The History of Watford Philharmonic Society

The History of Watford Philharmonic Society

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There has been a choral society in Watford for well over a hundred years, known first as the Oratorio Society, and subsequently as the Choral Union. The Choral Union was joined by several other local choirs to form The Watford Jubilee Choir, with a combined force of around 200 voices and a largely amateur orchestra accompanying them.

A Caricature of Sir Henry Joseph Wood, founding President of the Watford Philharmonic Society, Vanity Fair 17 April 1907
A Caricature of Sir Henry Joseph Wood, founding President of the Watford Philharmonic Society, Vanity Fair 17 April 1907
Leslie Regan - Conductor and founding member of the Watford Philharmonic Society
Leslie Regan – Conductor and founding member of the Watford Philharmonic Society

Together they presented a concert in the Plaza Cinema on May 12th 1935 conducted by the great Sir Henry Wood, whose services had been enlisted by his friend Leslie Regan. The programme consisted of works by three of the finest 20thCentury English composers – Elgar, Holst and Delius – all of whom had died during the previous year.

Sir Henry’s association with the event guaranteed its success, and so inspired the participants that they decided to create a new and permanent society of singers and instrumentalists, with Sir Henry as its first President. In 1940, performing as the Watford & District Philharmonic Society, they topped the bill in the inaugural concert of the new and acoustically-acclaimed Watford Town Hall – more familiar to us now as The Colosseum. In 1943, the Society sponsored the first Watford Music Festival to which Sir Henry Wood was once again invited as conductor.

Eventually the name was abbreviated to Watford Philharmonic Society, with Leslie Regan continuing as conductor until 1967.

Since then, the Society has been fortunate to engage several distinguished conductors, each of whom established their own particular style and musical preferences. Chief amongst them have been Graham Garton (1967-1989); Gordon Fairbairn (1990-1993); James Kelleher (1993-1997); Stuart Dunlop (1997-2006), Terry Edwards (2006-2014) followed by our current conductor, Michael Cayton.

Over the years, the Society’s considerable strength has been its ability to mount most of the great choral masterpieces, Handel’sMessiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Verdi’s Requiem, Brahms’ German Requiem, Bach’s St John Passion and Beethoven’s Ninth (Choral) Symphony, interspersed with great, but less frequently performed works such as Vaughan-Williams’ Sea Symphony, Tippett’s Child Of Our Time, and Edward Elgar’s rarely performed The Kingdom.

More recently, the Society has performed dramatic pieces such as Carl Orff’s spectacular Carmina Burana and William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, and tackled new works such as Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man. Programmes of popular items from stage and screen musicals have been introduced as well as familiar operatic works – a full concert version of Bizet’s Carmen and excerpts fromSamson & Delilah, Eugene Onegin and The Bartered Bride. And of course, our annual Christmas concert always includes a selection of familiar and less well-known carols and seasonal music.