‘Music in Allendale’ — last concert of the season

Music in Allendale’s website blog, from which this image is taken, worries that this year is ‘make-or-break’

It’s hard to believe that the group promoting chamber music in Allendale has been going since 1992. A brainchild of members from the Northern Sinfonia, the idea caught on and helped to place Allendale on the musical map of the north.

Last night’s concert, featuring music for quintets, as presented by the Aurea Quartet with guest cellist Nicholas Trygstad, was a wonderful conclusion to this year’s programme. Organisers were hoping that the venue, St. Cuthbert’s Church, would be filled to capacity, rounding out the year and keeping the group’s financial capacity stable. While the previous two concerts were near sell-outs, the first gig this year took a loss with 25 bookings below the break-even point.

Members of the Aurea String Quartet with Nicholas Trygstad on cello 2, take a bow after the Bridge Idylls.

Well, the nave of the house was full, with extra seats filling in on the sides, so I hope the organisers were cheerful with the turnout.

The acoustic in St Cuthbert’s seems to lend itself perfectly to the swelling voices of stringed instruments: violins, viola, cellos. Inside the soundscape, it feels sonorous, deep and clear, high and piercing, pizzicato reverberating around the columns.

I was delighted to see the iconic standard lights with their shades, placed carefully on either side of the quintet. I remember when Roger Wingfield would bring these lights into the village hall, back in the early ’90s, to set up for the concerts which were held there. At some point around the turn of the millenium, however, Music in Allendale concerts shifted to St Cuthbert’s, with food and wine reception in the Church Hall, and they’ve not looked back since. The ambience is glorious, pure chamber music in pin-dropping silence and rapt attention from the audience.

I loved the familiarity of Boccherini’s Quintet in E, but I was moved by the more contemporary feeling of F. Bridge’s Three Idylls (Bridge was Benjamin Britten’s composition professor). The evening’s formula has been maintained by cheerful volunteers since its inception: half-time interval involves a recess to the Church Hall for a sip of wine or soft drink, kindly provided as part of the package. And then a prompt return to the warm and cosy church for what’s usually the feature presentation; last night it was Schubert’s last String Quintet.

Noel Broome’s programme notes so enhance the experience of the music, as they reflect a sensibility that describes how the composer develops their emotional bonds with the audience. And so the deeply moving Schubert, finished at the end of the composer’s brutally short life, struck chords throughout the audience. I’d never heard this work before; I want to hear it again and again.

My hairs are just the right colour, now, to fit in with most of the audience at Music in Allendale concerts, and the organisers frankly admit that they too are not getting any younger. Can they continue to promote a programme of four wonderful concerts a year, between May and October? The challenge to promotions of music of this quality is as much to do with the flagging capacity of the organisers, I suspect, as with financial problems associated with low attendance. But who of a younger persuasion might be persuaded to step in to help out on this wonderful project?

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