Title graphic: Conductors
Conductors: 1

Before the Second World War the only conductor able to approach Sir Thomas Beecham for the breadth and diversity of his services to British music was Sir Henry Wood (1869-1944). His indefatigable enthusiasm and support for the Promenade Concerts, begun in 1895 and involving the newly-formed Queen's Hall Orchestra, turned them into a London institution. Neither the change in administration when the British Broadcasting Corporation assumed control in 1927, nor the destruction of the Queen's Hall (the Proms' venue) in 1941, proved terminal, the Proms surviving to the present day and now expanded into a two-month summer music festival second to none. Wood was particularly keen to promote British music and, in addition, to introduce new music from abroad - he gave the world premiere of Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces in 1912. As well as being indirectly responsible for creating the London Symphony Orchestra, he visited the provinces frequently, conducting the major choral societies and raising standards of orchestral playing.

In 1942 Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983), renowned for his restrained, gentlemanly mein while conducting, became the associate conductor of the Proms (until 1950), but his most important work was as the musical director and conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1930-50), moulding it, soon after its inception, into a first-rate body of players. Like Wood, he was keen to introduce modern music from abroad, conducting concert performances of Berg's Wozzeck (1934) and Busoni's Doktor Faust (1937), as well as support British music. A substantial number of his recordings of Elgar's and Vaughan Williams' symphonies have become classics. Sir John Barbirolli (1899-1970) also excelled in this repertory - he conducted the first performances of Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia antarctica and Eighth Symphony - and in late romantics such as Bruckner, Mahler, Richard Strauss and Delius. Following a five-year term conducting the New York Philharmonic, Barbirolli became permanent conductor of the Hallé in 1943, rescuing it from the doldrums into which it had fallen after the brilliant years (1920-33) under Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) and reviving its earlier excellence during an association that lasted twenty-seven years. A similar dedication to a provincial orchestra was shown by Sir Dan Godfrey (1869-1939), who formed the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, remaining its conductor for more than thirty years. One of his policies was to invite British composers to conduct their own works, and Parry, Stanford, Bantock and Elgar, among others, accepted.