Principal Conductors of the Hallé
* indicates permanent conductor
Sir Charles Hallé * 1858-1895
Sir Charles Hallé dominated the musical life in Manchester for nearly 50 years. He is of course best remembered for his founding of the Orchestra that bears his name, but before that he conducted the Gentlemen’s Concerts, and the Royal Northern College of Music is another continuing part of his legacy.
Karl Hallé was born into a musical family in Hagen, Westphalia, Germany in 1819. The young Halle was performing from the age of four, and aged 11 conducted Hagen’s annual opera season when his father was ill. Hallé went to Paris in 1836 and there met and made friends with Chopin & Berlioz and other musicians who frequented the salon society. The revolution of 1848 changed all thought of remaining in Paris however and with many other artistic refugees Hallé headed for England. It was at this point he anglicised his name, adding the accent to ensure it was pronounced correctly.
Manchester in 1848 was a wealthy industrial city. It had a thriving German community and a flourishing musical tradition in the Gentlemen’s Concerts. Hermann Leo was a Manchester calico printer who had met Hallé in Paris, it was he who suggested that Hallé ‘take Manchester in hand’. Hallé performed in a concert for the Gentlemen’s Concerts in 1848 and a year later was appointed their conductor. He was given wide powers to raise standards, and one of his first moves was to insist on more concerts that the general public were admitted to, rather than private subscribers. Hallé saw his role as much as an educator as anything, and his determination to make music accessible was one of his outstanding qualities.
In 1857 Manchester staged an arts treasures exhibition and Hallé was engaged to provide daily concerts. For this he recruited players from the continent to enlarge his existing orchestra to sixty. As Hallé himself later wrote:
“When the Exhibition closed its doors in October 1857, the orchestra which I had taken so much trouble to form and which had given such satisfaction, was on the point of being dispersed to the four points of the compass, never to be heard of again in Manchester. This was excessively painful to me, and to prevent it I determined to give weekly concerts during the autumn and winter at my own risk and peril, and to engage the whole band, trusting to the now awakened taste for music for success…I felt that the whole musical education of the public had to be undertaken”.
The first concert was, of course given at the Free Trade Hall on 30th January 1858, and they have continued uninterrupted ever since.
Frederick Cowen 1896-1899
Richter was offered the conductorship of the Hallé in 1895, but was unable to accept at the time, making it clear however that he was keen to come at a later date. Cowen was appointed annually as conductor until the Hallé Concerts Society was formed. His departure was bitterly resented by Cowen, who had certainly regarded himself as the Permanent Conductor, he recalled in his autobiography “it was very galling to me to think that there I had been for a couple of years striving to maintain the success of the concerts to the best of my ability, without the faintest notion that I was simply ‘keeping the place warm’ all the while for my celebrated colleague to step into whenever he felt so disposed.”
At the time Cowen was angry enough to bring in the press, with letters to the Manchester Guardian about his grievances and a personal letter to Richter asking him not to accept the Hallé position.
Hans Richter * 1899-1911
By a strange quirk of fate Hans Richter was conducting at the Free trade Hall on the day Hallé died. He was acknowledged at the time as being one of the world’s greatest conductors, if not the greatest. His enthusiasm for moving from the Vienna Philharmonic to Manchester in 1899 shows just how highly regarded Sir Charles’ ‘band’ was. A strong personality Richter could play every instrument in the orchestra and conducted entirely from memory. He championed the work of Elgar, who dedicated his first symphony to Richter ‘True Artist & True Friend’ which was given its world premiere in Manchester on 3rd December 1908. He left one further lasting legacy in the Pension Fund. For many years there had been a tradition of a final concert in the series ‘for the benefit of the band’. The formation of the Hallé Concerts Society had provided for the endowment of a ‘sustentation fund’ for cases of need within the Orchestra and their families. At the end of the 1901 season Richter announced to the press his intention to give a special concert in aid of the fund at the end of each season. These concerts continued until 1961.
Michael Balling * 1912-1914
A musical pioneer very much in the Charles Hallé mould, Balling’s tenure was cut short by the First World War, he was visiting his homeland when war broke out and therefore unable to return to England. A protégé of Richter’s at Bayreuth, he introduced many new composers and their works to Manchester including Mahler. He increased rehearsal time, took the press into his confidence and pushed for civic aid for the Hallé Concerts.
Sir Thomas Beecham 1914-1920 & 1933-1939
During the First World War Beecham took the title Musical Adviser, conducting many concerts and planning those he could not. He was instrumental in revitalising the Hallé programmes still further with works by Delius, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinksy amongst others. He took no fees throughout the war-time period and this generosity did much to help ensure the Hallé’s survival. He was strongly in favour of the appointment of Hamilton Harty as permanent conductor. After Harty’s departure in 1933 Sir Thomas again took a role in maintaining the concert programming and planning, sharing responsibility for a number of years with Sir Malcolm Sargent and various guest conductors.
Sir Hamilton Harty * 1920-1933
Under Sir Hamilton Harty the Hallé made its first commercial recordings, with Columbia, and its first broadcasts. Harty secured a contract from Columbia that allowed him to increase rehearsal times, and he re-approached the issue of municipal aid. He secured some financial support for a series of Municipal Concerts at Manchester’s Town Hall, which survived until 1940. His dismissal of the few women players who had joined the Orchestra during the First World War sparked controversy, as did his programming in the later years of his tenure.
Sir Malcolm Sargent 1933-1942
Following Harty’s departure the Hallé relied on a succession of guest conductors as well as on regular appearances by Beecham and Sargent. Sargent’s work with the Hallé during the early part of the Second World War remains legendary, including a promise to conduct the Hallé ‘on the street corners if necessary’.
Sir John Barbirolli * 1943-1970
Still remembered with great admiration and affection by many, Sir John arrived in a war-torn Manchester in June 1943. What happened next is the stuff of legend. He had a month to assemble and train an orchestra of 70 players who were required to follow a punishing schedule of concerts – 258 in 1944-45, only a third of which were in Manchester. He took the Hallé on their first foreign tours, oversaw its first television appearance and left a legacy of great recordings that are still enjoyed today. Sir John presided over the Hallé’s Centenary season in 1957-58 and is the only conductor to have been presented with the Hallé’s gold medal for long service.
He declined several lucrative offers to conduct other orchestras, remarking to his wife after one ovation at Belle Vue ‘I simply can’t leave that’.
James Loughran CBE * 1971-1983
Loughran oversaw the remodelling of the Industrial Concerts as the Opus One series, conducted at the Hallé Promenade Concerts and introduced several contemporary works to Manchester. An impressive discography includes the complete Brahms symphonies. He developed the Hallé’s touring schedule throughout Europe, including Norway and Sweden as well as Hong Kong and Australia for the first time.
Stanislaw Skrowaczewski * 1982-1992
Under Skrowaczewski the Hallé toured to the United States for the first time in 1987, and in the same year made an emotional tour to Poland, the country of his birth. Memorable performances of Bruckner and Shostakovich stand alongside critically acclaimed recordings. Skrowaczewski continued to make regular visits to the Hallé until his death in 2017.
Kent Nagano * 1992-2000
Kent Nagano took the Hallé to its new home in Manchester, The Bridgewater Hall. Artistic highlights of his tenure included appearances at the Salzburg Festival, concert performances of Britten’s Billy Budd, Puccini’s Tosca and Mahler’s Das klagende Lied. The Orchestra also toured to Japan for the first time and played at the Hollywood Bowl.
Sir Mark Elder CBE * appointed 2000
Sir Mark Elder, who was knighted for services to music in 2008, became Music Director in 2000. Under his leadership the Hallé has won numerous awards, including the South Bank Award for collaborations with the BBC Philharmonic, Royal Northern College of Music and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Sir Mark was awarded Honorary Membership of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2011. The Hallé today ranks among the UK’s top symphonic ensembles, with award winning recordings, radio broadcasts and educational outreach programmes, one of which, the Hallé ‘Roadshow’ is very much Sir Marks’ inspiration.