Before we were forced to suspend our programme of concerts in April, the society had presented six of the ten concerts planned for the 20/21 season: two in St Briavels Church, three in Monmouth (including two events in the new Performing Arts Centre of Monmouth School for Girls) and one in Chepstow.
The concerts were all well supported and, from the feedback we received, much appreciated and enjoyed by the enthusiastic audiences who attended. As always, we sought to ring the changes in terms of instrumental combinations, compositional periods and musical styles.
September saw the return of violinist Mary Hoffman and pianist partner Richard Ormrod for the second in the series of three ‘Beethoven in Wales’ recitals playing the complete violin sonatas, interspersed with new compositions by contemporary Welsh women composers. This was our first foray to Monmouth School for Girls as a venue; Mary and Richard’s assured and energetic playing came across wonderfully in the acoustic of the purpose-built studio with its impressive Steinway piano.
October gave us a chance to meet Trio Damira, an international trio of chamber musicians led by pianist Bela Hartmann. They charmed us with their friendly manner and their expert and sensitive playing of trios by Haydn, Rachmaninov and Schubert. We would certainly welcome them back again if we get the chance.
November saw the return to the Bridges Hall, Monmouth, of the Maconchy String Quartet after their popular appearance at the Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival earlier in the year. They played quartets by Haydn and Ravel with youthful energy, as well as challenging the audience with the String Quartet No 5 by the composer from whom they take their name.
On a Saturday night in early December, society members and a huge number of friends and enthusiasts packed out the Drill Hall in Chepstow for a sell-out return concert by the London Klezmer Quartet. With its origins in the Jewish folk culture of Eastern Europe, the appeal of this soulful and celebratory music is infectious. The concert benefitted in terms of intimacy and impact by placing the musicians in the body of the hall rather on the stage. The energy, excitement and sheer joy of their playing were thrilling and the group was unable to get away without calls for multiple encores.
January saw the society embark on a very different type of event: a collaboration between musicologist and author Professor Stephen Walsh and pianist Clare Hammond. Stephen gave a stimulating talk about Claude Debussy, the subject of his recent and highly acclaimed study of the composer’s life and music. (Debussy: A Painter in Sound, Faber & Faber 2018). The talk was illustrated with a sequence of Debussy’s pieces for piano expertly played by Clare Hammond. Her powerful performance of La Cathedrale Engloutie, just before the interval, left this audience member for one jaw-droppingly awestruck!
Our final concert in March, just before Covid struck, was the annual showcase by outstanding students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. This event never disappoints; standards by the eight young musicians, two piano soloists and two trios, were as high as ever. We wish them well in their future careers.
All in all, it has been a highly successful but sadly truncated programme. To date, we have another seven or eight mouth-watering concerts planned, half of which have already had to be postponed with others that seem increasingly unlikely to be held during the coming months. The musicians we have booked are all still keen to play for us and, one way or another, we are determined to bring them to the Wye Valley as soon as it is safe to do so.