A Brief History of Halifax Symphony Orchestra

Early Years

Halifax Symphony Orchestra (official title Halifax Orchestral Society (HOS)) can trace its roots back to 1833 when a Halifax Orchestral Society was first formed.

It was dissolved at some point but its successor was the Northgate End Orchestral Society formed in 1882 which, via various reconstructions, in 1909 was renamed and became the orchestra which has survived to the present day. Depending on whether the 1833 or the 1882 date is taken, HOS can lay claim to being arguably the oldest-, and certainly one of the oldest-established orchestras in the country.

HOS performed concerts in various venues up to 1911 including the Victoria Theatre which later became its regular venue. Two world wars took their toll, but the orchestra struggled through with depleted members and severe curtailment of concerts rehearsed and performed. There were some notable events between the wars, including entering Halifax competitive music festivals from 1922-30 in which HOS won on two occasions. Further highlights during this period included a ‘Grand Jubilee Concert’ in 1932 in the recently built Alexandra Hall.


Post War

After  WW2, it took some years for the society to gather its resources and regroup, the first public performance in the post-war era being given at Heath Grammar School in 1949. A 75th anniversary concert was performed in 1957 in the presence of James Nicholl Bates, who had some years earlier retired due to an injury after actively participating in the society and conducting the orchestra for over 50 years.


Present Day

HOS’s fortunes continued in the ascendant with the grand re-opening of Victoria Hall. The earlier post-war years included two trips to perform in Germany. Of the orchestra personnel still going strong to this day, John Whitworth was appointed leader in 1973. John Marshall took over as leader in 1976, coinciding with the distinguished Anthony Ridley’s appointment as conductor. John was to hold the position for 31 years until 2008 when there stepped up to the front desk our current leader Barbara Slade, a long-standing member of the orchestra, a former member of the National Youth Orchestra and graduate of the RNCM.

Longevity of tenure has been a hallmark of many of those who have worked on stage and off to ensure HOS’s success over the years, and there is no exception to this in recognising the impressive career with the orchestra of Peter Green, who though not a playing member, has given the benefit of his many talents and business associations to support the society in his capacity of committee member since 1967 and President from 1996 to the present day. Other members were drawn from the remarkable family of Ron and Shirley Winn, with Ron and their three children all being playing members at one time, and Shirley, who served as librarian for 52 years remains a loyal member and an honorary vice-president to this day.

Nicholas Simpson was appointed conductor in 2005. Nick has had a diverse career including practising law and playing guitar in rock bands. He studied composition and conducting with John Tavener at Trinity College of Music in London. As well as directing HOS, Nick also works with Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra and the Athenean Ensemble in Manchester.