Although Britain’s orchestral life was proliferating in the decade before World War I regular orchestral conductorships remained limited in number. Within his diverse portfolio of musical occupations, Landon Ronald persisted in his efforts to forge a profile as a conductor-interpreter of note. This was a demanding and productive period for him, in which recognition of his interpretative skill and individuality as a conductor became firmly established.
This paper takes as its focus Ronald’s conductorship of the previously unexplored annual series of Birmingham Promenade Concerts (1905–14). It considers the level of enterprise and artistic agency that Ronald derived from this conductorship while continuing to forge his reputation on the podium in London and abroad. Held at the Theatre Royal, these intensive three-week seasons took place between May and or June/July. The violinist Max Mossel was general director and a management committee comprised of influential local men worked to promote the concerts, seeking to provide popular repertoire but also to introduce music new to its local audience. Through an analysis of extant programmes, orchestral lists, accounts and contemporaneous criticism, light is shed on this enterprising concert series. Ronald’s active role in cultivating and educating audiences, and in providing work for orchestral players accustomed to working under his baton in London and elsewhere, is revealed. At a time when the dearth of opportunities for British conductors was regularly decried in the press, Ronald harnessed his experience in Birmingham as a means of developing his profile but also his interpretative skills. He later wrote of the role that Ernest Newman’s reviews of his concerts had played in this process of refinement. This paper argues that these concerts, curtailed by war, not only provided Ronald with an important outlet for his conducting but also made a significant contribution to Birmingham’s musical life.