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George Weldon (Conductor)

Born: June 5, 1908, Chichester, England
Died: August 17, 1963 - South Africa

The English conductor, George Weldon, learnt to play the piano as a child. He was educated at Sherborne School and at the Royal College of Music in London, where his conducting tutors included Sir Malcolm Sargent and Aylmer Buesst.

Having gained valuable experience conducting amateur orchestras and choirs in the home counties, between 1937 and 1939, George Weldon served as assistant to Julius Harrison with the Hastings Municipal Orchestra. Following the outbreak of World War II he toured with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestras, and took charge of a season of ballet.

In 1943, at 36 years of age, George Weldon was appointed Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra, in succession to Leslie Heward and after an open competition. A tireless worker, Weldon did a great deal to strengthen this orchestra. By the end of 1944 he had secured it as a permanent body of 62 players; he introduced promenade concerts in 1945, and added the word ‘Symphony’ to the orchestra’s name in 1948 (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra). He was extremely well-liked by audiences, offering stylish and exciting performances of the popular repertoire, but not neglecting new music. Samuel Barber came to Birmingham to conduct his Symphony No. 1 and Sir William Walton recorded his Sinfonia concertante, with Phyllis Sellick as soloist. Ruth Gipps became the choirmaster of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Choir in 1948 after the birth of her son, Lance, the previous year. Rumours circulated that the married Gipps was having an affair with Weldon and that Lance was Weldon's son, but these were never confirmed. Weldon’s contract with the orchestra was unexpectedly terminated in 1951, when its board of management felt that a new conductor was required; he was succeeded by Rudolf Schwarz. The reasons for this are unclear, but according to Ruth Gipps, Weldon resigned before he could be dismissed.

Shocked by this cavalier treatment of a fine musician, Sir John Barbirolli offered George Weldon the post of Associate Conductor with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. He was appointed in 1952 and remained in that position until his death. Here he once again gained a strong popular following, conducting many of the orchestra’s industrial concerts presented throughout the north of England and took charge of the Hallé Orchestra summer seasons of promenade concerts. He conducted many British orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Covent Garden Opera House Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, etc. He frequently conducted in London and abroad, made broadcasts and many records. He conducted the Sadler’s Wells Ballet company during its 1955-1956 season, and appeared as a guest conductor in North and South Africa, Turkey and Yugoslavia. A very heavy smoker (he used a chamber-pot by the rostrum as an ashtray), as well as a keen aficionado of sports car racing, he died unexpectedly after conducting a concert in Cape Town.

A modest and highly personable individual, George Weldon conducted with an exceptionally clear beat, was a master of orchestral balance, and saw himself very much as the servant of the composer, commenting to orchestras: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is what the composer wrote and this is what he is going to get.’ He made his first recordings for Walter Legge and EMI’s Columbia label in 1944 when he replaced Sir Malcolm Sargent in concerto recordings with Dennis Matthews and Benno Moiseiwitsch and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Legge quickly recognized talent when he encountered it, and shortly afterwards engaged Weldon and the City of Birmingham Orchestra to make a series of recordings which included Dvořák’s Symphony No. 5 (old No. 3) and Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Cyril Smith as soloist, as well as several examples of light music for which Weldon possessed a distinct flair (he composed a suite entitled Mice, based on the tune Three Blind Mice).

George Weldon went on to make a considerable number of recordings throughout the 1950’s for EMI (Columbia & HMV), including some in stereo, with the London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and with the Hallé Orchestra for the Pye label. While many of these recordings have disappeared from the catalogue, those that remain testify to Weldon’s energy and stylishness as a conductor. His complete recording of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty with the Philharmonia Orchestra is especially notable (this recording has been reissued on CD on the Seraphim Records and Classics for Pleasure labels). So are his concerto recordings, such as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2 with Moiseiwitsch, Medtner’s Piano Concerto No.1 (in place of Dobrowen) with the composer as soloist, and the pairing of Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the short-lived New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell. Weldon was an especially distinguished interpreter of English music: he recorded Edward Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the contralto Gladys Ripley twice, as well as the Enigma Variations and the concert overtures Cockaigne and In the South; Arnold Bax’s Tintagel; Gustav Holst’s A Somerset Rhapsody, St Paul’s Suite and incidental music to The Perfect Fool; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ incidental music to The Wasps, amongst many other shorter works, all with a sure grasp.

Source: Wikipedia Website [based on Halstead, Jill (2006). Ruth Gipps: Anti-modernism, Nationalism, and Difference in English Music. Burlington, VT: Ashgate. ISBN 0754601781; Dr. David C F. Wright (1999). "George Weldon, The Myths About Conductors". MusicWeb International. Retrieved August 18, 2007]; Naxos Website (Author: David Patmore); International Who's Who in Music & Musicians' Directory (4th Edition, 196)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (September 2009, November 2013)

George Weldon: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

George Weldon (Wikipedia)
George Weldon, The Myths about Conductors, Personal Thoughts by Dr. David C F. Wright (MusicWeb)

George Weldon [Three part free book available for download in PDF format]
George Weldon - Bio (Naxos)

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