Battle to be named Britain’s oldest orchestra

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra older than previously thought, new book claims
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The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO), not Manchester’s Hallé, is Britain’s oldest orchestra, argues a new book called The Original Liverpool Sound. The claim is the latest development in a long-running rivalry between the two orchestras for the title.

‘We have clear documentary evidence that by 1853 there was a fully contracted, fully professional, permanent orchestra here five years before the Hallé,’ says Vincent McKernan, co-author of the new book and former RLPO archivist in the Liverpool Echo.

But despite the new evidence in favour of the RLPO, the 151-year-old Hallé has defended its territory. ‘We are the oldest orchestra that has continuously given concerts,’ says John Summers, chief executive of the Hallé in The Guardian, ‘[What] Liverpool [is saying] is bollocks.’

While it is certain that the Hallé was formed in 1858, the origins of the RLPO are less easy to pin down. The Liverpool-based ensemble grew out of a philharmonic society founded in 1840. In The Original Liverpool Sound authors Darren Henley and Vincent McKernan suggest that the first formal contracts for RLPO players were drawn up in 1851, with the first concert from a fully-professional orchestra taking place in 1853 under the baton of conductor Zeugheer Herrmann.