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Brahms and the Prime Minister

Over the years, many different hands have held the baton to lead the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra (DSO). Only one, in all likelihood, also turned the door handle at 10 Downing Street, London.

British Prime Minister Edward Heath
British Prime Minister Edward Heath conducts the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra in 1980. (photo courtesy Dartmouth College Library)

That hand belonged to former British Prime Minister Edward Heath, at Dartmouth in 1980 as a Montgomery Fellow in the second year of that program.

Heath was known to be an accomplished musician. As a scholarship student, he worked his way through Oxford as a chapel organist. He chaired the London Symphony Orchestra Trust and frequently conducted that orchestra as well as others around the world. He also helped found the European Community Youth Orchestra.

Conducting the DSO hadn't been part of Heath's original itinerary, which included a press conference, class visits, a public lecture, and a tour of the Hopkins Center by then-DSO conductor Efrain Guigui. But Guigui invited Heath to stop by a DSO rehearsal in Alumni Hall, and he arrived just in time to conduct the orchestra in a rehearsal of Brahms's Academic Overture.

The PM was apparently pleased by the opportunity, writing later to the College that it "contributed to my pleasure and convinced me that I was not just a politician in a strange land."

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Last Updated: 5/30/08