Geoffrey Waddington | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Geoffrey Waddington

Geoffrey Waddington. Conductor, administrator, violinist, b Leicester, England, 23 Sep 1904, d Toronto 3 Jan 1966; honorary LL D (Dalhousie) 1956. His mother, Elizabeth, was a pianist, and his father, Frank, appeared in light opera in England.

Waddington, Geoffrey

Geoffrey Waddington. Conductor, administrator, violinist, b Leicester, England, 23 Sep 1904, d Toronto 3 Jan 1966; honorary LL D (Dalhousie) 1956. His mother, Elizabeth, was a pianist, and his father, Frank, appeared in light opera in England. The family moved to Canada in 1907 and settled in Lethbridge, Alta, where the young Waddington began playing violin at 7. He had his first conducting experience before he was 12, when the conductor of a local theatre orchestra fell ill. In 1921 Waddington won a scholarship to the TCM (RCMT). While studying there with Ferdinand Fillion, Luigi von Kunits, Leo Smith, and Healey Willan he toured 1921-5 as a violinist and was a member 1922-6 of the TCM faculty. At the TCM he met his future wife, the concert pianist Mildred Baker. He also played 1925-8 in the TSO.

Waddington began his radio career in 1922 on CKNC and served 1926-33 as music director of that station and 1933-5 as music director of the CRBC (which took over CKNC's facilities in 1933). On CKNC he conducted orchestras for many sponsored programs, including 'The Neilson Hour' (some 460 broadcasts, 1926-33), which in 1929 became the first variety program to be heard across Canada. He also conducted CKNC's Canadian Eveready Concert Orchestra, which recorded for Victor in 1928. For several years he worked as a freelance conductor, first (1935-6) with an orchestra at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, then (1939, 1940) with the Winnipeg Summer Symphony for a while (1943) with The Army Show. He was music director 1938-43 at CBC Winnipeg (responsible for 'Geoffrey Waddington Conducts') and at All-Canada Radio Facilities (Alberta) in 1944. In 1945 he began conducting CBC Toronto radio shows - 'The Geoffrey Waddington Show,' 'The Edmund Hockridge Show' (both 1946-7), and others. In 1947 he was appointed to a casual position (made official in mid-1948) as music adviser and consultant to the CBC English network. He was a co-founder in 1948 of the CBC Opera Company and won acclaim for broadcasts of Peter Grimes, Albert Herring, Così fan tutte, and Deirdre. Appointed CBC music director in 1952, he was founder and music director 1952-64 of the CBC Symphony Orchestra and was that distinguished orchestra's most frequent conductor. He led it in some 50 concerts, including its broadcast debut 29 Sep 1952, its public debut 16 May 1955, and its concert 23 Oct 1961 in Washington at the Inter-American Music Festival celebrating the 16th anniversary of the United Nations.

Other highlights of Waddington's conducting career include appearances with the Promenade Symphony Concerts (1940s) and the TSO (1940s and 1950s), BBC broadcasts of Canadian music from Glasgow and Manchester in 1953, and a concert (29 Jul 1957) and, later, a recording of music for organ (Gordon Jeffery) and strings presented at Westminster Abbey before the International Congress of Organists. He conducted the first symphonic concerts sponsored by the CLComp in Toronto (26 Mar 1952) and in Montreal (3 Feb 1954). Waddington also conducted other CBC special broadcasts and series in the 1950s (eg, 'Music for Strings' and a selection of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas). However, he rarely appeared on TV (The Marriage of Figaro in 1956, 'Portrait of an Orchestra' in 1962, and several episodes of 'L'Heure du concert' were exceptions) or in public concert. He was an adjudicator in many of the CBC's contests for performers and composers. In 1959 he received the University of Alberta National Award in Music. With the demise of the CBC SO in 1964 he was appointed music consultant and director of symphonic services, a largely inactive position.

Waddington's experience as one of the first radio conductors in Canada (and probably the most active in his day) shaped his personality on the podium. He was thoroughly professional in his recognition of the practical demands of time slots and studio facilities and in his subordination of personal taste to programming requirements. A shy person, he spoke little at rehearsals. Though he expressed few aesthetic preconceptions about the music at hand, he was able to establish with his players a rapport based on mutual respect and confidence. Despite his conservatory training, his early career was mostly in light music. Nevertheless, he adapted well to the symphonic repertoire. His workmanlike objectivity and trust in his players enabled him to prepare himself to conduct contemporary works in two or three days. From the beginning Waddington's orchestras served as training grounds for musicians who did well on their own later, including Percy Faith (as an arranger), Robert Farnon, Samuel Hersenhoren, Zara Nelsova, Albert Pratz, and Paul Scherman.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, when Canada experienced a cultural expansion which embodied an upsurge of musical talent in performance and composition, Waddington - as the musician with the greatest employment power and programming responsibility in Canada - was able to channel this talent into broadcasting and thus to give it national and international exposure. During this period program series organized by Waddington served as vehicles and outlets for performers and composers alike. Under his direction the CBC's policy of commissioning Canadian composers became a regular practice. He conducted the premieres of many new works, including Murray Adaskin'sAlgonquin Symphony (1958), Freedman'sNocturne (1952) and Symphony (1961), Matton'sL'Horoscope (1958), Papineau-Couture'sViolin Concerto (1954), Somers'North Country (1948), Suite for Harp and Chamber Orchestra (1949), and Five Concepts (1962), Weinzweig'sEdge of the World (1946) and Divertimento No. 3 (first complete performance, 1961), and Willan's Coronation Suite, B57 (1953).


'Music and radio,' Music in Canada (Toronto 1955)

'Music will serve you well!' CBC Times, 15-21 Jul 1956