About the GSO

About the GSO

Founded in 1919 by Claud Powell, the GSO established itself throughout the inter-war years as an amateur orchestra of distinction.

Famous composers came to conduct, notably Elgar with his violin concerto, Vaughan Williams with his fifth symphony and Roger Quilter with his Children’s Overture. Other guest conductors have included Adrian Boult, Arthur Bliss and Charles Groves.

After Claud Powell’s death in 1959, Ralph Nicholson took over with his inimitable combination of warm-hearted humour and fine musicianship; in 1990 the baton passed to Darrell Davison, under whose expert and dynamic direction new heights have been scaled.

Recent Growth

The last decade has been a period of particularly impressive development. The orchestra has grown in numbers and in reputation; both the standard of playing and the difficulty of the works played have risen; the GSO is now the only Guildford orchestra regularly offering a full-scale programme of 19th and 20th century symphonic music.

Young Musicians

The musical development of young people has long been a priority with the GSO: its ‘Tidings of Joy’ concerts at the Cathedral see a large children’s choir performing Christmas songs they have composed, and in February or March of each year five young instrumentalists of exciting promise are featured playing concerto movements in the annual Young Artists’ Concert.


The GSO sees itself very much as a community orchestra, with close links to local charities who benefit from the retiring collection at each concert. Before the closure of the Guildford Civic Centre, GSO played a series of popular Family Concerts promoted by Guildford Borough Council. We have now restarted these concerts at the Royal Grammar School, St Catherine’s School, Bramley, and the Guildford Spectrum.

Director of Music

Music Director Darrell Davison

Darrell Davison studied music at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge and started his professional career as the principal cellist of the Ulster Orchestra.

In 1979 he won the Sir John Barbirolli Conducting Competition and since then has worked with many different orchestras, both professional and amateur. This has included performances with all four London orchestras and recordings with the LSO and the BBC as well as concerts and recordings in Europe and Asia.

In 1984 he was a prize winner in the inaugural Leeds Conducting Competition and, in the same year, made his London Debut by conducting the RPO at a Royal Philharmonic Society Concert at the Festival Hall. Since then he has made appearances at many of the major venues in England and has also conducted lake-side proms at both Kenwood and Crystal Palace. He is a conductor and Musical Director of The Little Symphony of London, The New Philharmonic Orchestra and also presents the successful Arthur Davison Family Concerts at the Fairfield, Croydon.

He was appointed Musical Director of the Guildford Symphony Orchestra in 1990.

As a composer, he has had his music performed by The Philharmonia, The London Philharmonic Orchestra and has also written and orchestrated film scores for The London Symphony Orchestra.


In keeping with our philosophy as Guildford’s community orchestra, each of the three major concerts in the season features a designated charity – typically with a strong local connection – to receive a retiring collection and to make a short presentation to the audience at the start of the second half of the programme.

Depending on the size of the audience, the collection can range from a few hundred to over a thousand pounds, but previous partners have found that the publicity has been an invaluable source both of new volunteers and more general raised awareness of their work.

In previous years we are delighted to have supported a range of charities including Phyllis Tuckwell, the Meath and Guildford Timebank.

Charitable Status

The Guildford Symphony Orchestra is a registered charity (No. 803751) and aims to promote musical appreciation and education in the Guildford area.