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Winter 201940 years of Rochdale Music Society

The Rochdale Music Society is celebrating 40 years of bringing the very best classical music to the borough this year.

Founded in 1979, the range of musical expertise and artistry brought to venues in Rochdale by Rochdale Music Society has been tremendous, from solo pianists to full symphonic ensembles.

Over the years, Rochdale Music Society has featured many internationally renowned orchestras and artists as well as encouraging the very best up-and-coming musicians in the early stages of their careers.

Music from likes of the Amadeus String Quartet, Julian Lloyd Webber, Paul Tortelier, Segovia, Clifford Curzon, Robert Tear, Annie Fischer, Igor Oistrakh, Eugene Sarbu, Amanda Roocroft and the Melos Ensemble of London – and so, so many more – have all been enjoyed locally by thousands.

Putting Rochdale firmly on the classical music map, the Rochdale Music Society was formed on the back of an idea from the-then Director of Arts and Entertainment Services at Rochdale Borough Council, David John, when speaking with Rhona Bennett.

Wanting to set up something similar to the Friends of the Art Gallery, which was now up and running, he asked Rhona if she would be interested in starting a music society.

After giving the idea some thought, and despite initial lukewarm support, Rhona told David: “Well, I suppose if we get The Vermeer Quartet to Rochdale, we’ll have made it.”

The ball was rolling, and at the end of February 1980, David asked Rhona to call a steering committee together after the council gave a preliminary go-ahead for The Vermeer Quartet to play in Rochdale.

A main committee formed, with the expectation that four small trial concerts would be held in the old council chamber, plus a booking of The Vermeer Quartet.

However, chairman Kip Heron had very different ideas, shunning any thought of trials.

At the next meeting, he proposed concerts at the Gracie Fields Theatre featuring the Amadeus String Quartet; Julian Lloyd Webber; London Mozart Players, conducted by Harry Blech, and the Tortelier trio.

Excitement in the air, the first major concert season was voted in and the musicians booked, in spite of the committee having very little to go on.

All costs considered, an average cost of a six-concert season could be anywhere between £12,000 and £20,000 – a vast sum of money to be found each year.

Support largely came from the Rochdale community: the local authority, businesses, societies and music-lovers alike, followed by the Music Society Club (later The Friends) in 1985.

The concerts at the Gracie Fields Theatre had to be different to other Saturday night offerings to keep people coming, and so, the decision was taken to book artists with household names – those the audience would have heard about, having played with the Halle, won a national or international prize, or having been featured on the radio.

The social side began following the success of the first after concert buffet, a euphoric celebration in honour of what the music society had achieved in its first year. A permanent feature, it became more inclusive when the audience began to want to meet the artists.

Summer concerts were arranged during the summer recess, an opportunity for the music society to travel around Rochdale and attract different audiences.

One such concert by Daniel Chorzemper saw St Chad’s Parish Church packed out as the gifted organist added Rochdale to his concert tour, filling the church with the wonderous sounds of its organ.

There aren’t many music societies which can bring this level of music to their concert platforms, testament to Rochdale Music Society’s long-running history.