Bury St Edmunds Concert Club

At the Club’s April 1965 AGM, under the chairmanship of the Hon. President, two very significant changes were made on the agenda. The Minutes recorded a change of title: ‘Bury St Edmunds Music Lovers’ Concert Club’ was thought to be rather long and that the time to change it was now, when moving to the Theatre and thus presenting a new face to the public. The title ‘Bury St Edmunds Concert Club’ was proposed.

The pros and cons of moving from the Athenaeum to the Theatre were discussed. Miss Long regretted the move and regarded it as temporary; the public felt the Club was becoming ‘precious’ and would hesitate to trespass… Miss Davy said that the Club was in the doldrums and it therefore needed a new look to boost it.  So the venue was changed, but not the quality of the programmes presented.

Last series at the Athenaeum Music Lovers’ Concert Club 1964-1965

Tuesday evenings

October                             Lamar Crowson, piano

November                         London String Quartet

February                           Owen Brannigan, with Harrison Oxley, piano

April                                   Oriole Ensemble (with Schools Workshop)

First series at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds Concert Club 1965-1966

Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons

September  (Thursday)   Denis Matthews, piano

October  (Sunday)            Aeolian String Quartet

January (Thursday)         Opera for All – Arts Council touring group

February (Sunday)           Dennis Brain, horn, with wind ensemble

Holding all concerts at the same venue made life easier for the new Concert Club Committee in some ways, but experiments in moving to different days failed to increase the audience and membership to any extent.

By 1968 all concerts were held on Thursday evenings. Miss Davy JP, continued to serve as the Club President and Chairman, after the sad death that year of Kathleen Long, for so long the symbol of the highest musical standards at which the club aimed.

Meanwhile a number of temporary volunteers came and went as Secretaries, including Brenda Downie, former pupil of Gwen Davy, and music advisory staff from the Shire Hall County Education Office, Arthur Smith, Keith Shaw and Leslie Hatfield. These latter gave the Club Committee invaluable help by offering venues for meetings, and financial assistance through School Workshops held during the day of the concert.

At the 1972 AGM, the Club Secretary reported that no less than three of the five evening concerts, now given on Tuesdays, had been affected in some way. The Da Vinci Trio had been suddenly reduced to a Duo; illness had also cancelled the appearance of the early music pioneer David Munrow, but his agent had man-aged to book the London Early Music Group; finally, Peter Katin’s piano recital faced cancellation due to a local black-out but he fortunately possessed his own lighting system, which the Theatre management and electricians installed in time.

Inevitably the following year’s report begins ‘it was a particular blessing to the Secretary to have all concerts take place as scheduled in the season’s programme.’ It continues, however, with the bad news, ‘The severest blow ever felt by the Club – the illness of our President and Chairman, who has been the driving force from its inauguration. How easy it is to feel that without Miss Davy there can be no Club. The greatest tribute we can pay can only be the thriving spirit of the Club, to work as she has worked, to give as she has given. This is the task of Committee and members alike.’

Some significant new names emerged from among Committee members, as well as performers, during the 1960s and1970s. Arthur Tatam from Barclays Bank was a long-serving Treasurer, who temporarily became Acting Chairman in the mid- 1970s, during a Committee crisis. He was made a Vice-president of the Club in the 1980s, and died in 2002. Miss Freda Taylor, professional pianist and accompanist, formerly music teacher at Hengrave Convent School, has now retired to Stanton.

Yfrah Neaman, the internationally-respected violinist and teacher, gave a recital for the Club for the first time in October 1967, with pianist David Wilde. He was given a warm welcome to the Club, which elected him President in 1979. Meanwhile he began to arrange a regular August International Summer School for string players at Hengrave Hall. Many members have enjoyed these special ‘summer break’ concerts at this historic venue.

Harrison Oxley, when appointed Cathedral organist in 1958, was recruited to the Committee and still serves forty-four years on. Is this a record? In 1962 he accompanied the recital by Marion Milford, soprano and Neil Black, oboe, and later the bass Owen Brannigan. Soprano Ilse Wolf made it a condition of her 1976 Concert Club recital that he should be her accompanist; they had met at the Suffolk Music Festival in 1974.

The Theatre Royal began to assume responsibility for issuing tickets directly to Concert Club subscribers during the early 1970s, so Marjorie Wormald could deservedly retire in 1974, after more than thirty years’ service.

Another early Committee member C J Croger, died that same year, and the Committee was forced to reshuffle. Miss Doris Pleydell-Bouverie, who had served since the 1950s, took office as Chairman. Mrs Edith Crocker, a local headmistress and choir-trainer, accepted the post of Secretary. Improvements were set in motion: a new club logo was designed for the programmes, and a more realistic financial structure was put in place. The latter was needed for the future engagement of artists, as public money from County Council, Borough and other sources began to dwindle, and the concept of sponsorship arose.

The year of 1977 ended with the death of President, Gwen Davy, OBE. At the concert given by the Alberni Quartet in the Theatre Royal on 15 November, the Chairman Miss Pleydell-Bouverie announced that Miss Davy had died at Mildenhall the previous day.

From obituaries in the BFP and EADT:

A well-known piano teacher and magistrate in Bury St Edmunds, Miss Gwen Davy was bom in Sheffield in 1895. She moved to Bury while still young, and soon became involved in the various musical organisations in the town. Living in Chequer Square, she was involved with the Operatic Society and Bach Choir, as well as being secretary to the Suffolk Music Competitive Festival.

One of her main contributions to the town was the founding of the Bury Concert Club, with the late concert pianist, Kathleen Long. After a hard struggle to survive in the early days, it has now flourished thanks to Miss Davy’s drive, and is in its 35th year. She retired from public life some three years ago, after a stroke. Since then she has lived in a nursing home in Mildenhall. A Requiem Mass was celebrated at the Catholic Church, in Westgate Street, last Friday, after which she was buried in the Borough Cemetery.

That November 1977 concert was one of a memorable season, which included both the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets played by Anthony Pay, a gifted young clarinettist, at which the Theatre was almost sold out, over three hundred seats being taken. Another equally well-attended concert was the piano recital given in the following month by John Lill. These signs of a possible improvement in audiences were, however, not yet reflected in the membership.

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