Abingdon’s music makers mark a milestone birthday

Nicola Lisle talks to members of the Abingdon and District Musical Society as they prepare to celebrate their 70th anniversary

On May 23, 1946, a small group of local musicians gathered at the Corn Exchange in Abingdon to give what turned out to be the inaugural concert of the Abingdon and District Musical Society.

On Saturday (March 19) the society marks its 70th anniversary with a typically ambitious programme that includes Rossini’s sparkling overture to The Thieving Magpie, Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 (the ‘Rhenish’), Elgar’s The Music Makers and the premiere of Night Poem, written by long-standing society member Geoffrey Bushell.

The concert also features award-winning young mezzo Melanie Lodge.

The society is celebrating a remarkable history, which has seen it survive the austerity of the immediate post-war era and expand into a full symphony orchestra of forty players and a choir of seventy.

“The inaugural programme tells us that Gerald Finzi was a founding vice-president of ADMS,” says secretary Patrick Wallace.

“Another aspect of the programme that struck me was the very large proportion of women - 83% of the orchestra and 78% of the choir. Even the conductor was female. Presumably this was a consequence of the Second World War.

“The orchestra had very meagre resources: a total of 19 players, including five first violins, four second violins and only three cellos.”

Tenor and former chairman Alwyn Langsford has been singing in the choir for over fifty years and has witnessed huge changes during that time.

“The major change I have seen is the manner in which both choir and orchestra have, under a succession of excellent conductors, gained in confidence so that we can now tackle major works in the concert repertoire,” he says.

“A highlight for me was the opportunity to sing Britten’s War Requiem in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of that country’s invasion in the Second World War.”

Conductor Alexander Walker is marking his own milestone this year - it’s his tenth season with the society. As a conductor with a major international career, what attracted him to a music society in a small Oxfordshire market town?

“It’s important for me to work with people for whom music is a love but not necessarily a profession,” he says. “One of the things that’s particularly attractive about ADMS is there’s both a choir and an orchestra, which means I have the opportunity to do all sorts of interesting repertoire that I might not get to do in other places.”

That interesting repertoire, of course, includes new pieces like the one Geoffrey Bushell has written for the anniversary concert.

Geoffrey describes Night Poem as “a slow, quiet piece, reflecting the power of music to stir the emotions”.

“It lasts about fifteen minutes,” he says. “The main tunes for the piece have been in my head for about five years, and I make a point of carrying paper, pencil and eraser around with me in case a turn should occur to me unexpectedly!”

For Alexander, Geoffrey’s piece goes perfectly with Elgar’s The Music Makers. “He’s scored it for the same sort of orchestra and chorus as the Elgar,” he says.

“The Music Makers is particularly apposite to a concert where we are celebrating the whole idea of making music.

“I think we’re doing some really meaningful music-making together, and I‘m looking forward to the next couple of years in which we‘ve got some really exciting programmes coming up.”


Abingdon & District Musical Society 70th Anniversary Concert

Yolande Paterson Hall, St Helen & St Katharine School, Abingdon

Saturday March 19, 7.30pm

Tickets: 01235 521392 or on the door

More information: www.adms.org.uk