Boyd Neel

Boyd Neel

Louis Boyd NeelO.C. (19 July 1905 – 30 September 1981) was an English, and later Canadian conductor and academic. He was Dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music at the University of Toronto. Neel founded and conducted chamber orchestras, and contributed to the revival of interest in baroque music and in the 19th and 20th Century string orchestra repertoire.

Neel was born in Blackheath, London, and wanted to be a pianist as a child.[2] His mother, Ruby Le Couteur, was a professional accompanist, and his father was an engineer.[3]

Neel attended Osborne Naval College and then Dartmouth, and was commissioned in the Royal Navy. Soon after he was commissioned, the armed forces underwent a drastic reduction (the so-called ‘Geddes Axe‘), and Neel left the navy to study medicine at Caius CollegeCambridge. He qualified in 1930, and became House Surgeon and Physician at Saint George’s Hospital, London, and Resident Doctor at King Edward VII’s Hospital, London.[4][5]

In 1930, while practising medicine, Neel studied music theory and orchestration at the Guildhall School of Music.[6]

For Neel, at this stage, music was still a hobby. He conducted amateur groups and formed an orchestra of young professionals, whom he recruited in 1932 from the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music.[7] The Boyd Neel London String Orchestra (later the Boyd Neel Orchestra) made its debut at the Aeolian Hall, London, on 22 June 1933. The programme included the first performance in England of Respighi’s Suite of Ancient Airs and Dances and the premiere of a new suite by occasional composer Julian Herbage. After the concert, Neel returned to his surgery and delivered a baby.[8] The second concert, at the same venue, took place on 24 November 1933, and included the first performance in England of the Serenade for Strings by Wolf-Ferrari. On 18 December 1933 the orchestra was invited to broadcast by the BBC for the first time.[9] When Decca offered Neel and the orchestra a contract, he left medicine to devote himself full-time to music.[4]

On 16 February 1934 the orchestra performed a concert of chamber works by Ernest Bloch at the Aeolian Hall, conducted by the composer.[10] Neel conducted the first music heard in the new Glyndebourne opera house in 1934, in private performances, at John Christie‘s invitation.[4] Among the Boyd Neel Orchestra’s early releases in 1936 were the first recordings of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Britten’s Simple Symphony.[11] The following year, Neel and his orchestra were invited to the Salzburg Festival, for which Neel commissioned Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.[4] In 1939 Boyd Neel commissioned John Ireland‘s three movement Concertino Pastorale for string orchestra, first played at the Canterbury Festival on 14 June 1939. It was subsequently recorded in February 1940.[12] The orchestra toured Great Britain and Europe until the outbreak of war.[13][14]

Boyd Neel Orchestra


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