Introduction – Allegro con fuoco (1940’s)

The Club did not just “spring into being”, its beginnings can be traced back to Sunday 8 March 1942 when, as the Ilkley Gazette reported, “Ilkley Players’ Concert Club opening recital by Cyril Smith. . . made a most successful opening of its venture. . . for both his performances (5pm and 8pm) the Playhouse was completely filled”. On finding that his engagement was completely sold out, Cyril Smith offered to simply repeat his whole programme at no extra cost. A remarkable offer, particularly as the programme included the Brahms Variations and Fugue on a theme of Handel and a first half of Chopin with the B minor Scherzo!

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In July, the concerts moved to the Winter Garden and as part of a “Holidays at Home” weekend, Isobel Baillie came in September and “enthusiasm was such that the concert room could not, unhappily, accommodate nearly the number of people who sought admission”. The short “Seasons” were of three or five concerts on Sunday evenings, and carried on almost throughout the year. Attendances were very mixed, and in December 1942 the venue changed to the Grove Picture House with some superb artists booked. 3pm was tried, and then 7.45pm, although the latter caused difficulties – when Irene Scharrer came in December 1944, the Chairman J W Sutcliffe told the audience she had had a fall in the blackout but would carry on rather than disappoint the audience! Between September 1943 and December 1944 piano recitals were given by: Solomon(twice), Louis Kentner (he lived in Ilkley for 18 months), Dame Myra Hess, Moura Lympany, Moiseivitsch, Clifford Curzon and Irene Scharrer!

In 1945, the concerts moved back to the Winter Gardens for three concerts in August and September. In all, 31 concerts were promoted by the small, dedicated Committee under the Chairmanship of Mr J W Sutcliffe and the artistic direction of Dr A W Gott.

On 8 April 1946, an open meeting was held in Ilkley Playhouse to determine the future of the recitals. Whilst artistically they had been a success, there had been a considerable loss of nearly £90 over the 31 concerts. After much discussion, it was agreed to form a new society – Ilkley Concert Club. A Committee was elected with a brief to move, if possible, to the Kings Hall and to change the day from Sunday in an attempt to obtain a minimum of 150 subscribers. A season of concerts was proposed and leaflets distributed asking for Patrons to create a Reserve Fund. This was successful, and a listing shows nearly 90 names. Wednesday evenings at 8pm was chosen, and the first recital took place on 28 August 1946.

The Season was artistically a success, but the Committee had to draw on the Reserve Fund, and offered a second series of six concerts between August and December 1947 (bad weather had kept many away in the previous January and February).The six in 1948 included three solo pianists, and in 1949 “increased support” led to a more varied series including two solo pianists and a piano duo (Smith and Sellick).

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VIVACE (1950’s)

This was a period of changing fortunes. The Club had very little financial backing, and the success of each season was crucial. However, this did not stop the Committee starting new initiatives. In October 1950, Gerald Moore gave the first of a number of Schools Concerts on the Wednesday afternoon of an evening engagement accompanying a soprano and cellist. There were, according to the Ilkley Gazette, 500 children present. Gerald Moore said, characteristically, that he did not always get 50% of the joint fee. “Sometimes I get more – but not often”! This was the period of the “unashamed accompanist”, even though he was still billed as “at the piano”.

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Roland Wade, who joined the Committee in 1946, writes: “There were, of course, crises – but they were few. In one of the early seasons, Clifford Curzon had been engaged for one of the concerts but said that he would not have time to work up the programme to his satisfaction. The Club had to choose another pianist, but not one of quite the same standing. At the start of the next season, Curzon said that he had seen that the Club was having the Amadeus Quartet and, as he was playing quintets with them in London, he would join them on payment of his expenses only. He wished to make amends for not having been able to come the previous year. The Club accepted his offer, which enabled it to have a quintet recital which at normal fees would have been beyond the resources of the Club. ”

Kathleen Ferrier came again in 1951 and said of Ilkley, “such a delightful and well-behaved audience”. The AGM in January 1951 in the Blue Bird Café showed a net “profit” on the season of less than £1 (loss on ticket sales £36, Patrons’ Donations £37). In 1952 there was a “surge of interest” and increased bookings so that by April 1953 a “profit” of £54 was reported.

However, in 1953/54 a miscalculation of audience interest led to “Too many empty seats for String Quartet”, generally poor attendances and a loss of £100 on the season.

Segovia came at this time, and then Chairman, Roland Wade, writes: “Before the recital a number of friends went to see him in the greenroom, boxed off area under the stage. I stayed on because I had somehow acquired the job of showing performers on to the platform. Segovia did a bit of tuning and then played some bars of one of the pieces he was going to play. The acoustics were perfect, much better than in the too large hall. I have never forgotten this little private recital by Segovia.”

This was quite a critical period, and a questionnaire to the audience revealed that out of 198 returns, 83 preferred pianists, 55 vocalists, 17 ensembles, and 15 violinists. Season Tickets had declined, and the average attendance over the six concerts was 264. Season Tickets were increased for the first time from 25/- to30/-, and the seasonal pattern changed to four concerts before Christmas and two after. The following year, another audience “ballot” produced requests for 1. Pianists; 2.Chamber Ensembles (moved up one place!); 3. Singers. . . and a lonely cry for “a cello”; profit £65.

The arrival of a newly purchased piano gave a great impetus to the next season, particularly as the Kings Hall was newly painted and reseated. Coffee was served in the Annexe. Appeals for donations were made, and Bring and Buy sales were held in members’ homes.

At this time concerts worth noting included the first of the “Intimate Opera” and “Opera for All” evenings -always much enjoyed; Anthony Hopkins gave the Schools Afternoon concert; Jeremy Gott sharing recitals with Leon Goosens and Gaspar Cassado; and a “young quartet” (the Amadeus) played Bartok. These changes seemed to give the Club a new standing and 1957/58 shows “all records broken”, with over 80 patrons and 350 season ticket holders.

In 1959, the Club promoted an extra seventh concert. This surely must be the best concert we never had! Roland Wade (Chairman at that time) remembers: “In 1959 the Club was one of three Concert Clubs in the country to be “offered” a concert by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Beethoven Quartet, as part of a visit to this country. There was considerable excitement as the main work was to have been his Piano Quintet, then less than 20 years old. Shortly before the date, Shostakovich was taken ill, and the whole visit had to be cancelled. An alternative had to be found, and we were fortunate that Rosalyn Tureck, well-known for her Bach, was available for the date in question, and was engaged.”

At the AGM in May 1959 it was reported that when the Hall was full for a pianist, the Club seated an additional 80-100 on the stage behind the piano. The highest ever attendance was 613 present for Gina Bachauer, and the average for the season was 534. With changed seating and current Fire Regulations the capacity of the Hall in 1996 was 476!

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Allegretto – rall. poco a poco – dim e doloroso (1960’s)

The 1959/60 and 1960/61 seasons continued the increased support and reached a season ticket sale of 393 subscribers – the highest ever.

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March 1960 saw an additional “seventh” concert which raised £200 for the Ilkley Refugee Appeal Fund. This was given by Elizabeth Harwood(soprano), Rodney Friend (violin) and Jeremy Gott (piano). September 1960 saw perhaps the longest recital the Club has had. Fou Tstong changed the advertised programme and played four lengthy sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert, Mozart and Chopin. It was certainly 10.30pm before he finished, and then there were two encores!

Always on the look-out for something out of the ordinary, the Committee booked the Domenico Ensemble for an evening of music and dance, as a change from touring opera. There were three dancers, three viola d’amore and a modern cello (the latter particularly upset “CWB”, the reviewer in the Gazette). Desmond Dupre should have been with them playing the lute and guitar, but was poorly. There were “very many empty seats” and not enough information was given to enable a full understanding of the presentation.

1965 had a very different extra “concert”. The opera was Don Giovanni, the cast was quite superb, the Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Furtwangler, the venue was the Essoldo Cinema, and the film was in colour! In the first half of the decade all seemed to go well – concerts were memorable and season ticket sales, always the barometer for ensuring the success of a season, were between 343 and 393.

1965 was also “memorable” for non-musical reasons. John Shirley Quirk caused the large headline in the Ilkley Gazette, “SINGER STOPS RECITAL TO COMPLAIN”. The concert was in January but “excessive coughing and chattering(!) was distracting”. In the Gazette, CWB thought more artists should have the courage to complain, particularly as the singer’s comments were applauded. Some members may recall that the two ladies sitting near to the front “chattering” took some time to realize why he had stopped singing! This was a little like the occasion Barbirolli stopped an overture to turn round and watch latecomers finding their seats in the middle of a row. On that occasion, words were superfluous.

In November 1967 a recital by Jean-Rodolphe Kars saw the start of the ongoing relationship with the Leeds International Piano Competition. At about the same time more detailed programme notes became a feature, doubling its size.

Although nearly every season still included a “vocal”, solo singers started to give way to groups or in mixed programmes with instrumentalists. Attendance generally declined until in 1968/69 there were only 301 season ticket holders and a financial loss of £154 (Artists’ fees – £676). 1969/70 continued this downward trend and there was much ensuing discussion, particularly after the Committee had taken a gamble with increased artists’ fees of £820.

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Lento – Moderato – stringendo e cresc. (1970’s)

There was a depressing start to this decade, but it also saw great changes.1970/71 showed that even though artists’ fees were trimmed down by nearly £300 to £530, season tickets were down to about their lowest at 249 and a loss of £30 was recorded. The Gazette noted from the AGM that there were “Financial Problems”. The Treasurer read a strongly worded statement saying the “Club has very little to congratulate itself about this year”. A circular showing the crucial need for more members was prepared by the Chairman and sent out with the next season’s brochure. The style of advertising was still very genteel: “We invite you to glance through the coming season with which we hope to attract your attendance”! For 1971/72, artists’ fees were increased by £130, showing considerable courage, and the situation was redeemed. Season tickets went up by 45% to 362, and patrons ‘donations by 60%. It is worth recording that the incomparable David Munrow (Early Music Consort of London) came with Christopher Hogwood and James Bowman, and The Lindsay Quartet were “one of the youngest chamber groups before the public today”.

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1972/73 saw season tickets down to 336 and musically it was notable for the visit by the Kings Singers, “Six young men who have now formed a singing group of exceptional artistry, exuberance and flexibility”, and who today would deny the truth of that “sales pitch” in the brochure!

1973/74 was a very difficult season; of the six concerts advertised, two had to be changed. First Eileen Croxford (cellist) had “a bad finger” and the Music Group of London Piano Quintet became a violin/piano duo. Georgina Dobree (clarinet) was booked to appear with the Fitzwilliam Quartet, but on the day the leader was “stricken seriously ill”, and the clarinettist, already in Ilkley, offered a recital if an accompanist could be found. By 6pm piano and artists were together, and an attractive programme quickly devised.

1977/78 saw yet more changes. Concerts were promoted in association with Bradford MDC and Yorkshire Arts Association. The presentation of brochures and programmes was altered, and fees increased by £400. “Seasons” increased by 45, and an extra concert was given free to subscribers after the AGM, promoted jointly by the new “Friends of Opera North”, YAA and the Club. Given by Sandra Dugdale (soprano) and Keith Swallow, this was a great success.

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Allegretto – stretto e cresc. a fff -Nobilmente (1980’s)

1980/81 saw more changes. The concerts were advertised as six for the price of four. Overall attendance figures were good (78%), artists’ fees over £3,000 and with skilful balancing, including grants and sponsorship, a profit was recorded of £314. Nevertheless, the season ticket sale was a miserable 259 – down by 46. Some considered this the pattern for the future, but a new Yorkshire Arts Music Officer came to visit the Committee to discuss arts promotion, and the work of an American, Danny Newman, who had written a book called Subscribe Now. He brought colourful and brash American advertising for us to look at, and a financial award to help clubs updating their publicity. This proved to be the “watershed”.

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The Committee was certain the artists were popular and the music well chosen, all they needed was for concert goers to “Subscribe Now”! Many hours were spent on this problem, a print designer appointed, and 6,000 two-colour brochures with photos of the artists were produced. With up-to-date strong visual impact, the brochures were what the Chairman reported as “a very good series of artists playing attractive programmes, brought to the public’s attention in a thoroughly professional and attractive manner”. These were distributed by hand, by bicycle and by car, and whole estates were targeted.

Dacre Son & Hartley sponsored Marisa Robles who, although she played the harp beautifully, talked a lot to the first few rows! The rest of the season was also an artistic success. At the 1982 AGM, the Treasurer reported season tickets had increased by 50% to 389 – “This is a resounding success of the Club, at a time when many of us are reeling from the effects of the depression.”

The Club budgeted 20% more for artists’ fees and the Chairman set a target of 400 season tickets for 1982/83.There were some superb concerts: Leeds’ first prize winner, Ian Hobson, opened the season; Ian Partridge sang Beethoven’s” An Die Feme Geliebte” – this performance being heard by what was becoming known as “one of the best audiences in the country”. A rarity was Gounod’s “Petite Symphonie for Wind”, played by the Northern Sinfonia Ensemble. The Treasurer reported the Club had exceeded expectations with 447 season tickets, and a surplus of £714. “Subscribe Now” was certainly working, so artists’ fees went up 40% to over £5,000, and in season number 38 (1983/84) the Club finally reached “House Full”., and a surplus on the year of £121. The brochure had followed the style set previously, and was in three colours – bright yellow, bright blue and black! It can be noted that between 1959 and 1970 fees went up £30, and between 1970 and 1983 by over £4,600. Peter Donohoe played Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel to this first sell-out audience, and another worth remembering was the magnificent Schubert C major Quintet played by the Fitzwilliam and Moray Welsh.

The problem facing the Committee was – what next? A bit like defending a championship, maintaining a success seemed even more difficult than achieving it, so the 1985 AGM looked at national trends and noted that Ilkley was eighth in the country for membership size. Also noted was “the newly refurbished and redecorated Hall”. The 1986 brochures said “SOLD OUT AGAIN!” and included two groups playing in the 1996/97 season – the Israel Piano Trio and the Northern Sinfonia Ensemble. Sponsorship by Bradford & District Newspapers allowed us to book Ruggiero Ricci, a legend in his lifetime, and the way he played the Paganini 24th Caprice made it sound quite easy! Also noteworthy was a lovely concert by Jonathan Plowright (a lovely Schumann “Carnival”). This was the first of the Countess of Munster Musical Trust Young Artists’ concerts.

During the whole of the past 50 seasons, only one concert was ‘cancelled’. On 14 January 1987 the Alberni String Quartet were giving a lunch time concert in Manchester. The weather became simply appalling and motorists were asked not to travel. Although the Quartet said they were willing to try and cross to Ilkley on the M62, enquiries to Manchester Weather Centre led us to tell them to stay put and we would postpone the evening recital. In thick snow a notice was hung on the closed gates of the Kings Hall, and the concert finally took place the following April. Success continued, and in 1988 the AGM recital was advertised as a formal part of the season. This made the “extra” an eighth concert – and surely one of the most remarkable evenings the Club has been associated with: “An Evening with Queen Victoria”, acted by Prunella Scales, with music performed by Ian Partridge (tenor) and Richard Burnett (piano).

The mid to late 80’s saw a period with a very close relationship with Bradford Metropolitan Music Promotions. 1989/90 brought both upsets and treasured memories. Joshua Bell (violin) was advertised to appear with Roger Vignoles accompanying him, but at a late stage Bell insisted on changing the entire programme due to pressure of other engagements. This was unacceptable to the Committee, and the violinist’s contract was cancelled. Gyorgy Pauk agreed to return to this country immediately after a performance in America, and give the two main works already advertised. About 36 hours before the concert Roger Vignoles was taken ill, and after discussing the problem with Gyorgy Pauk in America, he agreed to play if we could book Ian Brown. This proved possible and they gave a very fine performance. The Gaudier Ensemble played the Schubert Octet (who will forget that wonderful evening?). The “extra” was almost certainly the Club’s worst misjudgement – London Operetta in “Opera Lights” (who will forget that evening!).

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Moderato e maestoso (1990’s)

The 1989/90 season was, other than the concert already mentioned, an artistic and financial success – converting a loss in the previous year of £522 to a surplus of £1,468! Sponsorship was very important and all eight of the concerts had received help, including three supported by Bradford Metropolitan Music Promotions.

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The following year the “extra” was a rare June concert by James Campbell and the Allegri Quartet – a lovely performance. Programmes changed to their current format; although artistically attractive, brown print on cream paper made them difficult to read!

1991/92 saw the introduction of our logo – a string quartet drawing – and this was featured on the front cover of a more restrained brochure. From a wealth of talent it is difficult to single out any performance, excepting for the remarkable evening when Imogen Cooper played the Brahms Quintet with the Endellion Quartet. This was made possible because the artists were performing the work in London, and the pianist had expressed a desire to join them in Ilkley (at a “special fee”). The then Honorary Secretary, Jean Stark, called this “one of the finest concerts in the Club’s long life” and who would argue with that? (It is interesting to recall the comments made about the Curzon/Amadeus concert in 1950.)

The following season saw, after a long absence, the return of a full Lieder recital, when Adrian Thompson sang Schubert’s Die Schone Mullerin. Although to programme this had caused long discussion in the Committee, the evening was a great success. Artists’ fees were now £11,819, and the surplus a healthy £1,456.

1993/94 had a much reduced surplus of £231, an expensive series and one concert that was again remarkable. The Chairman reported “Perhaps because 13 April was the last public performance of the Solomon Trio they felt it was a ‘special occasion’. I asked a member of the Trio if I might mention this to the audience before the concert. He felt not because, he said “they might expect something special”! The excitement of the Gypsy Rondo encore will surely always remain with everyone who was present.

1994/95 brought first visits by both Nikolai Demidenko and Tasmin Little. The Club heard Szymanowski and Webern played by the Carmina Quartet, and the first piano duo for many years (Mr and Mrs Goldstone) helped set a standard so high that arranging the following seasons was becoming a real worry, as was increased cost and falling sponsorship. There was, nevertheless, a full house again, a surplus of £668 and musical memories to cherish.

1995/96’s highlights will vary, of course, for members, but two rarities much appreciated were the Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time and the visit by the Britten Singers (on previous occasions in 1965 and 1968 they were known as the BBC Northern Singers). This was the 13th season that the Club was fully booked by subscribers. Patrons’ donations totaled over £1,200 which easily exceeded the final surplus of £752, after a reduced number of sponsors and £400 less in Annual Grant Aid from the National Federation of Music Societies using Yorkshire and Humberside Arts funding.

With assets satisfactory at £10,000 the committee took the decision to celebrate in 1996/97 with a very expensive season featuring some of the finest artists who had played in previous years. The hall was full and the deficit was expected to be substantial, although at the next AGM this was shown to be £524, much less than expected, even though artists’ fees and expenses for this “exceptional season” had risen by £4,500! Those of us who were privileged to hear the Nash Ensemble will always remember the quite wonderful Schubert “Trout” quintet, containing one of Christopher van Kampen’s last performances before dying of cancer some four months later. This, as David Denton said in the Yorkshire Post review, “transcended simple technical perfection”.

In the 97/98 season we published the results of a questionnaire from which the highest percentages voting “yes” were 74% for a mixture of Music and Artists being the main consideration and 55% considering Music being the more important of the two. 98/99 saw one of our (fortunately) very rare cancellations. The cellist of the Swedish quartet “Yggdrasil” fainted just before being due to travel to Ilkley and the local Doctor refused to allow him to fly. At about 24 hours’ notice the Schidlof Quartet, who were “Quartet in Residence” in Sheffield, gave an excellent performance of Haydn, Shostakovich and Beethoven.

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Con Spirito e con amore (2000 – )

A 1999/2000 committee noted we were “just fully booked again” with a very healthy balance sheet having risen from the previous year to show net assets of £15,397. As a result 2000/01 had no rise in ticket prices (and a French flavour with Pascal Roge and Phillipe Graffin). This season was particularly noteworthy for a superb performance of the Bartok Sonata for two pianos and percussion with Ben Frith, Peter Hill, and the percussionists Julian Warburton and Simon Limbrick placed on the front of the stage above the two pianos on the platform. This was an evening full of surprises, one such being Steve Reich’s piece “Clapping” proving an amazing experience for an enthusiastic audience.

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One concert in 01/02 will surely remain indelibly in the memory of all who attended the truly wonderful performance by Angela Hewitt of the Bach “Goldberg” Variations. For the writer this was one of the greatest performances of any season, summed up by the Ilkley Gazette Sub-Editor in his review heading “Tumultuous applause and tears at unforgettable night”. The 02/03 season had the committee recording artists’ fees and expenses at £15,500, and for the last concert in 03/04 the Ilkley Gazette noted, “Memorable end to season has the audience stamping in the aisles”!

By 04/05 about 60 season ticket applications were unable to be dealt with and artists’ fees and expenses had risen to £17,499. Including £514 profit on the sale of members’ donated CDs, a surplus on the year of £2,900 was reported. Mention must be made of Jane Irwin’s beautifully sung performance of Mahler’s “Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen”. The only other performances of Mahler songs had been in 1955 and 1958, and it will be interesting to find out when we next are able to programme this composer’s lieder!

For the 60th season the committee did their best to provide something ‘special’, and they succeeded! A ‘silvery’ cover brochure announced that the opening concert would be by Alfred Brendel. He brought his own model D Steinway from home accompanied by Steinway’s Senior Concert Technician. It’s a good job he did as it had also travelled elsewhere and arrived in Ilkley with a large screw right through the body and into the action mechanism! After frantic work to put things right there followed a wonderful evening with, for your Chairman, the highlight not the Beethoven ‘Pastoral’ Sonata but the Mozart ‘Duport’ variations which opened the evening. Sheer perfection and never to be forgotten. Alfred Brendel, used to the adulation of a two thousand audience was surprised and even commented “they don’t clap a lot do they”! Was it Ilkley’s ‘reserve’ or simply they couldn’t express their feeling for his visit – from which he probably about ‘broke even’! Although a whole season of exceptional merit, mention must also be made of Roderick Williams’ “Songs of Travel”, Tasmin Little’s evening and the final concert by Alexeev and Demidenko playing the Rachmaninov second Suite and the Symphonic Dances.

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