In November 1975 Norman Chadwick (organiser for North West Co-Operative Society Cultural Activities) placed an advert in the Buxton Advertiser, inviting local musicians to a meeting in the Co-Operative Hall in Whaley Bridge to discuss the formation of a new orchestra. The meeting was held on Monday 24th November 1975, and was chaired by Mike Burton, a trombonist from Buxton. There was sufficient support to start the North West Co-Operative Orchestra.
The first rehearsal on 1st December 1975 was conducted by a friend of Norman, Brian Taylor (deceased), who was conductor of the Thornsett Brass Band. Brian was too busy to conduct regularly, but the orchestra was fortunate to obtain the services of Fred Edwards who was the first regular conductor. The Co-Op provided music stands. Early members included Tony Hill, Cyril Wheatcroft (deceased) and son Neville, Bill Stansfield and the recently deceased Jim Guy. Tea and biscuits during the break were provided by Amy Carmichael – the start of a popular orchestra tradition.
In 1978, the orchestra decided to sever links with the Co-Op. The reason for this is not certain – it is reputed by some that several concerts were given by the Co-Op orchestra, although conflicting reports claim that the Co-Op’s requests for the orchestra to give a concert were the catalyst for the change. The name New Peak Orchestra was chosen (to avoid confusion with the High Peak Music Society), and the Mechanics Institute in Whaley Bridge was used for rehearsals. About 2 dozen stands were donated by Buxton Rotary through Tony Hill. A selection of music was obtained from the Education Department of the former Manchester and Salford Co-Operative Society, and Whaley Town Council contributed to the orchestra’s funds.
After some years, the Orchestra changed its name to High Peak Orchestra as this was felt to be more appropriate. Fred Edwards left to concentrate on choral conducting, and Wilfred Bennett became the new conductor.
Following a performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto at St John’s Church in Buxton, the soloist, Pan Hon Lee, leader of the Hall‚ agreed to be President. This was despite the fact that he left after the refreshment break when the power supply failed, thankfully to be fixed in time for the second half by a very stressed viola player, allegedly a former electrician.
During 1986, due mainly to his wife’s deteriorating health, Wilfred was unable to give the orchestra his full support and was forced to retire. Charles Oldfield, the conductor of Poynton Royal British Legion Band, and an experienced French horn player agreed to be guest conductor for the December concert.
In December 1986, David Bentley was invited to become conductor. He had much experience of orchestral conducting, including Hyde Festival Orchestra and Liverpool University Orchestra. This was the start of a very successful six years, and an even longer association with the Bentley family. His daughter Kathy played the violin and son Michael the Cello, and were conscripted to swell the ranks. His wife Mollie has also played the organ for us on occasions. During David’s time with the orchestra, a more demanding repertoire saw the orchestra’s numbers swell and standards improve.
In 1992, David became ill and was unable to continue conducting. The orchestra continued to rehearse with Alison Reade-Jahn taking the baton on a temporary basis. Kathy Bentley agreed to conduct the forthcoming July concert.
Sadly, David died later that year. He will be remembered for his dedication to the orchestra and the resulting improvement in standards, and of course his ability to improvise orchestral music on the Jodrell Arms’ piano after rehearsals. One particular memory is David’s Memorial Concert in Marple in December 1993. The orchestra was joined by our President Pan Hon Lee in an emotional performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto. Two short pieces by Elgar, David’s favourite composer were also performed.
Impressed by her obvious talents, the orchestra elected Kathy as conductor at the 1993 AGM. In order to perfect her conducting talent, Kathy took lessons from a distinguished conductor at the Royal Northern College of Music, Clark Rundell. He was obviously impressed by her talents too, and they were married in 1996.
In June 1997, the High Peak Orchestra celebrated 21 years. The June 1997 concert was a celebration of the orchestra’s 21 years, and many former members, soloists and supporters will be present. During these years, over 60 concerts had been given in many local venues, mainly in our ‘home’ area of Whaley Bridge, Chapel-en-le-Frith and Buxton, but also further afield, including Marple, Glossop and Middlewich. Many members had come and gone, but there were two members of the elite ‘21 club’ – Bill Stansfield (that former electrician) on viola and Jim Guy on cello. The occasion was celebrated with a special anniversary concert featuring Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a particular favourite of David Bentley which he had planned to perform with the orchestra. Many former members, soloists and supporters were present, and the local MP presented medals to Bill and Jim.
In 1998 Kathy decided that she was unable to continue conducting the orchestra due to her teaching workload during the Autumn term. Gloria Bakhshayesh was invited to conduct while a permanent appointment was sought. In June 1999, Andrew Hodkinson was appointed as Conductor.
The Orchestra was pleased that the distinguished local Oboist, Richard Simpson agreed to become President in 1998. Richard takes an active interest in the orchestra, occasionally offering advice and encouragement in wind sectional rehearsals. His superb performance of the Mozart Oboe Concerto in March 1999 was one of the orchestras finest moments.
In 2016, Andrew Hodkinson retired from the position of Musical Director, having reached the milestone of conducting his 5oth concert with the High Peak Orchestra. Under Andrew’s baton, the orchestra performed works from most of the major composers; incorporating some of the most famous piano concertos and concertos for the main orchestral instruments; as well as for the lesser stars such as guitar and even xylophone!
We are indebted to our conductors over the years, Fred Edwards, Wilf Bennett, David Bentley, Kathy Bentley, Gloria Bakhshayesh and Andrew Hodkinson. We thank all our soloists – whether professional or amateur, they have all performed splendidly, and undoubtedly encouraged us to practice even more! Special thanks are also due to those unsung heroes, the committee members, who have given many hours of their time to guide the orchestra through good times and bad. And finally, thank you to the numerous charities who have supported us supporting them, in particular the High Peak Hospice for whom we have performed many times over the years.