There is a rich and long tradition of music-making in Todmorden, home to its own orchestra since 1915.
Todmorden has a long musical tradition with both choral and instrumental societies, on record from 1815. In 1869 the Todmorden Harmonic Society and Musical Union amalgamated to form the Todmorden Musical Society. Concerts were given in various halls and churches until Todmorden Town Hall was built and opened in 1875. In 1915 the two sections of the Musical Society split to form Todmorden Orchestra and Todmorden Choral Society. However, they continued to give regular concerts together and still do.
Over the years, in times of difficulty, there have always been individual members and local benefactors who have helped to keep the orchestra out of the red. Dr John de Ville Mather, and his son Northage, both past presidents, gave enormous support to the orchestra and individual members. They lent them instruments, and in some cases, gave them their first lessons to start them off on their lifelong enjoyment of playing.
There have been many conductors over the last hundred years. Fred Leach was conductor for nearly 30 years from 1925 to 1955. Ben Horsfall, who took the baton from 1962-1986 was a violinist with the Halle and he transformed the orchestra’s playing and its repertoire. He was noted for his helpful tips, amusing tales and witty repartee. He also led smaller groups, light and chamber, to support charities etc. and he was made an honorary citizen of Todmorden in 1985.
Jack Bednall, choir master of the choral society from 1972, took over for a year after Ben’s death. He continued to conduct all performances of the Messiah, and he was the orchestra’s president until his death in 2000. He was a man of wide human experience, musicianship and great warmth. He and Ben were able to cement a good relationship between orchestra and choir which has continued to the present time.
Lawrence Killian energised the orchestra with his flare and enthusiasm as conductor from 1987-91, and remains to the present day as the orchestra’s first trumpet. He is also a talented composer and arranger, and has presented the orchestra with some inspiring works – most recently his arrangement of music from The Polar Express performed last Christmas, and his work A Celebration for Orchestra.
After Lawrence Killian’s spell as conductor a series of young conductors from RNCM and Manchester University brought their own fine musicianship and vigour, which has greatly enhanced, and extended both the standard of playing and the repertoire. Especially worthy of mention are Garry Walker, who has an illustrious international career as a conductor, Jeremy Carnall who now specialises in conducting opera, and lastly Chris Swaffer who took the orchestra well beyond its expectations with increasingly challenging works. This culminated in his last concert with Todmorden Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the Choral.
Todmorden Orchestra continues to flourish under the baton of Nicholas Concannon Hodges, and looks to a bright future.
c 1912 taken outside Ewood Hall