Established in 1948, the Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra began as a unique example of an amateur musical ensemble supported entirely by funding from the borough council.
The first concert of the Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra, known until 1976 as the Worthing Citizens’ Orchestra, took place on Friday March 11th 1949 at the Assembly Hall, Worthing. The programme consisted mainly of short works and included ‘Finlandia’ by Sibelius, Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphony and a Suite for Oboe and Strings by Corelli, the soloist Victor Robinson, the orchestra’s oboist.
The conductor was the orchestra’s founder, Herbert Lodge. He had come to Worthing in 1935 as its Director of Music and conductor of the professional Municipal Orchestra. He was also keen to promote amateur music-making and had soon formed a municipal choir, children’s orchestra and chamber music club. His suggestion for an amateur orchestra was accepted by the Borough Council in January 1948. Auditions took place in March and the first rehearsals in April of that year, with musicians of all ages and from all walks of life spilling over the platform onto the Assembly Hall floor. The first concert was a critical success in front of an audience of over 900 supporters and the orchestra was well enough established to take part in the Borough’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations the following year.
The orchestra was unique, being the only amateur orchestra wholly supported by a local authority, the Council providing facilities for rehearsals, performances and publicity. This aroused great interest nationally. Sir Adrian Boult sent his good wishes, expressing the hope that other towns would follow Worthing’s example, and Albert Ketelbey, the foremost light music composer of the day, attended the first rehearsal. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this unique arrangement between the Borough and its musical citizens was the services of a professional conductor, the town’s Director of Music. He, with the assistance of the orchestra’s committee, would plan programmes as well as rehearse and conduct the concerts. Consequently three musicians, Herbert Lodge (1948-1954), James Kershaw (1954-1967) and Jan Cervenka (1968-1996) significantly shaped the development of the orchestra during these years.
Throughout its seventy years the Philharmonic has regularly rehearsed on Monday evenings and now gives five or more concerts each season, sometimes performing opera and oratorio with local choral societies. In the early years it needed professional ‘stiffening’ to cover weak sections or to fill in missing instruments. However, it is now up to full strength and can perform such large-scale works as Holst’s ‘The Planets’. The only regular professional, Rita French, has led the orchestra with distinction since 1982.
The Assembly Hall remains the orchestra’s home but it has also played at other venues, including the Connaught Theatre and Windlesham House School, and further afield at Christ’s Hospital, Bognor Regis, Sandown, Isle of Wight and the Dome, Brighton. Following changes in the Borough’s music policy and the retirement of the distinguished and long serving Jan Cervenka in 1996, the orchestra became self-funding and thus reliant on the support of its audience, private benefactors and corporate sponsorship.
For the years 1999 until 2008 the WPO's Music Director was Robin Page. Under his leadership the repertoire was extended to include large scale works, for example, Mahler’s 2nd and 6th symphonies, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Firebird, and also contemporary or near contemporary works, including the Euphonium Concerto by Michael Ball and Malcolm Arnold’s 3rd Symphony.
Steve Dummer was Music Director from September 2009 until November 2013, maintaining a trend of adventurous programming, for example Nielsen’s 2nd Symphony – Robin Page had previously introduced us to Nielsen during his tenure. Steve also encouraged local soloists and composers to perform with us, for example our Leader, Rita French who performed the Bruch Violin Concerto with us and the Scottish Fantasy with Steve’s Horsham orchestra. Kevin Withell’s Requiem was performed under his baton in 2011.
In 2014 our present Music Director, Dominic Grier, was appointed and he is highly prized by performers and audiences. We have many wonderful memories of revelatory performances and rehearsals. His high expectations may be challenging, but the affection and admiration of the orchestral members does not wane.
Further information about the history of music in Worthing can be found on the website of our sister orchestra, the Worthing Symphony Orchestra: http://www.worthingsymphony.co.uk/history.