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Giovanni Battista Barbirolli, a rising star on the orchestral scene, was the latest conductor appointed to the Scottish Orchestra in 1933, and was soon after invited to become an honorary member of Ye Cronies.

 

Initially a celloist by trade, Barbirolli became the youngest player in the Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra at the age of 16, thereafter joining the London Symphony Orchestra where Elgar conducted the first performance of his Cello Concerto.

Joining the Army for a short spell at the end of the First World War, Giovanni adopted the anglicised form of his first name, John, to assist his sergeant-major during roll calls (“Who is this Guy Vanni?”). It was during his military service that John was given his first taste of conducting an orchestra

Returning to civilian life in 1919, John now had ambitions of becoming a professional conductor but took up the cello once more for the LSO while he established the Guild of Singers and Players Chamber Orchestra which would allow him to gain crucial experience in conducting.

 

After catching the eye of the director of the British National Opera Company (BNOC) in 1926, John spent seven years serving as their conductor before taking up the same role with the Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow in 1933.

 

Despite the SNO’s season lasting only six months per year, Barbirolli still developed an extensive symphonic repertoire "rejuvenating the playing and programmes and winning most favourable opinions".

 

In 1936 the music world was taken by surprise in 1936 as the relatively unknown John Barbirolli was appointed conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

Following a perilous journey over the Atlantic, Barbirolli returned to his family in Britain in 1943 with the goal of saving the Halle Orchestra from dissolution. John would see this as his greatest achievement and remained their conductor for the rest of his life, receiving a knighthood for his contribution to music in 1949.

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