Memory Lane: Virtuoso who delighted the North Pier

Raymond Cohen
Raymond Cohen
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PLAYING a prominent role right at the heart of British musical life for more than half a century, was international violin virtuoso, Raymond Cohen.

The one-time leader of Blackpool Symphony Orchestra, who died earlier this year, was also the last surviving member of the world-famous North Pier Orchestra.

Their daily concerts, particularly during the inter-war years, proved such a popular attraction for countless generations of holidaymakers.

Entertainment historian Kenneth Shenton, who has been researching the musician’s colourful life, says: “The eldest son of a music teacher, born in Prestwich in July 1919, Raymond Hyman Cohen was educated at Manchester Jews’ College, before, in 1930, winning a coveted place at Manchester Grammar School.

“In 1934, his prodigious musical talents saw him awarded the Adolphe Brodsky Scholarship at the Royal Manchester College of Music.

“That same year, he also took his place in the string section of the Hallé, the youngest ever member in the orchestra’s long and illustrious history.

“Regularly engaged by local conductor, Percy Dayman, as Leader of the Blackpool Symphony Orchestra, at that time, in common with many members of the Hallé Orchestra, their summer months were spent here in the resort, either performing in the Winter Gardens or on the piers.

“In Cohen’s case, he joined the hugely popular 36-piece North Pier Orchestra; their twice daily confections of popular and light classical confections unfailingly attracted a large and loyal following.

“First conducted by the Hallé’s one-time Principal Flautist, Edward de Jong, over the years, the baton passed seamlessly to Dutch viola player, Mons Speelman and later to the famous, Toni.

“In 1939, now back in Manchester with the Hallé, Cohen added considerable lustre to an already burgeoning reputation by playing three concertos-the Bach E Major, Mendelssohn and Brahms – all in one evening.

“However, like so many of his generation, his seemingly effortless progress was rudely interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War.

“Then for six years, he served as a clarinettist with the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals.

“In 1946 he won the inaugural Carl Flesch International Violin Competition. His prize was a London debut at the Stoll Theatre playing the Mendelssohn Concerto.

“Now settling permanently in the capital, there for a time, he led the Goldsborough Orchestra, before, in 1959, Sir Thomas Beecham appointed him leader of the Royal Philharmonic. Remaining in post until 1965, he later returned on numerous occasions as guest leader.

“In later years, revelling in the unique opportunities afforded by the acquisition of a magnificent 1703 Stradivarius instrument, he travelled widely.

“While still engaged in extensive orchestral, concerto and recital work, it was chamber music that increasingly came to the fore.

“Having formed a formidable partnership, first with pianist, Franz Reizenstein and then with his wife, Anthya Rael, the couple were later joined by cellist son, Robert, to form The Cohen Trio.

“A long-serving Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music, he also enjoyed light music, particularly leading the orchestra for Frank Sinatra’s celebrated European concert tours.”