As we enter another period of lockdown, this seems a good moment to learn more about the talented players that make up the New Forest Orchestra. This week, Bassoonist Adrian Dence shares some memories of his time in the National Youth Orchestra in the 1950s.
"The National Youth Orchestra was in its early days in the 1950s but its reputation went before it! I cannot recall where the idea of auditioning came from, but it must have been Antony Brown, the Director of Music at Canford School. The lovely Iona, his daughter, had already been accepted for NYO – she later went on to become a well-known Violinist and Conductor.
Writing anything about the Founder and Director, Ruth Railton, makes my skin prickle! She was a formidable lady - quite slim and petite with her hair scraped back in a bun; pale in complexion and always wearing (to my memory tinged with awe) a delicate, pale blue, angora cardigan. She had a sweet encouraging smile but not far underneath was an iron will. What RR said happened without question. She travelled round the UK auditioning young aspiring musicians at their schools.
At Canford there were a handful of candidates. AB introduced me to Miss Railton and I played my piece. She listened intently with that smile of encouragement. As readers will recognise from my description and the length of this paragraph, she was an intense and determined lady who came across to many other prospective players in just the way I have described. Her summing up after I had played was one of those moments in one’s life that you don’t forget; she leant forward, “Adrian do you really want to play in the National Youth Orchestra ?” “Yes Miss Railton - more than anything”.
Intensity and discipline were part and parcel of the 120 strong membership. Some weeks before each week-long course a fat envelope arrived containing the music for the course which we were expected to be familiar with when we arrived (for example in Bristol, Cork, Manchester, or Hatfield). The music included a major Symphony (perhaps Schubert’s Great C Major or Shostakovich No 1); a classic Piano Concerto (possibly Mozart or Beethoven) with a child prodigy soloist. In the woodwind section there were at least four players for each instrument. After lunch on each day of the course we rested quietly on our beds! And when we entered the concert stage it was in silence in single file wearing our NYO badges on a white shirt. We looked smart and Iona Brown looked fantastic.
The musical experience was magical as you would expect. We had all been selected for our inherent musicianship, so I don’t recall having any difficulty in the areas of rhythm, intonation or phrasing. However, there were moments of technical challenge such as in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra or Elgar’s Overture “Cockaigne” which just had to be practiced repeatedly. As I progressed through the hierarchy, I became Principal which meant Solos!
In Malcolm Archer’s 2nd Symphony, the second movement is introduced by the principal bassoon - a typical haunting melody which I can hum to this day. John Dalby the assistant musical Director took me aside as the day of the concert got nearer. “Adrian you play this beautifully, but you need to let yourself be carried away; don’t be afraid to put everything into it”. I did!
We performed abroad, notably in Berlin where we were driven round the demolished east sector and to Cork where we performed in the massive Theatre Royal.
My time with the NYO came to an end with a request that I audition for the Concerto slot in a future Course. This took place in the main Hall of the Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road where I played Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto. I was not selected but the occasion had a memorable postscript. Some little time after my audition I opened The Times (or was it the Daily Telegraph?) to find a full-page advertisement featuring myself playing the bassoon on behalf the Shell Petroleum Company! For this prestigious appearance I earned the princely sum of £10."