In the Royal Festival Hall, on Saturday evening, the closing concert of London’s season of the arts was was given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. All the music by Ireland, Haydn, Elgar, Holst and Walston bore some titular reference to the capital save one item – a Te Deum by Rubbra which, sung by the London Philharmonic Choir, was receiving its first performance.
Sir Adrian Boult should have conducted on this most important and festive occasion; but Sir Adrian is unwell and resting. And in his absence the concert was offered to the conductor of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Maurice Miles.
One can imagine what this meant to Mr. Miles. But unfortunately, and no doubt to his extreme personal disappointment, Mr. Miles had a duty at home – that of presenting his third festival concert of British Music in Leeds Town Hall. In that too, there was music by Rubbra and Elgar, and also a first performance – Eric Fenby’s “Scarborough Fair,” which the composer had come over from Scarborough to hear.
But the point of this story is that Mr. Miles’s evening was in a sense, doubly wasted. He would have been better employed at the South Bank where, one feels, his services would be better appreciated. It is only now becoming clear, after three concerts, how much Leeds, with its false reputation for being musical, has been flattered by this fine scheme of British music-making that Mr. Miles envisaged. Those who, in distant parts of the country, have looked at these programmes in envy and congratulated Leeds on its example, do not know the whole of the story, that so far – even allowing for summer weather and other Festival attractions – the concerts have not even been reasonably well attended.
But at leat this gives us the grim satisfaction of knowing where we stand. Leeds is not musical in the full sense of the term, and not adventurous. It likes what is hackneyed and popular and could, I suspect, live for years on an unchanged diet of Grieg, Tchaikovsky and “Messiah.” And if Mr. Miles now chooses to give us nothing but such music for the next 10 years I shall utter no word of reproach against him.
We are now realising that the great new audiences that were promised for after the war do not, in fact, exist. The distinguished artists who come from London to Leeds Town Hall must endure the embarrassment of performing to empty red plush seats. They will return with their tales and eventually, one supposes, the true state of Leeds’s musical inertia will be revealed.
Meanwhile (though it is obviously of no interest to anybody) the Y.S.O. are playing like men inspired. The spell woven by Mr Jean Pougnet in Elgar’s Violin Concerto on Saturday was miraculous, worth travelling any distance to hear. The loyal body of supporters in the hall could hardly bear to let him go. And they were equally warm-hearted, generous and enthusiastic about Rubbra’s 4th Symphony and its excellent performance. I suppose most of them came from Bradford or Manchester. Mr. Fenby’s short piece was also well received; it owes something to Delius, naturally, but it has a life of its own.
But there are still four more concerts to be given, and it might help if Mr. Miles were to advertise that he will conduct the next one standing on his hands.