The Festival Committee was dominated for many years by its energetic secretary Frederick Spark, brother of William, who sang with the Chorus. In 1879, he was amongst those who had become exasperated by Michael Costa’s imperious attitude. It was decided to replace him in time for the 1880 Festival. Spark suggested Arthur Sullivan, others suggested Charles Hallé, and Costa still had plenty of adherents. There were three votes at a meeting in December 1879, which resulted in an invitation to Hallé; but he replied that he wanted to bring his Manchester orchestra with him. This upset the Committee because they reasoned that the Manchester players could not be as good or prestigious as the ones from London who had played at the 1877 Festival. Hallé was deeply offended.
There was another meeting, on New Year’s Day, when another vote was taken, which resulted in an invitation to Costa, with certain conditions attached:
Costa was furious. How dare they! Spark sent an invitation to Sullivan, the only candidate left. There was, however, lingering suspicion on the committee that Sullivan might try to dominate them. Spark told this to Sullivan, explaining that there was considerable resentment when Costa had strongly objected to Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at the last Festival, and that it was, in consequence, omitted from the programme. “Bach’s works were also opposed by Sir Michael, though we did succeed at last in getting the Magnificat done,” he said in a letter to the composer. Sullivan accepted the invitation, and his appointment was announced, to jubilation in most quarters. A local columnist remarked:
This is a view with which Sullivan himself agreed: a few years later he was extremely put out by the appointment of the foreigner Hans Richter (rather than Sullivan himself) to conduct the Birmingham Festival.
In 1892, George Bernard Shaw reviewed The History of the Leeds Musical Festival by Joseph Bennett and Alderman Frederick Spark, which he described as “amusingly frank”:
Despite these local difficulties, a high standard of performance was achieved. In 1889 the distinguished German critic Otto Lessmann came to Leeds and reported to the Allegemeine Music-Zeitung:
Lessmann has something to say about the finances of the Festival. In an emergency, the Committee could draw upon a guarantee fund of over £28,000. He adds:
A very different view from the traditional German one of England as Das Land ohne Musik.