Mervyn Vicars 1953Mervyn Vicars was born on Dec. 14th. 1905, the eldest son of  the distinguished conductor, Harold Vicars and his wife Frances. At the age of  seven he was put to the study of the violoncello with Bertie Fellows and later with John Snowdon. Subsequently, with his grandfather’s support, he studied music in Germany for seven years, including the French Horn, Tympani, Double Bass, Harmony, Counterpoint, Composition, Orchestration and Conducting.

In 1931 he obtained the post of Resident Conductor at the Théatre de la Variété in Marseilles. During his 11 month residency, he conducted among other shows, Hit the Deck, Rose Marie, Lilac Time, and Danse des Libellules, a less well known operetta by Franz Léhar.

On his return to England he went on tour as Mucical Director with the following musical comedies; No No Nanette, Funny Face, Mr. Cinders and The Student Prince.

Back in London again, he took up the ’cello professionally and was mainly engaged in freelance work for radio, film and recording sessions as well as concert work. During this time from 1932 to 1938 he also did an extensive amount of work as a professional conductor for several well established musical societies:

The Sale and District Choral Union – Concert performances of  The Mikado, Die Fledermaus, Carmen and Merrie England together with three symphony concerts.

The Newport Dramatic and Operatic Society – Stage productions of Tom Jones, Carmen, The Gypsy Baron, The Gondoliers and Die Fledermaus. Three Messiahs, Bach’s Mass in B minor and The Dream of Gerontius.

The Northampton Philharmonic Society –Twenty Symphony Concerts spread over four years, including  seven concerts of popular light music.

The Cardiff Philharmonic Society – Concerts similar to those in Northampton.

During this period he also played under Sir Henry Wood at the Royal Academy when professional stiffening was required for the student orchestra and in the 1934 At the Stoke Newington Music Festival of 1938 he conducted the first performance of Alan Rawsthorne’s Concerto for Strings, Piano and Percussion.

From 1938 to 1940 he worked as an arranger of all classes of light music and commercial radio music for every kind of combination, ranging from concert orchestra to quintets. These arrangements included Chabrier, Massenet, Coates, Gershwin among others.

In 1940 he volunteered for service in the RAF. In July 1941 he was awarded the D.F.C. and was demobilised in 1947 with the rank of Squadron Leader.

1948 saw him sharing the rostrum with Sir Adrian Boult at the Albert Hall when he conducted the LPO in the first performance of Kenneth Essex’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. It was also in this year that he became Conductor of the Surbiton Symphony Orchestra, beginning an association that was to last 13 years.

In 1952 he formed the New Orpheus Concert Group in association with Graham Whettam and Robert Gill. Their policy was “to give performances of works by the younger unestablished English composers, to perform the works of the great classical masters with an orchestra suitable to the music and to explore the published repertoire of contemporary works for the smaller orchestra”. In order to implement this, two fully professional bodies were formed, the New Orpheus Orchestra, consisting of 22 strings, double woodwind, 2 horns, 2 trumpets and percussion and the New Orpheus Singers – 8 sopranos, 6 contraltos, 6 tenors and 4 basses.

They made their debut at Chelsea Town Hall on 4th. June 1952. In December 1953 they were invited to give an audition to the BBC. This resulted in a broadcast (Orchestral Hour) on December 16th. 1953. Although the New Orpheus Group did not last long, it was active in performing, promoting and writing about music, publishing for a short while the New Orpheus Review.

In 1954 he became Artistic Director of the Concert Artists Record Co., set up by W. H. Barrington-Coupe. A bicentennial edition of Mozart was planned in association with Omegatape of which the Three Salzburg Symphonies were released. Further recordings were hampered by problems with the recording quality. Barrington-Coupe disappeared. The money from International Recordings went with him. Omegatape did not receive all the tapes. The company was wound up under The Companies Act on July 2nd. 1956. Mervyn Vicars was not in any way legally implicated in the proceedings. Syrett & Sons, Solicitors of 2, John Street, Bedford Row, London were recommended and acted on his behalf. There was no fee charged. His shares in The Concert Artists Company were worthless and an expense account for £126 was not forthcoming.

Throughout his life he had an active passion for music and this included a steady stream of compositions. Although there have been some performances, his music has not attracted the recognition that it deserves. A recording of Pickwick was made and excerpts are available here.

He was for fifty years a close friend of Kaikhosru Sorabji who encouraged his creative muse and approved of the results, often commenting upon them. His Fugue and Variations on a theme of Sorabji, written in 1973, and the tone of Sorabji’s reply to Vicars’ request for permission is indicative of the nature of their friendship.

In 1964 he moved to Dorset. This heralded his most creative period. At the same time he continued to be keenly involved in local music making with the Swanage Choral and Operatic Society and also the Purbeck Festival of Music, which centred around Kato Havas’ summer violin school.