Banstead Musical Society celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1972 in optimistic mood. From modest beginnings the story of its development had been of gradual expansion and growing achievement reaching a landmark in the Jubilee year with a notable performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The members were enthusiastic; they were led by an inspiring and dynamic conductor and the financial basis of the Society was sound. Small wonder that the Jubilee Dinner held at Burford Bridge Hotel on 30 September 1972, the fiftieth anniversary of the first Annual General Meeting, was a joyous occasion.
The choir was soon back to work, however, with a full season ahead. For the autumn concert the Mass in G minor by Vaughan Williams and Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb were the main works. The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble performed several little known works in brilliant style and electrified the rather thin audience which came to St. Andrew’s Church, Cheam. The year 1972 saw the centenary of the birth of Vaughan Williams and on 14 October a concert of his works was given at Dorking in which singers from each of the Leith Hill choirs took part. Six of our members were invited and the choral items were the sensuously lovely Flos Campi and, well known to us, Valiant for Truth. The orchestra under Dr. Cole played the Variations on Dives and Lazarus and Ian Partridge sang the Blake Songs. Bach’s St. John Passion was planned for Spring 1973 and needed much private practice and rehearsal. During two previous performances we had learned to love this work, but also to respect it for its difficulty. This, the earlier of the two great Passions, demands from choir, soloists and orchestra technique every bit as exacting as its successor and in striving to give a worthy performance we were greatly helped by a fine team of soloists among whom Ian Partridge and Paul Esswood must be mentioned. One critic referred to the choir as "one of the finest choral groups in Surrey" and this performance certainly enhanced our reputation. The concert was dedicated to the memory of Kathleen Riddick, founder and conductor of Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra with whom we had built a happy association.
As always after the Spring Concert, the Leith Hill Festival loomed alarmingly near. We had learned with some dismay that Richard our conductor would be in Germany at the time of the Festival and that our assistant conductor and accompanist Peter Chase would also be away. Instinctively our thoughts turned to Peter’s predecessor, Barry Wordsworth, who was shortly to take up an appointment as conductor with the Royal Ballet and fortunately he was free for the Festival and for a number of rehearsals. Then suddenly we learned that our
place of rehearsal would not be available and a frantic search for accommodation ended only when Messrs. Heinemann kindly permitted the use of their Sports Pavilion at Kingswood. The piano was hastily tuned and we commenced a series of intensive and exhilarating rehearsals with Barry. The Festival was a great success for us and John Gardner, composer of a minor show piece Jemima chosen for competition, said in adjudicating that "Banstead’s was a fantastic virtuoso performance." Barry confessed that conducting Banstead had fulfilled an ambition cherished ever since he first played for us. Difficulties often arose over rehearsals at Nork Park School and we were much relieved when the authorities allowed us to change to the Junior (now Middle) School in Banstead. We had been a class within the Adult Education Institute for years, members paying the normal fees, but the growth in our numbers prompted negotiations for a group fee based more closely on the cost of tuition. The introduction of revised arrangements has been greatly to our members’ advantage.
We had now a membership of almost one hundred and there was much debate about limiting the size of the choir, and how bests at the same time, to achieve a further improvement in standards of performance. New entrants had always been "heard" by the conductor but a more positive and selective form of audition for everyone was now mooted. The auditioning of existing members was a sensitive subject, however, and posed problems. Eventually, conductor and committee proposed to the Annual General Meeting June 1973 that after initial audition, new members should be re-auditioned every four years, but that existing members should not be subject to audition. The acceptance of this proposal by the A.G.M. brought to a close differences among members which had caused some anxiety.
In the first concert of the 1973/74 season the choir took up the challenge presented by’ a large scale work of the early 17th century, the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610. Hitherto, our acquaintance with this kind of music had been confined to the English and (occasionally) the Italian madrigal, but this wonderful set of Vespers called for the mastery of polyphonic complexities and technical devices new to us. Rehearsals were intensive and exhausting but the thrill of performance at the concert in November will be long remembered. The exacting parts of the tenor soloists were taken by Philip Langridge and Rogers Covey-Crump, both leading exponents of this style of music and, in keeping with the attempt to reproduce sounds of the early 17th century, modern copies of ancient instruments were used, played by acknowledged experts. An almost capacity audience came to hear this adventurous concert and, although some doubts were expressed as to the propriety of combining a large modern choir with a relatively small orchestra of early instruments, this excursion into unfamiliar territory provided a glorious experience for performers and listeners alike. The performance of Messiah at Easter 1974 which was given at St. Andrew’s, Cheam, attracted a disappointingly small audience. Our attempt to produce a vital and fresh approach to Handel’s masterpiece, was, nevertheless, highly praised and the concert was noteworthy in being the first time we engaged a counter tenor to sing the alto solos. He was the internationally famous Paul Esswood and his impeccable musicianship and warmth of feeling won the hearts of many to whom the experience was new and strange. The season ended with another concert at St. Andrew’s, again not well attended, despite an attractive programme of Bach, Handel and Vaughan Williams with John Carol Case as soloist.
Trinity Boys Choir joined us at St. Nicholas Church in Sutton in December 1974 for a performance of Britten’s Saint Nicolas. The tenor soloist Edward Byles also sang Finzi’s exquisite Dies Natalis. A lasting memory of this varied concert is of the lovely sound of the women’s voices in Schubert’s Psalm 23. At this period, the sopranos in particular achieved a beauty of tone and purity of line which was widely commented upon.
Ever since our Jubilee Year we had set our minds on another performance of the St. Matthew Passion and by the Spring of 1975 we felt able once again to undertake this expensive production. We had known and admired Ian Partridge as Evangelist and John Carol Case as Christus in the Leith Hill performances of the Passion and had no doubt that these eminent soloists were the ones we wanted. Fortunately, they accepted our invitation and they were supported by four fine other soloists. It gave the choir especial pleasure to have our President Mrs. Eileen Lawrence (Eileen McCarthy) playing the Violoncello continuo. Inevitably, omissions had to be made to keep this 3% hour work within limits acceptable to a modern audience at a single sitting, but the preferential treatment given to our splendid soloists won general approval and counterbalanced grumbles about loss of favourite chorales and choruses. This was our last concert at the Baptist Church and we are happy to acknowledge the very great help and co-operation we had received for some years from both the Minister and the Caretaker in mounting our concerts in their Church.
Accommodation suitable for our concerts was a recurring problem to which we could find no satisfactory solution. The choir was now able and keen to perform major choral works with full orchestra and first-class soloists, but such forces required space. Provision also had to be made for seating in reasonable comfort the large audiences needed to help meet our heavy expenses. Great hopes were raised when we learned that the Council of the London Borough of Sutton planned to build an Arts Centre which would include a Concert Hall/Theatre
seating an audience of 900, but to our deep disappointment this magnificent scheme was drastically modified and the Concert Hall/Theatre project was abandoned to make provision for the new Civic Offices. We had tried each of the larger churches in Sutton and Cheam, making the best of the facilities available, but finding no permanent home. The Monteverdi Vespers had been performed in 1973 in Christ Church, albeit under formidable difficulties, but the Church had the advantage of being the largest building usable for concerts in Sutton, and was acceptable acoustically.
After Rev. John Hackett became Vicar of Christ Church in 1975 arrangements were made for the removal of a number of the front pews, thus opening a space large enough to accommodate both choir and orchestra. Facilities were further improved by the erection of a large dais and by the installation, at the Society’s expense, of special lighting for the whole area. Thus, the largest public building in Sutton became available for large scale concerts with adequate seating for an audience of 650. The Society and other concert giving organisations owe much to the Vicar and Parochial Church Council for their willingness to forego a large area of congregational seating in recognition of an undoubted public need. Above all our thanks are due to Mr. Hackett for his friendliness and welcoming attitude towards innovations which have made Christ Church such a pleasant venue for our concerts in Sutton.
The first concert after the removal of the pews was in December 1975 when two works by Stravinsky were included in the programme. The composer’s Mass is a major work of the present century and its austere difficulty presented a real challenge to the choir as did our first excursion into serial music, his unaccompanied Introitus - T.S. Eliot in memoriam. The stark atonality of the latter work gave the men of the choir much cause for concern, one critic, perhaps justifiably, speaking of the tenors occasionally "fishing" for the notes! The choir was brilliantly supported by the London Wind Ensemble and the women sang Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols accompanied by the young harpist Thelma Owens.
Music in lighter vein and secular in nature had not, so far, figured prominently in our programmes and, hoping to attract a wider audience, we made two attempts to exploit this field. The first at Sutton Public Hall in May 1975, despite a wide ranging programme and the presence of Osian Ellis, the famous Welsh harpist and singer as a star attraction, was a disappointment and the audience numbered no more than 250. A similar concert of Summer music was given a year later in Banstead Community Hall with Christina Ward singing and playing her guitar, but we were not able to muster a full house, even in this smaller hall. It was apparent that concerts of secular music, without orchestra, had
significantly less appeal than our full scale performances of major works. Soon after the Community Hall was completed in 1975 we had arranged a Carol Concert there when the women had given a splendid performance of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols accompanied by the young Banstead harpist Rachel Masters and there were carols for choir, children and audience. On this occasion all seats were sold, but serious problems arising from restricted accommodation demonstrated that our normal concerts could not be mounted at the Community Hall.
Bach’s Mass in B minor offers an irresistible attraction to any ambitious choir and we were anxious once again to prove ourselves in a performance of this magnificent work. The reputation of the choir for its singing of Bach and the rare opportunity of hearing the work locally, ensured a full church on 13 March, 1976. Thanks to the removal of the pews in Christ Church, we had for the first time adequate space to seat the choir, now over one hundred strong, with soloists and a full orchestra including harpsichord. Press critics spoke of the performance as "outstanding" and of the Society emerging from the ultimate test for any choir "with glory." At this concert the conductor used for the first time the beautiful oak desk commissioned in her memory by friends of Mrs. Dorothy Walker, whose recent death had saddened us all.
In the autumn of 1976 ideas began to be floated regarding a full scale performance of Britten’s War Requiem on 11 November, 197B, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Great War Armistice. From now on preparations were put in hand, the first essential being the booking of Guildford Cathedral which seemed to be the most suitable venue open to us. But more immediately, we were delighted to be asked to take part in a Festival to be promoted by Sutton Arts Council to mark the Silver Jubilee of H.M. The Queen in June 1977. The culminating event would be a concert in Fairfield Hall, Croydon and our suggestion that the main work should be Belshazzar’s Feast by Walton was approved. We also accepted an invitation from Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra to form part of the chorus in a performance in May of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The winter of 1976/77 saw, without question, the most arduous rehearsal programme in our experience to date. In addition to the invitation events, we had to prepare for our own performance of St. John Passion and the Leith Hill Festival, as well as combined performances in Dorking of the Verdi Requiem in November and St. Matthew Passion in February. With this congested programme conductor and committee wisely decided to forego the usual autumn concert, and Richard drew up a rigorous rehearsal schedule. Understandably, somebody wrote "Phew" against his initials noting the arrangements! It should be recorded that during the whole of this season of intensive rehearsals Richard himself was studying at Nottingham University for a higher degree in Music. He came home for each of our rehearsals, sometimes returning the same night, and never missed a single one. Members were highly gratified at the A.G.M. to be able to congratulate him on a successful conclusion to his course, news of which had been "leaked" in advance.
In spite of the pressure, we were determined to give a good performance, without cuts, of St. John Passion and we engaged first-class soloists and continuo players and, for the first time, the London Bach Orchestra. Our aspirations were fully realised and the concert on 9 April 1977 was acclaimed as "yet another fine presentation by B.M.S. of a major work by J.S. Bach." At Leith Hill we scored a resounding success. Not only did we finish eleven marks ahead of our nearest rival in the overall competition which included HoIst’s Hymns from the Rig Veda and Vaughan Williams’s Magnificat, but, especially pleasing, one of our quartets won the silver cup presented by our President in memory of her husband Arthur Lawrence, our conductor from 1934 to 1953. This Festival saw the retirement of Dr. Cole who had been Festival Conductor since the retirement in 1954 of Dr. Vaughan Williams. His tremendous service to the Festival is unquestioned and as a Society we always had the friendliest relations with him. He was succeeded by Christopher Robinson, Master of the Music at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor.
After the Festival the Beethoven concert with Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra at Dorking Halls was close at hand, with Belshazzar’s Feast and Puccini’s Messa di Gloria at Fairfield Hall a mere fortnight later. The former concert in which we combined with other choirs, afforded us an exceptional opportunity of participating in a performance of Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony which was conducted by Michael Lankester. The programme was completed with Brahms’s Song of Destiny in which Richard took charge of the large forces involved. For the Sutton Arts Festival Concert at Fairfield Hall on 12 June we were joined by Carshalton and Howell Hill Choral Societies. The engagement of the very large and costly orchestra required for the work by Walton caused some anxiety, but Barry Wordsworth came to our aid, and we were delighted when it was agreed that the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet Orchestra would take part. Brian Deards conducted Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and the soloists were John Noble and Edward Byles. This extremely ambitious concert was only made possible by the generous sponsorship of Sutton Arts Council and our grateful thanks are due to the Council for their magnanimous support. Belshazzar with all the resources demanded by the composer, performed in one of the finest concert halls in Britain, and under our own conductor was thrilling indeed. Even a violent thunderstorm with flooded roads on the way home could not deflate us.
Bach beckoned again and the new Season began with a performance of the Christmas Oratorio. The choir lived up to its high reputation for the singing of Bach, but the playing of the orchestra was patchy, the exacting brass parts being indifferently performed. Messiah followed in the Spring of 1978. There were good soloists with the Erato Chamber Orchestra of Sutton and, although critical opinion was full of praise, the audience of 400 was smaller than we had hoped for. We wound up the Season with a concert to suit all tastes, Bach, Mozart, Bruckner, Verdi and Hoist. A semi-chorus from St. Alban’s Chamber Choir joined us in Hoist’s Hymn of Jesus and two talented pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School were soloists in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat. It was a pleasure again to collaborate with the Surrey Philharmonic Orchestra.
Rehearsals with Surbiton Oratorio Society for the War Requiem started immediately this concert was over and continued till the end of June. During the summer break conductor and committee were much occupied in making arrangements for the concert in Guildford Cathedral, especially in securing maximum publicity over a far wider area than we had hitherto exploited. We engaged three of the finest soloists in Britain, Felicity Lott (soprano), Philip Langridge (tenor) and Michael Rippon (bass) with the English Symphony Orchestra and the Fine Arts Chamber Orchestra. The boys of the Cathedral Choir provided a semi-chorus. The performance lived up to our highest hopes. The complexities of the score for soloists, choir and orchestras alike were surmounted with confidence and there were many tributes to the intensity with which the pathos and drama of the work was realised. Much praise came from music critics over a wide area of the County and the representative of the National Federation of Music Societies wrote that the performance "must rank as the outstanding musical occasion in Surrey this season." For Richard it was a triumphant and, without doubt, a deeply moving experience. The help given by Surbiton Oratorio Society must be acknowledged, for neither of our Societies could have undertaken this very demanding work alone. To our intense satisfaction an audience of over 1000 packed the Cathedral and despite the heavy expenses, the Society remained solvent. It is fitting to record the debt we owe to David Leach, our Treasurer, for he it was who not only conceived the idea of the performance, but worked indefatigably to ensure that we had the money to meet the bills.
The season continued with performances of Mozart’s Mass in C minor and of Monteverdi’s Magnificat Primo. Then in June we presented Bliss’s Pastoral and Jesu meine Freude by Bach in a varied programme during which Richard conducted the orchestra from the harpsichord in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D. The main
work at Leith Hill in 1979 was Orff’s Carmina Burana and although a major secular work was generally welcomed, the choir never showed much affection for it. We won the highest aggregate award by a comfortable margin, but had to yield the full chorus banner to Beare Green and Newdigate whose emergence as a choir to be reckoned with earned well deserved congratulations.
For many years we had staged a "Come and sing Messiah" just before Christmas, but the annual repetition of this event lost its appeal and in 1974 a concert of Christmas Carols was substituted. In 1976 the Sutton Schools Orchestra was invited to participate and this association has continued, the concert of lighthearted and serious seasonable music attracting a large audience to Christ Church. Another longstanding event was the visit paid every Christmas to Banstead Hospital to sing a shortened version of Messiah. For many years this was well attended by staff and patients, the choir being liberally entertained to tea afterwards. With the run-down of the Hospital, however, audiences waned and in 1978 a Service of Lessons and Carols arranged by All Saints, Banstead took its place, with an ad hoc choir composed mostly of members of the Society.
At the end of the 1978/79 season our accompanist Roderick Spencer resigned and we had to look for a worthy successor. We had always needed an accompanist who would be more than the man at the piano during rehearsals, demanding as that role might be. We expected him to be able also to act as assistant conductor and teacher for men or women alone when one part of the choir was hived off to another room during the note-learning stages of a new work and, moreover, to be good enough to play the organ, piano or harpsichord at our concerts often accompanying artists of international repute. Fortunately, in Barry Wordsworth, Peter Chase and Roderick Spencer we had enjoyed a succession of very gifted musicians who fulfilled these requirements. But now the search was on again and after auditioning a number of applicants, Robert Jones was appointed. Once more we found we had made a happy choice. Not only has Robert shown fine musicianship in meeting our varied needs to the full, but he brings the additional advantage of possessing a splendid counter tenor voice and takes part as soloist, on occasion, in concerts.
The success, musically speaking, of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Festival Concert at Fairfield Hall in June 1977 encouraged the Sutton Arts Council to propose as a climax to the Sutton Arts Festival 1980, another concert on similar lines, the cost of which they would be prepared substantially to underwrite. As before the main choirs would be Banstead Musical Society and Carshalton Choral Society who would be joined by other competent local singers, but on this occasion the Arts Council wished management responsibility to rest with the choirs themselves and it was agreed that this should be undertaken by Banstead Musical Society. The works chosen were Tippett’s A Child of our Time and Beethoven’s Mass in C. A great deal of our time this season was directed to the preparation of Tippett’s difficult modern work but the year was to be a testing one in other ways. The autumn concert was wide ranging with works by Handel, Bach, Schubert, Berger and Copland. The last named composer’s unaccompanied In the Beginning made searching demands on the choir and was a good foretaste of the challenging modernity of Tippett’s masterpiece. Then we ventured for the third time on a performance of the B minor Mass. It was four years since our last presentation of this work and with a strong nucleus of experienced members rehearsals were concentrated on improving and refining knowledge already gained. We had an excellent team of soloists and were honoured again to have the London Bach Orchestra, led by Nona Liddell, an old friend of the Society. Once more the choir rose to the occasion and press critics gave high praise to the performance. In addition to playing the chamber organ continuo Robert Jones contributed the first of his discerning programme notes, much appreciated by the large audience.
The promotion of a concert at Fairfield Hall is a formidable undertaking and this time the responsibility was ours. The total expenses were around £4,000 but with our resources and a sizeable contribution from Carshalton, supplemented generously by the Sutton Arts Council and grants from National sources, we survived financially. Each choir spent a great deal of effort, separately and together, learning and rehearsing, and gradually the beauty of the grim work by Tippett was appreciated and the difficulties largely surmounted. At the performance on 1 June 1980 the Festival Choir was much helped by the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet Orchestra and the poignancy of the work was intensified by the singing of the soloists Margaret Cable (contralto) and John Noble (bass). The concert was a moving experience for everyone concerned although, regrettably, the audience was not as large as we would have liked. It is of interest that "other local singers" included several who wished to take part because we were performing this significant work by a living composer.
The Society pursued its adventurous course in the autumn with a St. Cecilia’s Day Concert at which Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (sung in Hebrew) and Handel’s Dixit Dominus were the choral items. We were happy to welcome back Rachel Masters, the young Banstead harpist who has met with considerable success nationally since she first appeared with us in 1975. On several occasions a performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus had been proposed and at last Richard felt we were able to tackle this
exuberant example of the composer’s youthful style with its doubled soprano parts in a high tessitura, and the piece formed a fitting climax to a splendid concert. The Spring concert in March 1981 reflected the events of Passiontide and anticipated the joy of Easter. The devout mood permeating Kodaly’s setting of Pange Lingua and Liszt’s Via Crucis was complemented by the high spirits of Bach’s Lobet den Herrn and the buoyant hymn of praise in Vaughan Williams’s setting of the psalm Lord, Thou hast been our Refuge. The celebrated trumpeter John Wilbraham added his ringing sound triumphantly to the choral jubilation.
A cherished ambition had long been a performance under Richard of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, but we had been daunted by the high expenses necessarily connected with such a production and by the absence of an adequate local venue. Now, however, we had had experience of staging concerts at Fairfield Hall and we felt bold enough to present Gerontius in Croydon, hoping to attract a big enough audience to make the concert supportable financially. Surbiton Oratorio Society were happy to join us in a combined choir and offered to shoulder a proportion of the cost. Again we engaged the English Symphony Orchestra and the soloists were Margaret Cable (mezzo soprano), David Johnston (tenor) and John Noble (bass). Students from Trinity College of Music formed the semi-chorus. The performance was highly praised by critics in the local press and we have no reason to feel ashamed of the number of people who came to the concert. It has become clear, however, that the attraction of a large audience on Sunday evening (the only time at present made available to us) is uphill work. Expenses were greater than for any of our previous concerts at Fairfield Hall, but intensive fund raising and grants, supplementing ticket sales, enabled the Treasurer to present satisfactory accounts to the Annual General Meeting which followed immediately.
It is appropriate at this point to mention the vital importance that fund raising has assumed in the life of the Society. Most organisations, professional or amateur, presenting serious music are unable to meet expenses by ticket sales alone; private effort and generosity as well as public subsidy play a crucial part in supplementing proceeds from the box office. This fact of life, has become increasingly clear to us with the development of our concert giving and the enormous increase in costs generally. Our Society has been notable in embracing the need for self-help and during the last eight years over £8,000 net has been raised by individual and collective efforts of the most diverse kind. This determination to help ourselves has not passed unnoticed by the various grant-aiding bodies to whom we have appealed and we acknowledge gratefully the very substantial support we have received from Sutton Arts Council, National Federation of Music Societies and the Greater London and South East Arts Associations. Sponsorship from the business world has been solicited and although early efforts met with limited success, the Society has been cheered to learn of a generous promise of patronage from the John Lewis Partnership. A new category of supporters "Friends of Banstead Musical Society" was instituted in 1976 and the Society’s charitable status permitted the covenanting of their donations, thus materially assisting the funds, as did the later arrangements for covenanting active members’ subscriptions. The Society’s own efforts owe an incalculable debt to Muriel Holyman who, although modestly describing herself as co-ordinator, has been, in fact, the originator and skilful producer of many fruitful enterprises. The Antiques Fair and the Crafts Fair, both now established annual events, were her creation and have not only contributed greatly to our funds but have enhanced the reputation of the Society in the district. Further, the production of concerts on the scale to which we are now accustomed calls for a great deal of effort in many ways quite apart from the serious study and rehearsal of the music itself. The tasks, gladly undertaken, are too numerous and varied to mention separately, but it is only right that the Society as a whole should pay tribute to the devotion of those members, whether serving on Committee or not, who work so hard to back up our musical activities. One such who deserves personal mention however is Marjorie Hall retiring after a long period of service as Choral Librarian. The cost of music has increased so much in recent years that hiring from whatever source is available is now resorted to, if members so desire. With a choir of our size this has involved the Librarian in an immense amount of work resulting in a turnover of almost £1000 a year. We all owe a tremendous debt to Marjorie for serving us so well.
Little has been said in this record for the past year or two about the Leith Hill Festival. This event which used to figure so largely in our musical lives had gradually given way to work connected with our own concerts. A decreasing number of members wished to take part, to the extent that the lack of a fully balanced choir had on occasion been an embarrassment to Richard. One of our younger members had suggested at the A.G.M. in 1980 that we should review the question of our participation in the Festival and formal discussion had then been deferred for a year to enable everyone to think over the matter. We had been part of the Festival since 1926 and owed a great deal to the inspiration of Vaughan Williams and the collaboration with other choirs in the performance of great choral works. It is true to say that our survival for half a century is largely due to our links with Leith Hill and many people had happy memories of Festival Day. But times had changed. The Society had developed independently into a concert giving organisation, well able to promote and perform major works with professional soloists and orchestras. For too long we had been the dominant choir at the Festival and there was a feeling that we had outgrown our place in it. So with great regret, but no misgiving, the A.G.M. 1981 decided almost unanimously that, after an association lasting 55 years, we should withdraw from the Leith Hill Festival. Our President, herself deeply involved with Leith Hill since the 1930s, fully supported the decision. Expressions of regret, but complete understanding were received from Lady Tangley, Chairman of the Festival, William Llewellyn, Conductor and Renee Stewart, Secretary. We are happy to record that the 1982 Festival was outstandingly successful.
We embarked in September 1981 on the 60th year of our music making. Already it had been decided to mark our Diamond Jubilee in 1982 by a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in Fairfield Hall in the autumn of that year and prudence dictated a modest programme for 1981/82, maintaining at the same time interest and excitement for choir and audiences. For the autumn we chose Haydn’s Harmonie-Messe, a most attractive though not very well known work, and Mozart’s Requiem in D minor. Then, after Christmas, we set to work on a thorough revision of Handel’s Messiah spending week after week in detailed practice and painstaking rehearsal, exposing and putting right weaknesses which we had overlooked. At the concert on 20 March the soloists were Emma Kirkby (soprano), Timothy Penrose (counter tenor), Michael Goldthorpe (tenor) and Michael Pearce (bass). The London Bach Orchestra living up to its reputation contributed greatly to what was described in critical circles as a superlative performance. It was fair reward for weeks of hard rehearsal, but, best of all, Richard subsequently told his choir that the concert was probably the finest we had ever given! The audience numbered well over five hundred and, especially indicative, was the spontaneous ovation it gave to the choir after all other performers had left the scene. The final concert had to be without orchestra, and the choir performed a varied programme of English and American pieces. An old friend, Ian Partridge, sang two groups of songs and joined with Robert, our own counter tenor, in Britten’s Canticle, Abraham and Isaac, Richard playing the piano.
The quality of a choir depends on a number of corporate elements, but essentially it is the conductor who infuses life into the singing. In Richard our Society has been singularly fortunate. His training of the choir has been based on sound musical knowledge with an invariable insistence on high standards, and his wit and good humour have enlivened many a gruelling rehearsal. In performance a vivid interpretation has illuminated works over a wide field of music, not only in his specialist interest of the Baroque, and he has been widely acclaimed as a conductor of major choral works. He completed his twentieth
season as our conductor in 1980 and to mark the occasion the choir presented him with a conductor’s full score of his own choice, the Bach Magnificat. As a graceful compliment in return, Richard presented the choir with an engraved silver bowl for flowers which now embellishes the Chairman’s table at A.G.M’s and meetings of the Committee. It is our earnest wish that he may long continue to lead us.
Here, as we prepare to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee with a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, followed by a dinner at Burford Bridge Hotel, we leave this narrative. The past decade has seen many changes, some sought and willingly adopted, others forced on us by external circumstances. Not all of our problems have yet been solved, but we are proud of what has been achieved. We remain progressive and adventurous in spirit, resolved to do even better in the future. Our aim is to make fine music in friendly company, ever in pursuit of the elusive goal of perfection and loving every step of the journey.