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Distinguished leader of BBC NI orchestra in early 1970s Kenneth Alwyn dies

Alf McCreary on the life of Kenneth Alwyn, who has died at the age of 95


Former conductor with the BBC Northern Ireland orchestra Kenneth Alwyn

Former conductor with the BBC Northern Ireland orchestra Kenneth Alwyn

Former conductor with the BBC Northern Ireland orchestra Kenneth Alwyn

Kenneth Alwyn, the distinguished British musician who has died at the age of 95, was a former principal guest conductor of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra.

The orchestra was later disbanded by the BBC in 1981 amid much controversy, and a number of its players continued their career with the Ulster Orchestra which had been established in 1966.

Paying tribute yesterday, David Byers - a former chief producer, Music and Arts with BBC Northern Ireland, and a former chief executive of the Ulster Orchestra - said: "Kenneth was appointed principal conductor of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra in 1969, having dropped the 'Light' from its former name of BBC Northern Ireland Light Orchestra in 1965."

He was succeeded by Eric Weatherall in 1976.

Mr Alwyn's career was very much founded by on his work as a conductor of ballet, though he dined out on the fact that he had conducted the very first stereophonic recording of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture for Decca, with the London Symphony Orchestra.

"He was often a very charming man, with a breadth of repertoire which was perfect for the wide range of work he recorded in Belfast for BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 2," said Mr Byers.

"On the podium he was demanding, and he could make musicians somewhat nervous because of his pernickety approach at times.

"It was a shame that his appointment with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra coincided with some of the worst years of the Troubles, limiting the ability of the orchestra to be out and about.

"One of his lasting memorials will be his complete recording of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha, but sadly not with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra."

Kenneth Alwyn was born in Croydon on July 28, 1925.

He was orphaned at the age of 10, and went to live with his aunt in Ontario.

He returned to England and joined the RAF at 17.

After war-time service, in 1947 he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where he won a prize for conducting.

He had a wide musical portfolio and was recognised for his significant contribution to the British musical theatre.

However he was best-known not only for his iconic recording of the 1812 Overture but also for his long association of some 30 years as conductor of the highly-popular BBC Radio 2 programme Friday Night Is Music Night.

He also served on the BBC Music Advisory Committee.

He conducted some of the top orchestras, and made extensive tours to Europe, the USA, South Africa and the Far East.

He was described by BBC Radio 3 as "One of the great musical directors".

He was also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.

Alwyn was also a friend of the comedian and talented pianist Dudley Moore, and worked with him on his final concert tour in 1992.

His first volume of memoirs - A Baton in the Ballet and Other Places - was published in 2015.

The second volume - Is Anyone Watching - was published two years later, in which he referred to his time with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra.

Overall he was one of the most distinguished conductors to have worked with a Belfast-based orchestra.

Belfast Telegraph