The ASO, originally named the Ayr Amateur Orchestra, was founded in 1920 and gave its first concert on March 29th 1921 in Ayr Town Hall.
Founder members included Miss C Templeton (of Templeton Mills in Ayr), and Dr George Brand, a local G.P. These are well known names in the Town’s history and we are grateful to them for not only founding the Orchestra but also keeping it going through the trials and financial difficulties that it had over the years.
The first committee meetings were held in Newham House which is now part of the Wellington School complex. It was then that it was decided to rehearse on Tuesday evenings. Rehearsals took place in Ayr Academy’s Memorial Hall. However, under the conductorship of John Wilson, a music lecturer at Craigie College, rehearsals moved to the College when it opened in 1964.
During the war there were many concerts raising funds for the war effort, for example, for the ATC, the Merchant Navy, the British Sailors Society, the RAF Benevolent Fund, Ayr County Hospital and the Erskine Hospital.
Previous soloists include Heddle Nash (tenor), Alfredo Campoli (violinist), Joan Hammond (soprano) and Scottish songstress Moira Anderson. A child prodigy, nine year old Jean Harvey, performed a Mozart Piano Concerto. Her later career included playing both the Brahms Second Piano Concerto and Walton Violin Concerto in one Royal Academy of Music concert in London. In a 1953 Prom concert she performed both Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Grieg’s Piano Concerto.
More recent soloists have played a wide range of instruments, including David McClenaghan (horn), Simon Thacker (guitar), Greg Lawson (violin), Helen Thomson (harp), Sheila Hay (oboe), Simon Bird (trumpet), and Kennedy Leitch (cello). Kennedy’s wife, Katherine Bryan (flute) was our soloist in March 2012. She is principal flautist with the RSNO and can be heard regularly on Classic FM. Vocal soloists include Wendy-Anne Duncan (soprano) and Marilyn de Blieck (mezzo soprano). The Orchestra has also had various choral groups as concert guests.
Over the years, the Orchestra has had nine conductors:
James Senior was the first conductor. He was a member of a well-known musical family in Ayr, and brother of Wilfrid Senior, a concert pianist. James also played ‘cello and his sister was a violinist in the Orchestra.
Dr George Brand was a G.P. and an early experimenter in X-Ray at Ayr County Hospital. Due to this he developed burn marks on his hands, before the dangers were realised. He played both violin and viola, and gifted orchestral scores which can still be found in the Orchestra library.
Alexander Stark Brown answered an advertisement in a national newspaper for the post of Conductor of the Ayr Amateur Orchestra. Besides being a gifted musician, he worked as a lawyer in Glasgow, and travelled to Ayr by train on a Tuesday in time for a prompt 7.15pm start to rehearsals.
Alexander Soutar was a music teacher with the local Education Authority. He was also organist and choirmaster at the Scottish Episcopal Church in Fullarton Street, Ayr.
John Bryden Thomson (known to his friends as Jack) was noted for his acerbic wit and irascibility! He later became musical director of the RSNO, then known as the Scottish National Orchestra, a post he held for three years. He was also conductor of the Royal Opera in Stockholm, Norwegian Opera in Oslo, and orchestras such as the BBC Symphony, the Ulster, and the Halle.
Henry Neil was a local music teacher whose family owned a dairy in Ayr. He married Renee, the daughter of Rae Welsh, a noted teacher of the violin in Ayrshire. Renee was the leader of the Orchestra.
John Wilson was Principal Music Lecturer at Craigie College of Education, and helped the Orchestra to solve its problem of finding a suitable rehearsal venue by arranging to amalgamate his small college orchestra into the larger Ayr Amateur Orchestra. This allowed the Orchestra to have rehearsal facilities and to store its library, music stands and timps.
Wallace Galbraith was the Leader of the Orchestra and took over the Conductorship from John Wilson. He was responsible for starting the tradition of a Christmas Carol Concert each year. A gifted violin player and teacher with boundless energy and enthusiasm. He is well known for his work with the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra.
John Lewis Wilson became Conductor in 1992.