After studying at the Royal Academy of Music, Henry Wood conducted the British premiere of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, as well as assisting Sir Arthur Sullivan with the first production of his opera Ivanhoe. He quickly gained a reputation for hard work, tremendous organisation, and economical use of rehearsal time. Thus it was, when Robert Newman suggested a series of promenade concerts at the Queen's Hall, the young Henry Wood was a ideal choice. Such concerts had been given before, but the music was always lightweight. The aim now was to gradually "educate" the listening public into accepting the great classics, plus a certain number of contemporary works.
The first Prom was held on 10th August 1895, and the first item was Wagner's Rienzi Overture, The concert was a strange mixture, including cornet solos and popular ballads, along with classical pieces. Gradually the emphasis changed in the direction of new works, Wood introducing the music of Sibelius, and even Schoenberg, wholse Opus 16 Pieces for Orchestra received their world premiere in 1912. Wood conducted almost every Prom from that first night in 1895 until 1941, when his health began to force him to accept assistance. Each concert had only one rehearsal, so his vast knowledge and experience were invaluable. He worked hard for improvements in musicians' pay and conditions, and encouraged women to play as equals with their male counterparts.
As well as the Proms, he also conducted at many festivals around Britain, such as Norwich and Sheffield, and appeared abroad; in addition, he made many arrangements and orchestrations. His golden jubilee in 1938 was marked by a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, at which Vaughan Williams' Serenade for Music (composed for the occasion) received its premiere, and Wood's friend Rachmaninov played the solo part in his 2nd Concerto, travelling to London especially for the event.
Wood tended to be regarded as a reliable, rather than exceptional, conductor, being overshadowed by the more flamboyant Sargent and Barbirolli, but his recordings demonstrate his strong interpretative grasp and ability to produce exciting readings with a clear, no-nonsense technique.