Annual General Meeting 2014-15

The 2014-15 Annual General Meeting was held on Thursday 2 July at 7pm, at St Edmund’s Hall, College Road, Malvern. Following reports by officers, committee elections were held, and the results are shown on the About us page. We were particularly pleased to welcome Linda Jennings (Secretary, 2004-14) as a Vice President.

After the business part of the meeting, we heard a superb recital by Toby Hughes, double bass, winner of the 2013 Chandos Young Musician competition and the 2014 Royal Over-Seas League strings competition, accompanied by fellow RNCM graduate Tyler Hay, piano. Their programme consisted of Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano, arranged for double bass. An Elegy by Giovanni Bottesini, a 19th century composer and double bass virtuoso, was a well-deserved encore.

(posted 07.07.15)

John McCabe CBE (1939-2015)

John McCabe

We are very sad to announce the death on 13 February of John McCabe CBE, a Vice President of Malvern Concert Club. He died from a brain tumour, which he bravely fought to the end, still composing till the last few months.

John McCabe probably came to the attention of most Club members in 1973, when the world premiėre of his chamber cantata commissioned by the Club, Time Remembered, was performed here by Felicity Lott and the Nash Ensemble, the composer conducting. The acclaim for this work led to John being appointed a Vice Chairman of the Club in 1974, an invitation which he accepted ‘with intense pleasure’. In 1976 his Goddess Trilogy for horn and piano (played by John) was performed; and in 1985 his String Trio, Op.37, at a concert where John played the piano part in Mozart and Dvorak Quartets. His last appearance with the Club was in September 2010 when he generously gave a piano recital without fee, an eclectic programme including some of his own works and his beloved Haydn. It was at this recital that I had the pleasure of meeting him.

There have been many respectful obituaries in the national and musical press, but perhaps the most valuable and moving testimonies are from those who knew him directly. As John was a graduate and Honorary Fellow of the Royal Northern (previously Manchester) College of Music, it is perhaps appropriate to quote from the RNCM staff’s own tribute to him, which I gratefully acknowledge:

John was a sublime professional in every way; an important and brilliant composer; an outstanding pianist, a persuasive advocate of music past and present drawing on an encyclopaedic knowledge; but above all as a warm, sympathetic and humorous person.

It is hard to imagine the musical landscape without John. He was a true master. One thing that is absolutely certain is that his music will live on the concert platform so long as we have ears to hear. He left us with so much.

I was struck by John’s music, and by him. He was a gentle person, yet one with almost silent gravitas that you immediately respected. He was loved and esteemed by all. There is optimism, colour, vibrancy and excitement in his music, juxtaposed with broad lyricism and a beautiful harmonic language. The world has lost not just an exceptional musician, but an extraordinary person.

Peter Thomas

John McCabe was a friend and associate of Michael Kennedy, who died on 31 December last. The concert on 19 March is dedicated to the memory of both great men. John’s final string quartet was commissioned by the Presteigne Festival and premièred by the Carducci Quartet in 2012, and Michael is of course deeply associated with Elgar.

We are delighted to welcome Monica McCabe as Guest of Honour. Although Joyce Kennedy is sadly unable to attend, she sends her thanks and best wishes to the Club.

Michael Kennedy CBE (1926-2014)

It is with deep sadness that we record the death on New Year’s Eve of Michael Kennedy, author, critic, long-serving President of this Club and currently (from earlier in 2014) its President Emeritus.

Michael was elected the Club’s President in 1999 following the death of Lord Menuhin, with the officers and committee at the time believing that it was important to recognise and maintain some link with the Club’s founder; Michael, of course, was supremely qualified through his knowledge and love of Elgar’s music which was (and is) reflected in his outstanding biography of the composer, Portrait of Elgar, first published in 1968. It is still in many ways the most comprehensive study of someone whom Michael described as ‘this strange, elusive, loveable yet often dislikeable man, a flawed human being but a blazing genius as a composer’, and it broke new ground at the time as well as serving as a testimony to Michael’s literary skill.

Those skills had been honed in the febrile atmosphere of The Daily Telegraph, whose much-respected music critic he remained for many years before moving to The Sunday Telegraph in 1989, by which time he had written several other books, notably biographies of Sir John Barbirolli (a personal friend of his), Richard Strauss, Britten and (arguably the most significant) Ralph Vaughan Williams. He continued to write, returning to Elgar in 2004 with The Life of Elgar, while only the previous year he had delivered a lecture on ‘Elgar’s Chamber Music’ to a joint meeting of the Malvern Concert Club and the Elgar Society.

Michael was quietly spoken but a man of decided views, underpinned by his wide-ranging knowledge, a catholic taste and long experience, all of which made him an outstanding music critic. In recent years his health and increasing lack of mobility meant that, living in Manchester as he did, attendance at concerts and operas in other areas could be difficult, and this was a factor in his retirement from the Presidency in 2014, following which he was elected the Club’s first ever President Emeritus. Difficulties notwithstanding, though, one never quite knew when and where one might encounter him, always accompanied by his devoted wife Joyce.
Michael Kennedy’s contribution to the musical life of this country and to people’s understanding of music has been immense, and he will be sadly missed by all of us who were privileged to know him.

Michael Messenger OBE,

5 January 2015

Catherine Freeman (1930-2014)

Catherine Freeman - long-time secretary for Malvern Concert Club

It is with deep sadness that we have to announce the death on 19 November of Catherine Freeman, a long-time member of the Club and its Secretary from 1992 until 2004.

Taking over such a key position was always going to be a challenging task and circumstances conspired to compound the problems, but Catherine approached it with quiet and characteristic determination and with thoroughness. The greatest difficulty for Catherine was the temporary closure of the theatre complex for refurbishment; this meant that for a period from January 1997 until May 1998 the Club’s concerts had to be held elsewhere. Predictably, attendances dipped significantly, but Catherine’s response was to ensure that quality remained high so that with the eventual return to the theatre complex everything was in place for a recovery in the Club’s fortunes. There were some wonderful performances by world-famous musicians between 1992 and 1998, but Catherine was not afraid to experiment, on one occasion bringing in a group to perform traditional Bolivian music using a range of strange instruments, a decision which, despite some opposition, she said she did not regret.

The return to Malvern Theatres in 1998 was not to the theatre itself but to the transformed Elgar Hall, and a new set of challenges for Catherine As she had anticipated, numbers did slowly begin to recover, and the Club’s centenary year of 2003 provided the opportunity for Catherine and her committee to cement that by planning a series of high quality concerts spread over two seasons; at the core of this was a recital by the modern Brodsky Quartet reproducing part of the concert given by the original Brodskys at the Club’s inaugural concert in October 1903. That successful 2003-4 season was perhaps the ideal time for Catherine, only the fourth Secretary in the Club’s history, to bow out, and she deserves enormous credit for having steered the Club through such a turbulent decade to ultimate success and so ensuring that the Club remains at the centre of Malvern’s musical life. She continued to attend concerts at the Club, so demonstrating her commitment to it, but in her own modest, unassuming way shunned the limelight and sat quietly towards the back of the hall.

Catherine was an excellent cellist herself, and played in no fewer than three ‘members concerts’, the earliest of them as long ago as 1981, which gives some idea of how long she has been actively involved with the Malvern Concert Club. However, it will be as the Club’s Secretary that she will be remembered by most. It is easy to underestimate the importance of the Secretary in devising and implementing high quality programmes of the standard enjoyed at the Club, and only we who served with her on the committee at that time can fully appreciate just how much of herself she gave to the Club. She deserves to be remembered with gratitude and with deep affection by all of us … and we do.

Michael Messenger

Michael Messenger OBE is a Vice-President and the Archivist of the Club, and was its Chairman for most of Catherine Freeman’s tenure as Secretary.

Inauguration of new President and retirement of Secretary

The first concert of our Season on 25 September 2014 was a very special one. It marked the the inauguration of our new President, the baritone Roderick Williams, and the retirement of our Secretary for the last ten magnificent years, Linda Jennings. Very appropriately, Roddy also gave the first recital of the Season, accompanied by Susie Allan, piano.

The pictures show Susie and Roddy taking a bow after the recital; Joseph Brand (Chairman) congratulating Roddy on his appointment, with Roddy fulfilling his first presidential duty by presenting a gift from the Club to Linda on stage; and Linda, Roddy and Joseph at a reception in Malvern Theatres circle bar after the concert.

(posted 03.10.14)

More Composer Talks

Following the successful series of talks by our Chairman, Joseph Brand, in 2013, he featured three more operatic composers in talks in the 2014-15 season: R Strauss, Puccini and Mozart.

(posted 23.06.14, updated 17.12.14)

Club Visits to CBSO

Following the success of this scheme in the 2013-14 season, more concerts were arranged for the 2014-15 season.

(posted 25.06.14, updated 03.08.14)