Croydon's classical music connections

PUBLISHED: 16:39 27 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:12 20 February 2013

Croydon Philharmonic Choir

Croydon Philharmonic Choir

Did you know that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra proudly calls Croydon home, that the London Mozart Players are also a regular fixture, or that the Queen Mother enjoyed a concert there by the BBC Symphony Orchestra? And that's just the start...

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
When presuming where the origins of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) might lie, it would be safe to say that most people with no previous knowledge would be thinking of South Kensingtons streets rather than those of central Croydon.

The truth is, however, that the RPO gave its first ever performance under founder Sir Thomas Beecham at the sadly now defunct Davis Theatre, in 1946, and has been returning to its replacement, the Fairfield Halls, ever since.

Yes, our association with Croydon goes right back to the roots of things and is something that we hold very dear, says managing director, Ian Maclay, who has been involved with the organisation on and off since the Seventies. The Fairfield Halls opened in 1962, so its their 50th next year, and the acoustics are as good for acoustic performances as anywhere else in the country.

Its not just the formative years that forged such strong bonds, however; more recently, the orchestra was also known for its association with conductor and local resident Arthur Davison some even took to referring to him as Mr Croydon until his passing a decade ago.

He was involved with the orchestra for over 25 years and his son Darrell still conducts the Arthur Davison Family Concerts in Croydon every year, says Ian. Arthur was a Canadian violinist and incredibly popular events would be packed to the rafters just because of how he cultivated an audience. He was well known around the town and, in some ways, the rest of us are still having to work twice as hard to make up for losing his personality.

Today, the keen eyed can spot a bronze bust of Arthur Davison at Fairfield, while many of the orchestras musicians continue to live in the south London area.

Indeed, it is perhaps the Croydon-born pianist Freddy Kempf, who is performing a series of all five Beethoven piano concertos with the orchestra this season, who will be arousing the most excitement among local classical followers this year. Not only born in the area, he took his first steps on the grass alongside the Fairfield Halls and gave his first concert there aged eight or nine.

The audiences always tend to be much more appreciative outside central London and this season is as strong a line-up as weve had, culminating in Nigel Kennedy, says Ian. Hes performed with the orchestra before at Fairfield but not for a long time. Obviously, Lesley Garrett is always hugely popular too and you cant forget Freddy either.

  • The RPOs 2011-12 season at the Fairfield Halls starts on Wednesday October 26 with Freddy Kempfs Beethoven Piano Series and continues through to Wednesday May 30 when Nigel Kennedy plays Brahms. Tickets range from 12 to 31.50 and can be booked on: 0208 688 9291. More information at:

Croydon Symphony Orchestra
Founded by friend and biographer of Edward Elgar, WH Reed, in 1920, Croydon Symphony Orchestra was established from a string group set up by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in 1905.

Weve been performing now for 91 years and are fortunate to have composer and conductor Darrell Davison as our musical director, says Phil Myers, the groups publicity secretary.

Darrell follows in the footsteps of his father, Arthur, whose Arthur Davison Family Concerts at the Fairfield Halls (see left) remain a highlight in this amateur groups calendar.

As an orchestra, we enjoy playing the family concerts, especially when we are able to give performance opportunities to youngsters, says Phil. You still get interesting moments: playing the 1812 with the cannon is always an event, particularly for the cellos sitting next to it!

  • Croydon Symphony Orchestra performs Franck, Ravel, Berlioz and Delius at Trinity School Hall on Saturday November 12. See

Croydon Philharmonic Choir
FOUNDED in December 1914 by the late Alan Kirby, after a successful performance of The Messiah given by the combined forces of Croydon Free Church choirs, Croydon Philharmonic Choir is particularly renowned for its renditions of Elgar.

Following a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, Feruccio Bonavia wrote in The Musical Times that Kirby and his Philharmonic represent, for me at least, the highest point so far gained in the interpretation of Elgars music while Elgar himself, who was an acquaintance of Kirby, conducted the choir in May 1933 at the Civic Hall, Croydon, in a performance of The Apostles.

Alan Kirby was a talented amateur musician and expert choral trainer who lived in Croydon himself, says the choirs music director, David Gibson. Indeed, in 1958, he was made an honorary Freeman of the County Borough of Croydon in recognition of his distinguished work for music.

Vaughan Williams was another personal friend and the choir performed several of his works too.

In fact, the choir greatly benefitted from his many close acquaintances who also included Adrian Boult, Arthur Bliss and Gustav Holst.

Another good friend was WH Reed, a violinist, composer and author and leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, who also lived in Croydon and was himself a close acquaintance of Elgar.

The choir took part in the acoustic test of the Fairfield Halls and sang in the opening concert. The conductors rostrum and desk were given to the Halls by the choir in memory of Alan Kirby who died in 1959.

  • Croydon Philharmonic Choir performs Handels Theodora at Croydon Minster on Saturday November 12 with the Florilegium ensemble. The choir is set to join in Fairfields 50th anniversary next year and will be celebrating its own centenary in 2013-14. For more information, see

Whitgift School
AS WELLas the established choirs and illustrious history already mentioned, the younger generations are making positive headlines on stage too, and classical music is a vital part of the independent Whitgift Schools activities.

We are tireless in encouraging participation from the maximum number of boys possible, says the director of music and performing arts, Paul Wilson.

Distinguished Old Whitgiftian musicians include internationally renowned composer Tarik ORegan; the high profile conductor, pianist and opera translator Jeremy Sams; and Guy Woolfenden, former music director of the RSC.

More recently, one of their choirs appeared on The One Show on BBC One and Paul is convinced that classical music has never had more opportunity to become popular among younger minds.

Classical music has certainly become more accessible because of the internet etc, says Paul. In addition, our Primary Schools Project has ensured that thousands of Croydon schoolchildren have heard classical music performed at Whitgift and the Fairfield Halls. We are very proud of this, particularly as this is unique to Whitgift.

And before there are accusations of it being all well and good for pupils at a 13,731 per year private school being capable at classical music but what about the rest around 40 per cent of the intake is assisted from a 5million fund set aside annually for scholarships and bursaries.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation
NEXT YEAR, the world will commemorate 100 years since the death of the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor at the age of 37 he lived and died in Croydon, leaving a mark that is still celebrated today.

Sir Edward Elgar considered him to be far and away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men, says Robert Eichert of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation. Elgar was referring to a Royal College of Music intake that, at that time, included the likes of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst.

To celebrate the life of arguably Britains great black composer, his opera Thelma is expected to be premiered and a documentary film is being made. His cantata that first brought him to fame, Hiawathas Wedding Feast, will be performed and other suggestions for commemorating his life have included the renaming of West Croydon Station and amending the Grade II* listing of St Mary Magdalene, where the young Coleridge-Taylor sang in the choir as a soloist, to a higher classification.

As a child, he attended the British School in Tamworth Road, Croydon, says Robert (Croydon Museum has a log book for the school). He was very active promoting music and teaching locally. He conducted the Croydon Orchestral Society from 1898.

He also had a lifelong friendship with the Petherick family, who lived at 25 Havelock Road, Addiscombe, and wrote a short piece for Ada Petherick in the family scrapbook based on the notes A-D-A (again, the book is in Croydon Museum).

Coleridge-Taylor lived between Croydon and South Norwood at several addresses, often not very far from each other. There is a heritage blue plaque at his residence at 30 Dagnall Park, South Norwood, and the house where he died is in St Leonards Road in Croydon.

London Mozart Players
THELondon Mozart Players (LMP) has been the resident orchestra of the borough of Croydon since 1989, following a series of successful concerts that had been supported by Greater London Arts. Subsequently, both Croydon Council and Nestl, whose UK headquarters are opposite Fairfield, were approached for support, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Croydon has always maintained strong links with the arts; not only in classical music but in theatre, cinema, literature and urban music, says Caroline Molloy, the LMPs marketing and events co-ordinator.

Of course, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lived in Selhurst and taught at the Crystal Palace School for Music and Arts, but a huge factor in drawing classical music to Croydon is Fairfield Halls itself; the acoustics of the concert hall really are among the best in the country.

As well as concerts at Fairfield, the LMP does a lot of work in the borough with children and young people, working extensively with the Whitgift Foundation Schools, in particular Trinity School.

We led a successful composition project this year with several local primary schools, involving children working with LMP musicians and being given the opportunity to write and perform their own pieces on stage at Fairfield, says Caroline.

There is still a bit of a stigma attached to classical music many young people believe that it is something for older generations, but this could not be further from the truth. Classical music can inspire an incredibly wide range of emotions, just as other forms of music can, and is hugely enjoyable.

In 2009, the commemorative 60th anniversary celebration of the orchestra featuring soloists Howard Shelley, Isabelle van Keulen and Dame Felicity Lott was held at the Fairfield Halls and broadcast by BBC Radio 3 with London Mozart Players patron, the Earl of Wessex, in attendance.

  • London Mozart Players latest season will feature a London premiere of Theatre of Tango by Cecilia McDowall, which was inspired by the tango music of South America, and, to coincide with the 2012 Olympics, the first performance of the final movement of World Four Seasons by the LMPs associate composer Roxanna Panufnik. For more information about their events, visit

Fairfield Halls
ONFriday November 2, 1962, the Queen Mother opened Fairfield. She then attended the inaugural concert, which was given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sergeant, with the soloist being one Yehudi Menuhin who went on to found the eponymously named school in Cobham. Earlier this year in March, Fairfields Concert Hall was also the chosen venue for the world premiere of a newly discovered work by Ralph Vaughan Williams performed by the New Queens Hall Orchestra and conducted by Alan Tongue, who unearthed A Cambridge Mass (click here for more links to Vaughan Williams, who long lived in Surrey).

  • Fairfield Halls, Park Lane, Croydon CR9 1DG: 0208 688 9291

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2011

Unless youve been living under a grand piano, its been impossible to escape the doom and gloom of the riots that spread into Croydon recently. Yet, many positive stories continue to pass by unnoticed. Did you know, for example, that the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra proudly calls the town home, that the London Mozart Players are also a regular fixture, or that the Queen Mother enjoyed a concert there by the BBC Symphony Orchestra? And thats just the start... Matthew Williams reveals some of Croydons impressive classical connections

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