Slaithwaite is an industrial village in the beautiful Colne Valley near Huddersfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here a group of amateur musicians met in 1891 to found a ‘Philharmonic Band’. In its long history it has experienced both triumph and disaster (the full story of its first 100 years is told in its 250-page official history An Improbable Centenary), but for some years now it has enjoyed uninterrupted success – recognised by the award of the National Federation of Music Societies’ Sir Charles Groves Prize in 1993 and a Performing Rights Society Enterprise Award in 1991 and again in 1996.
Each season the 80-strong-orchestra (augmented by outside players if necessary: it has more than once fielded over 100 performers) gives three or four concerts in Huddersfield Town Hall, and further concerts in other venues. Its conductor from 1969 to 2001 was the late Adrian Smith who was also the orchestra’s historian and publications editor. Adrian was succeeded by Chris Houlding who made his debut with the orchestra in the January 2002 concert. Under Chris’s direction the orchestra continued to flourish with some notable concerts in Huddersfield Town Hall including an acclaimed performance in 2005 of the tone poem Ein Heldenleben by Richard Strauss, and later that year one of the orchestra’s boldest undertakings to date: a concert performance of Puccini’s opera Turandot. Other concerts featured Holst’s Planets Suite, Shostakovich’s massive Tenth Symphony, and another Opera Spectacular – Verdi’s Aida, with Holmfirth Choral Society, The Lindley Band and soloists from Opera North and a last minute stand-in appearance of the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano, Anne-Marie Owens. Other soloists who appeared with the orchestra include Peter Donohoe, Joanna MacGregor, Gordon Stewart and Alexander Baillie, as well as ‘regulars’, Alexandra Wood (violin), Ian Buckle (piano) and Myvanwy Bentall (soprano).
Chris Houlding relinquished the post of Conductor and Music Director at the end of the 2006-7 season after six outstanding years. For the 2007-8 season the members of the orchestra decided to invite guest conductors to take one concert each. In October 2008, Benjamin Ellin was appointed Music Director.
Under Benjamin’s direction, the orchestra’s reputation for bold and adventurous programming, as well as championing repertoire often neglected by professional orchestras, has continued and recent performances include the Requiems of Britten and Verdi, Mahler’s Third Symphony and Tippett’s Piano Concerto, as well as fully staged and costumed performances of Puccini’s La Boheme and Tosca, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, and Bizet’s Carmen. In 2016 the SPO was recognised by the BBC in the programme All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge as one of the top five amateur orchestras in the country.
The orchestra encourages young players, and in the last few years we have been fortunate to welcome such up and coming soloists as singers Catrine Kirkman, Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Terence den Dulk, pianists Edyta Lajdorf, Evelyne Berezovsky and Olga Jegunova, and violinists Miina Järvi and Tadasuke Iijima.
The 2016-17 season is the SPO’s 125th, and an updated history, SPO – 25 Years On, has been written by Christine Stanton and is now available.
The SPO is an amateur orchestra and all playing members pay an annual subscription. Extra professional players are brought in as required to fill gaps and play specialist instruments (harp, contra-bassoon etc.) We have vacancies in most string sections and for percussion. Brass and woodwind vacancies come around less often for obvious reasons but we are happy to put your name on a waiting list. If you are interested in joining the orchestra please contact the secretary. There is no formal audition and in the first instance we invite those interested in joining to attend rehearsals to see how they get on. Membership is subject to the agreement of the committee.
The orchestra is managed by a voluntary committee, elected from the membership, which also includes a representative from our Patrons.