In 1932 Neel formed the Boyd Neel Orchestra, 17 young professional string players, several of them Canadians living in London. (Frederick Grinke, another Canadian, became concertmaster in 1937.) After a successful debut 22 Jun 1933 at Aeolian Hall, the orchestra made several international tours and premiered Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (written at Neel's request) at the 1937 Salzburg Festival. Its concerts frequently offered music of contemporary British composers and it premiered works of Arnold Bax, Gordon Jacob, and others. The orchestra was in the vanguard of the baroque revival and between 1934 and 1954 it committed to disc for Decca much of the chamber orchestra repertoire, notably (1936-8) the first complete recording ever made of the Handel Concerti grossi Opus 6.
Neel conducted at the first Glyndebourne Festival (1934), 1945-7 at Sadler's Wells, and 1948-9 for the D'Oyly Carte Company. Before and after World War II he was a guest conductor with many English orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, the London SO, and the BBC SO. During the war he served as a medical officer but also did a lecture tour of the Mediterranean for the Admiralty and, with the Sadler's Wells orchestra, gave several hundred concerts to troops in England. With his orchestra he visited Canada in the fall of 1952, touring in Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes.
In 1953 Neel was appointed dean of the RCMT (which at the time included the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto), holding the position until 1971. He was a leader in the campaign to build a new home for the faculty. The campaign was a success and resulted in the Edward Johnson Building.
Neel was the founder in 1954 and the conductor until 1971 of the Hart House Orchestra (with which he toured and made several recordings), conducted the CBC Symphony Orchestra in some 27 performances 1953-64, and conducted several TV programs of opera for 'L'Heure du concert' 1954-5, including Il Tabarro with Louis Quilico. He conducted the TSO for the first time 15 Feb 1955, after which John Kraglund (Toronto Globe and Mail) wrote 'Neel's conducting is conservative and undemonstrative. Indeed, it has about it the restraint which suits the intimacy of a chamber concert'. In the summer of 1955 Neel conducted the Hart House Orchestra in eight concerts at the Stratford Festival. Glenn Gould, Lois Marshall, and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were among the solo artists who appeared with the orchestra for that series.
Neel became a regular instructor for the Student Conductors' Workshop (run by the OAC and University of Toronto) at its inception in 1969 and continued his connection with it until the late 1970s. In 1972 he became the first conductor of the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra, continuing after 1978 as conductor emeritus. In 1977 he conducted a specially formed Toronto Chamber Orchestra in direct-to-disc recordings of Mozart's Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Divertimento No. 11 (Umbrella UM DD-6) and of Bach's Violin Concerto in E (with Steven Staryk as soloist) and other works (Umbrella UM DD-9). He also led the orchestra in two subsequent digital recordings: Britten's Simple Symphony, Elgar's Serenade, Air and Gigue by Arne (1979, Ultrafi ULDD-10), and Pachelbel's Canon and Other Baroque Favourites (1981, Moss D-MMG-112). A discography 1934-79 appears in Neel's memoirs, My Orchestras and Other Adventures.
A calm and assured after-dinner speaker and radio commentator, Neel was heard nationally on such CBC programs as 'Sunday Concert,' 'Tuesday Night,' 'Concerts from Two Worlds,' and his own 'Opera with Boyd Neel' (1954). In 1961 he was host for a CBC school broadcast of Britten's Let's Make an Opera and in 1972 he was the commentator for a documentary about Vaughan Williams. He contributed a series of essays, 'This Week's Music,' to the CBC Times in 1959, and his writings have appeared in Opera Canada, the Journal of Music Education, and the University of Toronto Bulletin. He was the subject of a CBC-FM series - 'The Boyd Neel Memoirs' - in 1979.
Neel was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1953 and an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1972.
'Small orchestras: musical need,' Saturday Night Magazine, 19 Feb 1955
'Music in Canada,' Tempo, 38, Winter 1955-6
'Opera,' The Arts in Canada ed Murray Ross (Toronto 1958)
'Laughter and boos at Bayreuth,' Fugue, vol 1, May 1977
'Muzak, ha!' Fugue, vol 2, Apr 1978
My Orchestras and Other Adventures: The Memoirs of Boyd Neel, ed J. David Finch (Toronto 1985)
Author Barry J. Edwards
'Boyd Neel, Dean of the Royal Conservatory,' ConsB, May-Jun 1953
Hardly, John. 'The new man at the Con,' Mayfair, Sep 1953
McCall, Christina. 'Dr Boyd Neel's prescription for musical success,' Maclean's, 29 Aug 1959
Wimbush, Roger. 'Boyd Neel,' The Gramophone, Jul 1972
Littler, William. 'Boyd Neel laughs off retirement,' Toronto Star, 14 Apr 1973
Fraser, John. 'Boyd Neel strikes back at the vulgar age,' Toronto Globe and Mail, 8 Jun 1974
The New Grove Dictionary