The Hallé at St George's Hall

The Hallé at st george's hall

Founded by German born Sir Charles Hallé in Manchester, the Hallé is recognised as one of the top symphonic orchestras in the world.

They performed their firstconcert at the Manchester’s Free Trade Hall on 30 January 1858 and on 18 March of that year the Hallé played at St George’s Hall for the first time
This marks the start of a long and continuing relationship between St George’s Hall and the Hallé Orchestra.

early days

In the same years that Charles Hallé worked to develop a world class orchestra in Manchester, the founder of St George’s Hall, Samuel Smith strived to establish a world class concert hall in Bradford which was described on opening as ‘acknowledged by all to be one of the most complete and splendid music rooms in Europe.’

In this way these two men, one a musician the other a music lover, shared a mission to bring the very best in orchestral music to the people of the industrial north during the Victorian era.

Charles Hallé appeared at St George’s Hall for the first time shortly after the venue first opened in 1854 as a solo pianist with the Cologne Choral Union. Then in 1858 the Hallé Orchestra described as ‘Mr Charles Halle’s full band, from Manchester’ played at St George’s Hall for the first time. Following this, for nearly 30 years Charles Hallé took part in nearly all the subscription concerts as both conductor and solo pianist right up to his death in 1895.

Subs to the Rescue

In 1865, facing huge debts, the orchestral concert programme at St George’s Hall was on the point of being discontinued when Sir Jacob Behrens suggested regular funds could be raised through a subscription scheme.

Sir Charles Hallé and his ‘Manchester Orchestra’ were enlisted to support this enterprise and played at the very first subscription concert on 24 November 1865. The programme describes ‘Full Dress Grand Concerts’ with ‘Mr. Charles Hallé, solo piano-forte and his full band comprising seventy performers… Conductor Mr Charles Hallé.’

For many years full evening dress (white tie and waist coat with long black tail coat for men and a full length ball gown for women) was considered essential for subscribers to the orchestral concerts. With a far more relaxed dress code subscription concerts continue at St George’s Hall to the present day.

Hallé is dead, Long live the Hallé

On 25 October 1895 at the age of 76 Charles Hallé died, quite unexpectedly, at his home in Manchester. The Hallé concert at St George’s Hall that night went ahead as planned with Adolph Brodsky standing in as the conductor.

The concert opened with an empty rostrum and the orchestra playing the Dead March in remembrance of their great master.

‘I attended a Hallé orchestra concert … and was informed that Sir Charles Hallé had died that day. Mr Brodsky was the leader of the orchestra, he conducted the Dead March with his bow and you have no idea what a solemn impression the empty rostrum created… I shall never forget Sir Charles Hallé’s vacant place during the playing of the Dead March.’ Memories of an Old Bradfordian 1938

Hallé’s sudden death shocked the music world and there were concerns about the future of his orchestra. However, his friends immediately set about securing its future. In this way the Hallé orchestra continued to perform at St George’s Hall as part of the subscription concerts.

The Hallé returns to the Hall

In 1925 St George’s Hall closed as a concert hall and re-opened under new management in 1926 as a cinema. During this era the Hallé found a new home in Bradford, as part of Bradford subscription concerts at Eastbrook Hall, the Methodist Centre at the bottom of Leeds Road.

Then in 1953, St George's re-opened as a municipal concert hall one hundred years after its original opening and the Hallé returned to the venue. In November of that year as part of an education project, 2,100 pupils from secondary schools came to St George’s Hall to hear the Hallé orchestra play. The programme included Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and pieces by Dvorjak, Berlioz and Tchaikovsky had the young audience transfixed.

Around this time  the artist David Hockney was studying at Bradford Art college, and in payment for selling programmes was given a free seat to orchestral performances which included the Hallé. During one concert he created the drawing ‘Second Bassoon’.

‘I had my free seat all the way through my time at college. I would just sit and listen and draw. It was lovely.’                   David Hockney

Barbirolli and the Hundredth Concert

In 1959 Sir John Barbirolli conducted the Hallé at a gala concert at St George’s Hall to celebrate the 100th subscription concert. Barbirolli had restored the Hallé orchestra’s fortunes to national prominence and at this event Barbirolli spoke out against a suggested scheme to demolish St George’s Hall as part of the re-development of the city centre.

‘Bradford’s St George’s Hall is a treasure… a noble monument…don’t let it go. I love this place… it is utterly fantastic… I have conducted in every concert hall in the civilized world and St George’s Hall is second to none.’

Barbirolli’s words were covered widely in the local press and the Telegraph and Argus stated that following his words, ‘it would be sheer lunacy to throw away Bradford’s treasure.'

The conductor Barbirolli not only rescued the Hallé orchestra from decline but may have also saved the historic St George’s Hall, one of the oldest of its kind in Europe, from being sacrificed to a 1960s road widening scheme.  

The 1980’s ‘New’ St George’s Hall

During the late 1990s and into the 21st century the relationship between the Hallé and St George’s Hall was cemented further when it came to be described as the venue's ‘resident’ orchestra.

In 1982 the Hallé orchestra had a second period of performing at Eastbrook Hall whilst St George’s Hall went under major refurbishment. The Hallé returned with a special performance to the ‘new’ St George’s Hall, now complete with its additional stone ramp entrance, after the venue re-opened to the public in 1984. The occasion was billed as ‘the Hallé Celebration Concert at St George’s Hall, the north’s most versatile entertainment centre!’ It marked the Hallé orchestra’s long uninterrupted association with the city.  

The Hallé was conducted by the orchestra’s new conductor Stanislaw Skrowaczewskiand the programme included Bruckner’s symphony no 8 and Weber’s clarinet concerto no 2. The Hallé played at 5 of the 9 orchestral concerts that season.


During the late 1990s and into the 21st century the relationship between the Hallé and St George’s Hall was cemented further when it came to be described as the venues ‘resident’ orchestra.

Over the years it has been suggested that the Hallé should be counted as the ‘Bradford Orchestra’ ‘and the ‘trans Pennine musical friendship’ between the Manchester based Hallé and Bradford’s St George’s Hall has been widely celebrated. Yet, there has also been criticism that St George’s Hall has favoured the Hallé to the exclusion of international and more local Yorkshire orchestras. However, this special relationship has been maintained over many years and continues.


In February 2019 following a 3-year closure and a much needed multi-million-pound refurbishment,
St George’s Hall re-opened with a gala celebration and orchestral season featuring the Hallé orchestra.

St George’s Hall was forced to close again in March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Summer 2021 saw the venue re-opening and, as well as the regular Hallé performances, the venue welcomed 2,000 Bradford primary school children to St George’s Hall to take part in Come and Play with the Hallé.

This project, organised in collaboration with the Bradford Music & Arts Service was a unique concert specially designed to offer thousands of local children the opportunity to play and sing with the Hallé in the stunning St George’s Hall auditorium.

The mission of the founder of St George’s Hall, Samuel Smith, to bring the world’s best in orchestral music to the people of Bradford, is being continued 169 years after the venue first opened in 1853.