VERNON HANDLEY (1930-2008)
Ulster Orchestra Conductor Laureate dies aged 77
The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has learned with regret of the death of Vernon Handley, one of the most respected British conductors and the Ulster Orchestra’s Conductor Laureate, who died yesterday at his home in Monmouthshire, Wales, at the age of 77.
Handley, a champion of British 20th century orchestral music, conducted all over the world and will be remembered particularly for his countless award-winning recordings, which include symphonies by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howell, along with works by neglected composers such as Charles Stanford and Arnold Bax.
George Vernon Handley was born into a working class family at Enfield, Middlesex, on November 11 1930, to an Irish mother and Welsh father. After National Service, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, to read Philology, before attending the Guildhall School of Music in London. He became a protégé of Sir Adrian Boult, who helped him secure his first professional role with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 1961. In 1962 Handley was appointed Musical Director of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra.
Handley became Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Ulster Orchestra between 1985-89.
David Byers, Chief Executive of the Ulster Orchestra, paid tribute: “Players held him in the highest respect for his conducting technique, his insightful interpretations and, above all, his rapport and sense of humour. His ability to balance the orchestra and communicate the ebb and flow of his music-making to the orchestra came from his studies with, and his admiration for, Sir Adrian Boult. He gave several pre-concert talks and interviews for us and the wealth of his stories, his ability to communicate so easily, and the warmth of his personality always shone through. He’ll be deeply missed.”
Philip Hammond, composer and Arts Support Director of the Arts Council, added:
“Tod Handley brought to the Ulster Orchestra and to Northern Ireland a wonderful sense of what English music was all about. He had a deep understanding of its style and sentiment and his many concerts and recordings with the Ulster Orchestra, amongst others, offer a most eloquent memorial to his long and distinguished career.”
In the 1990s, Vernon Handley became Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (1989-95), as well as Chief Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (1992-1995) and Chief Conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra (1993-1996). He remained active almost to the end, conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in its annual Proms season in August 2008.
Handley was awarded a CBE for his services to music in 2004. In 2007 he was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Classical Brits and he had twice been the outright winner of the Gramophone Record of the Year, as well as runner up twice and nominated eight times.