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Worthing Symphony Orchestra’s conductor recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours
Worthing Symphony Orchestra’s long-serving conductor and music director John Gibbons has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
"I was quite overwhelmed to receive the news of the award - not in my wildest imagination had I ever thought that such an honour would be bestowed upon me,” John said. "I have always taken my own path in the musical world and programmed music, often unfamiliar, that I passionately believe in.”
"I have been honoured to lead WSO for the last 21 years - a period of much evolution, as we bring orchestral music to people of all ages in the West Sussex area.”
John has conducted over forty acclaimed opera productions including an array of Italian operas at Opera Holland Park and has been principal conductor of West Sussex’s professional orchestra – Worthing Symphony Orchestra – for more than two decades.
John has been key to WSO’s survival. Few towns in the UK can boast a professional Orchestra of the calibre of WSO, attracting world class soloists to Worthing, and much of that is down to John and his tireless commitment. The forthcoming season which John describes as ‘the best yet’ features two of the incredible Kanneh-Mason siblings – Britain’s most famous musical family - pianist Isata on 8th September and cellist Sheku on 20th October. September 17th also sees the return of superstar violinist Nicola Benedetti. The fact that WSO can attract soloists of such fame and distinction speaks for itself. John and WSO have earned much critical praise for their peerless performances in the acoustically stunning Assembly Hall, and have ensured that Worthing stays firmly on the classical music map.
WSO began life as a quintet of musicians playing at the end of Worthing Pier in 1926, and has survived many existential threats over the decades, not least in the area of funding. For many years a Municipal Orchestra, more recently WSO has become a registered charity in its own right, and is constantly looking for ways to raise funds. Putting on a professional concert season is an expensive business that ticket sales alone don’t cover. In 2016 WSO celebrated its 90th Season and is now looking forward to the Orchestra’s centenary in 2026. The fact that the Orchestra and indeed the town, can even contemplate doing so, is largely down to John Gibbons.
John is a great believer in music education and for the past three seasons WSO has put on a free daytime concert for local schoolchildren at the Assembly Hall, in association with West Sussex Music and with the generosity of private benefactors and local sponsors. Over 1,000 children have attended each of these events and are given a unique opportunity to engage with a fully professional orchestra made up of some of the finest musicians in the south-east.
John makes an excellent host and informal compere for the event, and the musical choices are carefully selected to be accessible to young ears. The next schools concert will be held in late January 2020 and anyone wishing to get involved in funding or sponsorship, please get in touch!
John’s career reflects his belief in working with musicians over a sustained period of time, a process exemplified by his work with WSO - whose concerts typify his provocative and stimulating programming. He has successfully introduced many rarities from around the world in programmes balanced with popular classics that are attractive to the ordinary concert goer.
John is a passionate advocate of British music and has performed many neglected British works including William Alwyn's Third Symphony with the BBC Concert Orchestra, a complete cycle of the Malcolm Arnold symphonies with Ealing Symphony Orchestra, Edmund Rubbra's Fourth Symphony with Worthing Symphony Orchestra and Doreen Carwithen's Piano Concerto, with pianist Anthony Hewitt, at both Worthing and the Ulverston International Festival.
John has conducted most of the major UK orchestras, most recently the RPO at the Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton and the BBC Concert Orchestra at Snape Maltings for the William Alwyn Festival and the centenary showing of ‘The Battle of the Somme’ at the Royal Festival Hall.
International work includes opera productions in the USA, Singapore, South Africa and Italy and concerts across Europe including the Romanian premiere of Walton’s First Symphony with the Georges Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra.
Recordings include WSO’s debut CD – issued in 2019 to critical acclaim – featuring two
Mozart Piano Concertos recorded live in the Assembly Hall with legendary Turkish pianist Idil Biret. He has also recorded Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, Finale completed by Nors Josephson, with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra for the Danacord Lable, the string concertos of Arthur Benjamin with the RSNO for the Dutton Epoch Label and a disc of William Wordsworth with the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra for Toccata Classics – this recording, made in January 2018, features Symphonies 4 & 8, the Divertimento in D and the Variations on a Scottish theme.