The Edinburgh Light Orchestra celebrates its 30th Anniversary Year!
Conductor James Beyer recalls 30 years of Light Music in the Capital
2007 marks the 30th Anniversary of The Edinburgh Light Orchestra. Performing for the past 28 years at The Queen’s Hall (in fact, they were one of the first amateur groups to play there), The Edinburgh Light Orchestra has come to affectionately regard the Queen’s Hall as its ‘home’.
"The Queen’s Hall is our ideal venue", says Orchestra Founder and Conductor James Beyer. "Not only is it the right size for our audiences, but it also has an intimate ‘homely’ atmosphere - and that’s just what our followers want. They come along to our Concerts because they want a good night out in the company of their favourite music. They’re there to be entertained and to enjoy themselves. Recently one of our regular supporters described our Concerts as having a ‘party atmosphere’ - and that is true. A large proportion of our audiences attend our Concerts regularly, and it’s just like meeting up with friends twice a year!"
During the past 30 years, along with a team of willing helpers, James has organised a grand total of 53 concerts. The end result of all this organisation not only gives him and his players much enjoyment in performing the music; but more importantly, it provides a great deal of pleasure to their loyal supporters. The Orchestra continues to play regularly to audiences in excess of 700 at The Queen’s Hall.
"Therefore it’s with no exaggeration that I refer to The Edinburgh Light Orchestra as ‘Edinburgh’s most popular orchestra’. And we are the only orchestra north of the Border specialising in light-music," adds Beyer. "The basic programme format over the years hasn’t really changed very much. The ‘tried and tested’ formula of light orchestral music, music from stage and screen, with a Leader’s solo item and two spots with a guest singer is still the format we prefer, and remains as popular as ever."
The initial concert on 7 October 1977 was a charity event, and it addressed the City’s need for an orchestra specialising in music of a lighter nature. Recognising this, Beyer set up the necessary organisation to achieve this goal and to build on the success of that opening night.
The triumph of that evening proved that there was indeed a need for this genre of music in Edinburgh. Increasing its forces to 26, the Orchestra’s second concert took place the following May - this time in the Reid Concert Hall (University of Edinburgh) with new leader Miles Baster, who was principally Leader of the internationally acclaimed Edinburgh Quartet and one of Scotland’s foremost violin soloists. He remained with The Edinburgh Light Orchestra for sixteen years, until his retirement in 1995. Following another concert in the Reid in 1979, the Edinburgh Light Orchestra once again broke new ground later that year by moving to the newly opened Queen’s Hall.
Since its inception, the Orchestra has expanded to a full-sized concert orchestra of between 50 and 60 players and over the years has attracted the attention and support of a number of internationally recognised composers and arrangers of light-music - notably, Robert Farnon, Ernest Tomlinson, Angela Morley, Arthur Blake, Clive Richardson and Iain Sutherland.
Beyer again: "They have all given me a great deal of encouragement, and have granted me the benefit of their vast experience and knowledge of the ‘light-music’ genre. But above all, I will always treasure my friendship and association with Robert Farnon - one of the greatest ever composers, arrangers and conductors of light-music."
During the Second World War, Toronto born Captain Robert Farnon came to Britain with the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces and worked alongside Glenn Miller and George Melachrino, who conducted the American and British bands respectively. After the war, Farnon became aware of the genre of British Light-Music - in particular the works of Eric Coates, Haydn Wood and Charles Williams; and realised that his own composing talents lay in that direction. He decided to remain in Britain, and by the end of the forties his name had become well established in this country as an arranger and composer. Farnon wrote numerous pieces of ‘mood Music’ for the Chappell Recorded Music Library and arrangements and backings for many leading singers and stars of the day, such as Vera Lynn, Gracie Fields, Donald Peers, Norman Wisdom, Ronnie Ronald, Anne Shelton, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. In all, Robert Farnon wrote over forty film scores – ‘Spring in Park Lane’, ‘Maytime in Mayfair’, ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower RN’ and ‘Shalako’ to name but a few. Television themes are also to be found in the Farnon repertoire, with fine examples as ‘Colditz’ and ‘The Secret Army’. In addition to lighter works, he turned to more serious compositions. Included in this genre are ‘Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra’, ‘A la claire fontaine’, ‘Lake of the Woods’ and his Symphony No 3 in F (‘Edinburgh’) which was performed posthumously on 14th May 2005 in The Usher Hall by The National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland under their conductor, Iain Sutherland.
"Following Robert Farnon’s death in April 2005, I was given the very great honour of being invited to speak at his Memorial Service, in St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden."
The Edinburgh Light Orchestra continues to go from strength to strength, and to mark its 30th Anniversary, there will be a special Concert in The Queen’s Hall on Saturday 10th November. For further information readers should telephone 0131 334 3140.[This article has been adapted by the Editor from a prominent feature which appeared in the April issue of Southside & Newington Gazette.]
Footnote: James Beyer’s standing in Scottish orchestral circles was confirmed on 18 May when he was invited to conduct the Edinburgh Symphony Orchestra at a special Pixar event at the National Museum of Scotland.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007
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