How we began

A potted history of the society by Jon Turner

My idea of starting the Society arose sometime in the early 1990s. Having been a lover of Brahms’s music since my schooldays I began, then, to realise that I’d never explored his extensive chamber music output, and began remedying this by collecting it all on CDs and travelling around the Midlands to all live performances I could discover. This led to my acquiring a wider interest in the the whole range chamber music where, I soon discovered, many composers often reserved some of their best and most intimate musical thoughts and compositions for the genre. I also enjoyed the higher sense of rapport between performers and audiences. After a while, I began to wonder why I was obliged to travel all over the place for my music while living in one of the Midlands’s largest cities, where regular chamber performances should have been available but were virtually non-existent. This gradually hardened into a resolve to try and do something about it once I’d retired.

After my retirement in March 1996 I canvassed the idea of starting a CM society with some like-minded friends and we decided to set up a working party/committee to determine its feasibility. We formally met for the first time (Mike Wheeler, Elizabeth Thompson (former DET Music Correspondent), Emmaline O’Dowd, John Kidger-Preston, and me) on the 21st February 1997. We then met at monthly intervals to review our researches and progress, acquiring along the way Robin Taylor, a local solicitor. Over the months we were grateful for a lot of help and advice from officials from similar societies around the Region, and from Keith Williams, the Regional Funding Administrator from what is now known as Making Music, the society which supports amateur/voluntary sector performing and concert-promoting societies.

Our first, trial concert took place at the Landau Forte College on the 12th June 1998, with a performance by the Antara String Quartet, a group of postgraduates from the Birmingham Conservatoire, of Haydn’s ‘Fifths’, Shostakovich’s 8th and Beethoven’s ‘Harp’ Quartets to an audience of around forty people. Emmaline summed it all up for me when she declared “I couldn’t believe I has hearing music of such quality here in Derby.” The experience quickly decided us to persevere with the venture. For our 1998-99 Season from September to April we put on four concerts either at the Derby Dance Centre or at Cedar Park, Mickleover, with the Antara Quartet performing three of them. On the 17th May 1999 we had our inaugural general meeting, where the acting self-appointed committee was replaced by an elected one consisting of Professor Jonathan Powers (Chair), myself (Secretary), Joan Holmes (Treasurer), Lawrie Rose and Mike Wild. For the ensuing 1999-2000 Season we put on seven concerts and then eight per season after that: the frequency which has lasted until now.

Our working definition of ‘chamber music’ is music from the 17th century onwards played by a combination of conductorless instrumentalists ranging from solo recitalist to up to 13 players, each following their own solo parts. Our commonest line-ups tend to be solo piano, piano/instrumental duos, trios and quartets, with string quartets being a consistently popular grouping. For string quartets we have found the formula a classical, a Romantic and a modern (20th century onwards) work per concert a helpful one, although not exclusively so. Over the years, we are attempting progressively to cover all the main works in the repertoire and have performed a number of first, second, or first in Derby performances over the years. Our next stage is progressing to some of the larger combinations, such as quintets and sextets Our largest concert was the performance of Mendelssohn’s and Shostakovich’s Octets in 2005. A most innovative concert we devised with the Solaris Quartet was a performance of works by ‘Degenerate’ composers (defined as such by the Nazis) who had composed works in concentration camps before being murdered just before the end of the War. This was subsequently performed at the Imperial War Museum, when we got an honourable mention. Our still unattained ‘Everest’ remains Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’ for 13 players, which would obviously stretch our meagre funding and resources to the utmost.

At present we try to employ internationally known performers at least once per season and, over the years, have engaged such performers as the Coull and Sorrel Quartets, and the Schubert Ensemble of London. Although the main specialist music college we have collaborated with has been and is the Royal Northern College, we are in the throes of rebuilding stronger links with the Birmingham Conservatoire. We enjoy engaging the younger talent from the colleges, not just because they are such fine musicians, but because they bring fresh excitement and insights into their performances too. We also believe that the music colleges appreciate the patronage of promoting societies like ours because of the valuable performing experience we offer to fledgling musicans in the ‘real’ world of day-to-day concert-making. We also enjoy looking out for those who we guess will make greater ripples on the musical scene once they are established. For all that there is also the fine body of established musicians always there to remind us that playing the familiar works regularly breathes its own patina of quality and new insights into them.

Obviously, providing an ongoing programme of such quality could never be achieved purely by what we can raise at the box office so, to keep admission charges at a reasonable level so that anyone wishing to attend need not be deterred financially, we depend on financial assistance from outside funding. At present, we receive annual funding from the Hon HMT Gibson [of Royal Crown Derby] Charity Trust, and the estate of the late Jeffery Tillett.

The Society has one or two distinctive features which, we are pleased to notice, have been taken up by other music societies. Our main one is the belief that if programmes with explanatory notes on the music are produced, then they should be part of the admission price and not an extra charge. Also, if they are to be of any value then they should be delivered to all our members in advance (around 80 members at £7 per annum subscription) as well as available on the night. The other is that we have also had a policy of free entry to anyone still subject to compulsory schooling: an offer which, unhappily, has always had a low take-up rate.

Our aim has always been to provide live, high quality chamber music for the benefit of Derby residents and anyone else willing to support us. We hope we have convincingly demonstrated this intention over the past thirteen years and over 100 concerts and will continue to do so in future, in whatever shape or form.

Jon Turner,
Founder, Life Member and former Secretary

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