The New Queen’s Hall Orchestra was founded in 1895 as the Queen’s Hall Orchestra to inaugurate the Promenade Concerts, the name being altered to the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra in 1915. For thirty-two years it gave nearly every Promenade Concert at Queen’s Hall, London under Henry Wood’s direction. In 1995 the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra gave the Centenary Henry Wood Promenade Concert in London at the Royal Albert Hall. The NQHO has always had a high reputation for giving many first performances.
In 1895, Robert Newman (1858-1926) founded both the Queen's Hall Orchestra, which he managed for thirty-two years, and the Promenade Concerts at Queen's Hall, which have since become so closely associated with the name of Henry J. Wood but were managed until his death by Newman. He began his business career as a stockjobber, but after two years he left the City to study singing in Italy, a career which he followed professionally for six years. He set up a concert agency which failed, losing him his capital, and then entered the Royal Academy of Music where Henry J. Wood (1869-1944), his junior by eleven years, was one of his fellow students. In 1893 he became involved with Sir Frederick Cowen (1852-1935), who later conducted the official opening concert at Queen's Hall, in a series of Promenade Concerts at Covent Garden. In the same year he was appointed as the first manager of Queen's Hall by Francis Ravenscroft, the manager of the Birkbeck Bank and mastermind of the Queen's Hall project which he initiated in 1885.
Robert Elkin in his book Queen's Hall 1893-1941 says of Newman, "His temperament was typically British in its initiative, dogged perseverance, and belief in promoting the practical best of everything; he was completely honest and sincere; and his slightly fierce appearance and terse manner concealed a generosity and courtesy none the less genuine because not discerned on the surface."
The idea of Promenade Concerts was not unique to Newman and concerts of a kind had been in existence in London since 1838 with varying levels of success, their most successful period probably being when under the directorship of Sir Arthur Sullivan in the 1870s, but the standard afterwards declined until Cowen's series in 1893. Newman was certain that there was an audience in London for the best kind of music if offered at first in a popular form, the aim being to gradually educate his audience, and decided to promote a series of Promenade Concerts in 1895 at Queen's Hall with a permanent orchestra. Newman was unable to finance the venture himself but the eminent aurist and laryngologist, Dr. George C. Cathcart (1860-1951) undertook the financial responsibility for the first season on condition that the low or continental pitch was used instead of the high English pitch which was so inconvenient to singers, and that Henry J. Wood was appointed sole conductor. The pitch in general use in England at the time was A=452.5 vibrations per second, known as Philharmonic Pitch. The Continental Pitch became known as New Philharmonic Pitch and is A=439 vibrations at 68 deg. Fahr or 435 at 59 deg. Fahr. The woodwind and brass players in the orchestra were unwilling to purchase low-pitch instruments so Cathcart imported them from Belgium and lent them for the first season, after which the players bought them from him, realising the benefits which the low-pitch brought. Cathcart stated that there was a loss of not less than £50 on every concert of the first season except for two where the singer Sims Reeves performed which were a sell-out. The first concert took place on August 10, 1895 under the musical direction of Henry J. Wood, and with the newly-formed Queen's Hall Orchestra of eighty players, with the ticket prices being 1s.(shilling) for the Promenade, 2s. for the Balcony and 3s. or 5s. for the Grand Circle.
The Queen's Hall organ was retuned, and as a result the Philharmonic Society, the Bach Choir, the London Symphony Orchestra, the concerts of Felix Mottl and Artur Nikisch, the Sunday afternoon concerts (which began on October 6, 1895) and those of the Queen's Hall Choir all adopted the Diapason Normal.
After the first season, the Queen's Hall Orchestra was under Newman's personal control, being known as Mr. Robert Newman's Queen's Hall Orchestra. He managed Queen's Hall until in August 1901 he was granted a three year tenancy of the building, but this was short-lived as he found himself in financial difficulties in 1902 due to other theatrical speculations and was bankrupted. In December 1902 a lease of the Hall was granted to Messrs. Chappell and Co., Ltd., while the Queen's Hall Orchestra passed into the control of a financial syndicate headed by Sir Edgar Speyer.
The Sunday afternoon concerts were also given by the Queen's Hall Orchestra, and continued regularly until 1924, when they were continued by the London Symphony Orchestra, and then by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.