music education in Canada and his achievements as an artist and conductor.

After his retirement, Neel worked on his memoirs, which were edited and published posthumously by his friend, J. David Finch. The book also includes an extensive discography of recordings of the Boyd Neel Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neel for Decca Records between 1934 and 1979. Neel died in Toronto on September 30, 1981 at the age of 76.

Boyd Neel is one of a handful of conductors who can rightfully take credit for discovering (or, more properly, rediscovering) an entire performing genre. The fact that music was his second career makes his achievement even more remarkable. Since the 1970’s and the growth of popularity of early music, the existence of string orchestras has been very common, with dozens springing up every year. But in the 1930’s, the idea of a professional ensemble of chamber orchestra dimensions was virtually unknown until Boyd Neel decided to found one.

Handel: Concerto Grosso in B Minor, Op. 6, No. 1
Holst: St. Paul’s Suite, Op. 29, No. 2
Filz: Symphony in E-flat Major
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Elgar: Chanson de Nuit and Chanson de Matin, Op. 15
Barber: Adagio for Strings
Bridge: Suite for Strings
Stravinsky: Apollon Musagetes (w/L. Willoughby)

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