Sir Henry Wood, Conductor and Founder of the London Promenade Concerts

Sir Henry Wood’s main claim to fame is as the founder of the Promenade Concerts in London. I saw him conduct in 1936 at the Queen’s Hall, London, the programme included “Scheherazade”.  Unfortunately the Queen’s Hall  was to be destroyed in a German air raid.  Later I saw him conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Bedford at the end of WW ll to where the BBC Symphony had been evacuated.

He was known affectionately to the orchestra as “Old Timber”, but not recognized by them as being in the front rank of conductors.

Perhaps the reason for this was that Sir Henry was always strapped for cash and could only afford one rehearsal for a Prom concert.  Rehearsals were for three hours but the length of the concerts was upwards of two and a half hours leaving very little time for actual rehearsing. In order to obtain the best results, Sir Henry spent many hours preparing the orchestral parts and scores.  I played from some of his parts on occasion and was surprised to see the markings on them in thick pencil, and also had the privilege of looking at his orchestral scores where he marked in thick pencil the areas where he expected things to go wrong, and, according to some of the old players he was right!

Woe betide a budding composer if he arrived at rehearsal with mistakes in the orchestral parts or not having prepared the orchestral score properly.  Sir Henry was unforgiving.

Perhaps if he had had the luxury of time at his rehearsals he would be viewed differently, but he will forever be recognized as being the founder of the Proms and should always receive the respect that is his due.

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