On Saturday 3 December, the Orchestra accompanied the wonderful Sing It Loud Choir, under the baton of Seb Farrall in KICKING OFF CHRISTMAS at St. Mary’s Church in Warwick. The choir enjoyed the experience as much as the orchestra did.
“They thoroughly enjoyed singing with you all, and found the experience totally exhilarating.”
GUY WOOLFENDEN OBE
The WSO had tremendous good fortune back in 1972 when Guy agreed to become its Principal Conductor. Guy had been Assistant and subsequently Music Director for the Royal Shakespeare Company since 1961. During his time at the RSC he composed music for every Shakespeare play. His career in music began early; at ten he joined Westminster Abbey Choir School and sang at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and at the opening concert of the Royal Festival Hall in 1951. Guy studied both piano and horn, the latter with Aubrey Brain, father of the great horn virtuoso Dennis Brain, and was a member of the National Youth Orchestra from 1955-59. He won a choral scholarship to Christ’s College, Cambridge and in London was a member of the Dorian Singers under composer Matyas Seiber, giving frequent broadcasts for the BBC. As a postgraduate he studied conducting with Norman Del Mar at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he met a delightful, young oboist, Jane Aldrick – later to become Jane Woolfenden. Both Guy and Jane took up careers as professional players, Guy with Sadler’s Wells Opera and Jane with the Royal Ballet.
Guy’s first concert with the WSO was at the newly opened Guy Nelson Hall, Warwick School and in keeping with tradition, there was a world famous soloist, Peter Wallfisch, who played Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The overture was Dvořák’s brilliant Carnival and the final work, Brahms’ Symphony No.2. Astonishingly, during his time with the orchestra, Guy programmed and conducted almost two hundred WSO concerts and when asked if he could recall memorable moments from any of these he replied with his usual quiet humour, “How could I? They were all memorable!” Guy made several changes to the orchestra soon after he arrived. Firstly, he transformed its nature from that of an evening institute type ensemble, meeting weekly, to one of a more ambitious organisation representing a much wider region. The number of rehearsals for each concert was reduced and their duration increased from two hours with a long interval, to three hours with a short break and the perk of refreshments. The long list of world class soloists invited to perform with the orchestra included Alfredo Campoli, Leon Goossens, Jack Brymer and Peter Donohoe, one of the orchestra’s patrons.Guy also offered performing opportunities to many promising young soloists including James Barralet, Tasmin Little, Ruth Palmer, Jamie Walton and, most recently, Callum Smart. He pioneered the Christmas Family concerts inviting many fine actors from his association with the Royal Shakespeare Company to the concert platform, such as Jeffery Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Penelope Keith, John Woodvine and from TV Richard Baker, Johnny Morris and Alan Titchmarsh.
Throughout his career Guy regularly conducted many other orchestras: from 1968-78 he was Principal Conductor of Morley College Orchestra in London; from 1970-92, Principal Conductor of the Liverpool Mozart Orchestra; from 1977-79, Music Director of University College, London and later became Conductor of the Birmingham Conservatoire Wind Orchestra. Among his many concerts with professional orchestras, including the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, Guy recalled one particularly happy occasion in 1978 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris where he conducted the Elgar Violin Concerto with the Orchestre Colonne and Yehudi Menuhin as soloist. Guy received a warm handwritten note in his score from the soloist which reads, ‘To Guy Woolfenden to recall our début in Paris, November 1978 with this beautiful concert and your wonderful collaboration – Yehudi Menuhin’. Guy also vividly recalled Menuhin revealing that the last time he had played that same concerto in Paris was in 1932 at the age of 16 and the conductor had been Sir Edward Elgar! It also transpired that a member of the violin section had played in both performances.
Guy was very committed to the music of British composers and the WSO has performed the music of Arnold, Bax, Bliss, Britten, Tippett, Vaughan Williams, Walton and, above all, Elgar. It was fitting that Guy celebrated his forty years service to the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra with Elgar’s noble masterpiece, his Symphony No.1. He was a distinguished composer himself, notably of music for wind instruments and of ballets.
Guy’s wife, Jane, played oboe and cor anglais with the orchestra, retiring when Guy did. We offer Jane, their three sons, and their families our sincere sympathies.