Alan Free – 1943-2019
Alan Free founded St Helens Sinfonietta in 1997 and for over 20 years was at the heart of everything it did. His sudden death on April 7th 2019 left a deep sense of sadness at the realisation that this quiet, gentle, unassuming man would no longer be there at the Sinfonietta’s core.
The idea of setting up a symphony orchestra in St Helens came to Alan on July 4th 1997 when he attended a concert given by a chamber orchestra in a French village church. Encouraged by his wife Helen’s confident “you could do that!”, he lost no time on their return in contacting friends and musicians with a view to a first concert, which duly took place in October of that year.
From then on, the enthusiasm and quiet determination which were essential to setting up that first concert never flagged. Not only was Alan musical director of the Sinfonietta, he was involved in every aspect of its organisation and operation. An important part of this was fund-raising, which saw him spearheading grant applications, organising (along with Helen) pro-am concerts, undertaking sponsored walks and even doing a piano marathon in support of his beloved orchestra. All this was achieved alongside his considerable input into the town’s choral life.
His initiative has brought to St Helens a steady stream of orchestral concerts, some of the most memorable taking place in the Town Hall, like the Beecham Memorial Concert in 2007 and the St Helens 150 Celebration Concert in 2018. Add to that the many high-quality small-scale recitals that are a feature of the Sinfonietta’s programmes and it is a rich legacy indeed that Alan has left us.
One of his fervent wishes was that the Sinfonietta should continue to flourish when he was no longer able to be its conductor and MD. To that end, he arranged for Jay Hall to conduct the Sinfonietta Strings in their concert at the end of March 2019. He had been enthusiastic about Jay’s potential and the concert was a great success. When Alan died shortly afterwards, there was unanimous agreement that Jay should be asked to take over as Musical Director
The loss of Alan, the orchestra’s founder, was indeed a great sorrow. But the Sinfonietta has embraced the challenges it posed, with an excellent series of concerts and recitals in late 2019 and early 2020. During the enforced cancellation of concerts because of Covid, the committee has been busy making exciting plans for the future. We can indeed look forward to much more wonderful music-making, a thought which would delight Alan, safe in the knowledge that his 1997 project has prospered and that it will continue to prosper into the future.
Jay is an enthusiastic, versatile, and dynamic conductor working with orchestras, brass bands and young people throughout the northwest, producing animated and engaging performances.
Growing up locally in Lancashire, Jay took up the trombone at the age of 13, later joining St Helens Youth Brass Band. He was awarded a scholarship to study for his undergraduate degree at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and more recently studied for his Master’s degree at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Jay studied conducting under Mark Heron on the RNCM Conducting for Educators’ course. He has performed in some of the country’s finest concert halls including Symphony Hall and the Bridgewater Hall. A particular highlight of his was as a featured soloist with the RBC brass band in a Concerto performance written especially for him by Clara Catt. He was a recipient of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble prize in 2015 as part of the quintet ’Lowry Brass’ who were featured on BBC Radio 4.
Passionate about education, Jay is the Musical Director of St Helens Youth Brass Band and Head of Instrumental Studies at Scarisbrick Hall School. He is responsible for all peripatetic staff as well as ensemble leadership and conducting school events with the orchestra and choir at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.
Highlights have included sitting on a creative board for Lancashire Music Services’ ‘Big Show’, conducting over 500 Wider Opportunities musicians together for a large concert at Preston Guildhall and conducting St Helens Youth Brass Band in the Music for Youth National Festival on stage at Symphony Hall Birmingham. He has been responsible for a £35,000 Arts Council Emergency Grant delivery and has been accepted on to the Clore Emerging Leaders in the arts this year. Jay is also in high demand as a brass band conductor.
Jay first conducted the St Helens Sinfonietta in March 2019 at the invitation of founder Alan Free. After a successful debut he was appointed Musical Director in 2020. A champion of new works as well as core repertoire, Jay believes in diverse programming and projects, highlighting the transformational power of music, whilst creating lasting links to local community and young people.