Vernon Handley

1930 2008

Vernon Handley

Conductor • Cello


For forty five years Vernon Handley was unique amongst front rank conductors in that he unashamedly championed British repertoire before that of all other countries. Recognised as Sir Adrian Boult's protege he held steadfastly to two principles, which might have proved detrimental to a successful career: the undemonstrative technique and the unfashionable repertoire.

London-born Handley, known as "Tod" was adored by musicians and valued for his commitment and humanity which meant he formed long-lasting and affectionate relationships with artists, musicians and orchestras throughout the world.

Vernon Handley probably recorded, performed and broadcast more British music than any other conductor living or dead. In some 160 discs, over 90 are British, including 87 works which had not been recorded before. He gave over 100 premieres. In his recorded output are all the symphonies of Bax, Vaughan Williams, Stanford, Malcolm Arnold and Robert Simpson, all the major works of Elgar and the whole of Moeran's orchestral music.

He was outright winner three times of the Gramophone Record of the Year, as well as runner up twice and nominated 8 times. At the Gramophone Awards of 2003 he was awarded a Special Award for services to British Music. He won the BPI Classical award twice and his recording of Walton's First Symphony was declared 'Collectors Choice' in Classic CD. He won a Grand Prix du Disque for a recording of French repertoire with the Philharmonia Orchestra. 

In 1983 the London Philharmonic made Vernon Handley their Associate Conductor in recognition of his long relationship with the orchestra. He was Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Ulster Orchestra, Chief Guest Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Chief Guest Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the West Australian Symphony Orchestra and Chief Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra.

During this time Vernon Handley was Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music and was created F.R.C.M. He was also regularly conducting the National Youth Orchestra and the World Youth Orchestra and was widely known for his encouragement of young professional players.

Vernon Handley was appointed Musical Director to the Borough of Guildford in 1962, staying for twenty-one years to establish a new professional orchestra, the Guildford Philharmonic. During his tenure the Guildford Concerts Scheme was one of the most successful in the country, playing an extraordinarily wide repertoire and making several first-ever recordings of unfamiliar British works. In recognition of his great contribution to music in the South East, the University of Surrey awarded him a Doctorate.

In addition, Vernon Handley was Conductor Emeritus of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Conductor Laureate of the Ulster Orchestra and Associate Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He was created Honorary Fellow of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1990 and was elected an Honorary Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford in 1999. Vernon Handley was appointed Commander of the British Empire in the Queen's Birthday Honours, June 2004.

He recorded a complete cycle of symphonies by Sir Arnold Bax, which was chosen as one of his 100 Greatest Recordings by Gramophone's outgoing Editor, James Jolly, in December 2005.

In May 2007 he was the recipient of only the second Lifetime Achievement Award to be given by the Classical Brits. Dr Vernon Handley was accompanied on stage by the Duchess of Cornwall to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Classical Brits 2007. For more than 40 years he distinguished himself as a champion of British classical music.

Despite many years of illness and difficulties, Handley remained active almost to the end, more recently recording Elgar's Cello Concerto with Natalie Clein and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for EMI Classics and conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in its annual Proms season in August 2008.

Text courtesy of Warner