The history of the Hallé Orchestra
Among a flurry of changes, Sir Mark Elder will become Conductor Emeritus after twenty-four transformative years which have left the Hallé enriched, revered and the envy of the musical world.
The orchestra together with the Hallé Choir and youth ensembles now look ahead with confidence and a new energy, poised to explore and embrace yet more musical challenges and adventures.
The Halle is the oldest professional orchestra in the UK and gave their first concert at the Free Trade Hall on 30th January 1858.
The path to where they are now has not always been smooth, and twenty-five years ago, they were on the brink of collapse.
Throughout its 160 years, the Hallé has been one of the world’s most respected orchestras.
In 1908 under Hans Richter, it gave the first performance of Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1. It retained its international status through the 1920s and 30s, but almost went out of existence during the war.
The destruction of Manchester Free Trade Hall in WW2
In the Manchester Blitz of December 1940, the Free Trade Hall was all but destroyed by German bombs and the number of musicians was reduced to about 30, with most younger musicians serving in the armed forces.
Sir John Barbirolli
It was rescued and revived by Sir John Barbirolli, who had been a guest conductor in the 1930s and returned to Manchester in 1943 from his post as conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
Hallé the world-class orchestra
Barbirolli rebuilt the Hallé to world-class standards and remained as the orchestra’s principal conductor for 25 years until retiring in 1968 – a stint that included the triumphant return of the Hallé to the rebuilt Free Trade Hall in 1951.
But by February 1998, owing to a combination of poor financial management and the costs surrounding the ambitious programme of celebrity conductor Kent Nagano, the Hallé was in deep trouble, having lost £600,000 in one year and facing accumulated debts of £1.8 million.
The number of players was cut from 98 to 80, and there were pay cuts all around.
At one point it was suggested that some musical instruments, including a Stradivarius violin, would have to be sold to tide the orchestra over until rescue funds could be raised.
The re-emergence of the Halle as a world-class orchestra
The orchestra survived and a new stability was established. In 1999, Nagano handed the baton to Sir Mark Elder who has remained as principal conductor since.
He now takes on the role of Conductor Emeritus after twenty-four years of service, and Kahchun takes over the role.
Kahchun Wong Principle Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra
Speaking to I Love Manchester, Kahchun Wong said:
“I am deeply honoured to be the new Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Hallé. It is an orchestra I have always admired for its beautiful sound and tradition.
“It is a privilege to become a part of Manchester’s vibrant cultural scene and to continue the high standards of music-making associated with Sir Mark Elder and our distinguished predecessors. I am looking forward to working with the visionary team at the Hallé in charting our artistic future together.”
What’s on at the Halle Orchestra
Kahchun will conduct the Hallé at The Bridgewater Hall this Saturday, 24 June at 7pm.
He appears as part of Manchester Classical, a Hallé-led festival of music for new audiences featuring all the city’s professional orchestras, in a series of hour-long concerts throughout the day and into the night on 24 and 25 June.
Kahchun Wong will be conducting Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and John Harle’s Briggflatts featuring Jess Gillam on saxophone.
This will be the public’s first chance to see Kahchun Wong with the Hallé following the announcement of his new role.
Kahchun will also lead the Hallé on a tour of Spain in January 2024, and conduct Fauré’s Requiem with the Hallé at 6pm on Thursday 2 May 2024 in The Bridgewater Hall, just days before Sir Mark Elder’s final run of concerts in Manchester as Music Director of the Hallé.