From The Collection June 2018

Discover more about the Bridgeport Presentation Baton, which will be on display as part of the Grainger's next temporary exhibition in September.

There are 33 batons in the Grainger Museum Collection. Some were used by Grainger in rehearsal and performances. Others are ‘presentation’ batons, given to Grainger himself by admirers, or collected by Grainger after presentation to other conductors or significant figures in the musical world. Many bear inscriptions that connect them to curious stories of creation and association - one of the most striking examples being the baton made from an animal (possibly Narwhal) tusk, inscribed “Peary Arctic Expedition of 1893. Presented to Walter Damrosch by Dr Edward Vincent through his widow”  (Grainger Museum Collection, 00.0039).

The baton presented to Grainger by the Bridgeport Oratorio Society, on 28 April 1924, is far less impressive as an object, but far more significant to Grainger’s own story. Grainger’s growing financial success in the first half of the 1920s -  a product of his concert tours and the sales of his published music - allowed him for the first time to engage large orchestras in order to conduct his own compositions and works by other composers. He conceived a Delius-Grainger-Grieg-Rachmaninoff programme to be presented in New York City, and in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Grainger funded the orchestra and the venue hire in New York, but in Bridgeport, he was financially supported by the local musicians, including the president of the Bridgeport Oratorio Society who paid the bulk of the Bridgeport orchestra and soloists’ expenses, and choir, which “provided itself” [1].

New to conducting very large ensembles, Grainger was deeply concerned about his success. He wrote, “I feared I would lack manliness, that I would fail to make my ideas clear to the choir or the orchestra, that I would blunder in the practical arrangement of the rehearsals, etc., that the whole thing would fail to ‘bite’ under my personality” [2]. Grainger was ultimately satisfied with the outcome, proud of the performances that included his own Marching Song of Democracy and Frederick Delius’s Song of the High Hills.  He wrote, “I do not ever expect to be a great, or an exquisite, or an inspiring conductor. But the concerts have made me feel that I have it in me to present fine and difficult works with good accuracy, and with the power to make the importance of the works given felt by all - to have the task respected.” The Bridgeport Oratorio Society were evidently also pleased, presenting the baton to the visiting conductor at the last performance on 28 April 1924. Grainger was deeply moved by the Bridgeport experience, writing “I shall never forget the kindliness, the helpfulness, the sympathy shown to me throughout by the Bridgeport Chorus...”[3].

Image: Conductor’s baton, presented to Percy Grainger by the Bridgeport Oratorio Society, 1924. Grainger Museum Collection, 00.0021. This baton will be displayed in the forthcoming exhibition Objects of Fame: Nellie Melba and Percy Grainger

- Dr Heather Gaunt, Grainger Museum Curator, Collections and Exhibitions

[1] Percy Grainger, “To my fellow composers”, originally published in Musical Life and Arts, October 1924, quoted in Malcolm Gillies and Bruce Clunies Ross (eds.), Grainger on Music, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 157.

[2] Percy Grainger, “To my fellow composers”, p. 158.

[3] Percy Grainger, “To my fellow composers”, p. 157.

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