History of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra
The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra is a professional orchestra based in Brighton & Hove led by Music Director Joanna MacGregor CBE. Our annual season of concerts is presented at Brighton Dome Concert Hall and we also hold events in other venues in the city.
The orchestra was formed by Herbert Menges in May 1925 as the Symphonic String Players with the purpose of becoming “a large and powerful String Orchestra, and to give periodical concerts of a high standard in Brighton and Hove” initially in Hove Town Hall. By 1928 it had already moved into the Brighton Dome and become the fully orchestral Symphonic Players. Menges remained as Principal Conductor and in 1932 Sir Thomas Beecham was appointed as the orchestra’s first President (a position later held by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten). The orchestra became the fully-professional Southern Philharmonic in 1945, with annual seasons in Hastings and Portsmouth, before becoming the Brighton Philharmonic in 1958.
In 1972, after 47 years as Principal Conductor and having conducted more than 300 concerts, Herbert Menges died at the age of 69. His successor was John Carewe, whose first concert as Principal Conductor marked the start of the orchestra’s 50th Anniversary season.
In 1989 Barry Wordsworth was appointed as the orchestra’s Music Director and Principal Conductor. His distinguished tenure at the helm was marked by a series of notable performances of both well-known and more unfamiliar works together with a roster of accomplished and distinguished soloists.
When the Brighton Dome closed for refurbishment in 1989, the BPO returned temporarily to Hove Town Hall, and presented a series of Mozart Piano Concerto concerts in the Theatre Royal Brighton with its then President, John Lill. The Dome re-opened in 2002, since which time over 200,000 tickets have been sold for the BPO’s concerts in its home venue.
Over the last decade, the BPO has performed a varied repertoire including well-loved symphonic works alongside newer pieces. In 2012 it gave one of the first performances of Moeran’s Symphony No.2, conducted by Martin Yates (who had recently reconstructed the piece). Recent seasons have also seen premieres of new works by Will Todd, Richard Rodney Bennett, Martin Butler and Howard Goodall, as well as regular collaborations with Brighton Festival Chorus and Brighton Festival Chorus Youth Choir. 2014/15 was the orchestra’s 90th concert season and to celebrate the occasion Schubert’s Marche Militaire was included, a piece that was performed at the very first concert given by the Symphonic String Players, conducted by Herbert Menges, in May 1925. At the end of that season Barry Wordsworth stepped down after 26 years as Music Director and Principal Conductor, becoming the orchestra’s first Conductor Laureate.
Today, the orchestra continues to attract noted players of the very highest calibre from around the country, many of whom regularly work with some of the finest orchestras in the world. With Joanna MacGregor CBE as only the fourth Music Director in the BPO’s 97-year history, we look forward to the orchestra evolving under her direction as it heads towards its centenary year in 2025.