Obituary: George Hurst, orchestral conductor, 86

George Hurst in rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966
George Hurst in rehearsal at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966
Have your say

A conductor with a global reputation who was born in Musselburgh has died at 86.

George Hurst worked with several high-profile orchestras, including the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mr Hurst was born on May 20, 1926 to a Romanian father and a Russian mother. He learned to play the piano and cello before the outbreak of the Second World War led to his evacuation to Canada.

He remained there, studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, until the end of the war. After graduation he moved to the United States and took up a position as a professor of composition at Maryland’s Peabody Institute, aged just 21.

He worked with both the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of York, while continuing his studies under the tutelage of the French conductor Pierre Monteux.

At the suggestion of renowned pianist Dame Myra Hess, Mr Hurst returned to Britain in 1953 and took up a post with the London Philharmonic. By 1958 he had been installed as principal conductor of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, based in Manchester, and in his decade-long tenure helped bring it to the world stage – it later became known as the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

He made his debut Proms appearance, the first of 20, in 1960, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In 1968 he established the Bournemouth Sinfionetta, and was artistic advisor to both it and the Bournemouth Symphony until 1974.

The teaching element of his career also continued, with Mr Hurst taking a masterclass at the Canford Summer School of Music in Dorset for 63 years. He was also a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music.

His first encounter with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra was in 1982 and he was a regular guest conductor until 1995.

Mr Hurst also worked with the Scottish National Orchestra (SNO), a partnership which began in 1957. His first performance was a concert comprised exclusively of work by Beethoven.

He worked with the SNO until 1988, ending the spell with a performance of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony.

Colin Metters, director of conducting studies at the Royal Academy of Music, paid tribute to Mr Hurst.

He said: “George influenced the lives and musical development of so many young conductors over the course of more than 60 years. For myself, I first met George when I was 18 years old, studied with him and taught with him. He became a close and dear friend. Words cannot express my gratitude to him and my immense sense of loss.”

Mr Hurst died on September 15, and is survived by his wife, Denise Ham, whom he married in 2007, and by a daughter from a previous marriage.