It all started in 1950
The beginnings of the Hexham and District Music Society can be traced back to 1950 when three friends met for lunch and decided that something needed to be done to bring live music to Hexham. With the support of the newly created Arts Council office in Newcastle, John Butt, Herbert Dove and Kenneth Mitchell called a public meeting to discuss forming a new concert society.
The response was enthusiastic. The society’s first concert was held on 5th March 1952 in the assembly hall at Hexham’s old grammar school (a building now used by Hexham Middle School).
That first concert featured two of that era’s leading players, Hester and Joan Dickson, pianist and cellist respectively. The second season included a performance of Ravel’s Piano Trio which led to protests from some easily shocked audience members at the modernity of the music. It also saw the first of a number of small-scale – ‘minimal’ according to Kenneth Mitchell – opera presentations by the Grand Opera group, innovative programming that gave local audiences the opportunity to experience live opera before full-scale productions started coming to Newcastle.
The society’s first international booking came in the sixth season with the Cuarteto Clásico de Madrid. A concert by the Czech Janáček Quartet in the seventh season was recorded by the BBC for broadcast in its then ‘Music Club’ series. The twelfth season in 1964 saw the newly formed Northern Sinfonia make its Hexham debut.
The society’s concerts are now all held in the Queen’s Hall. There are seven every season with programmes that reflect the society’s ability to attract both high-profile, international artists and rising young stars. Pianists Benjamin Grosvenor, John Lill, Joanna MacGregor, Stephen Osborne and Pascal Rogé have all given recitals. There have been performances by leading string quartets such as the Dante, Endellion, Maggini and Vogler quartets, and by singers including James Gilchrist, Mark Padmore and Kitty Whately. Other visitors have included Divertimenti, the Gould Piano Trio and the violinist, Alina Ibragimova.
A list of concerts held over the last three years can be found here. There are many more to look forward to in the years ahead.