Witney Music Society 50th Anniversary Season
"There is a perception of elitism..."
“I now look you in the eye, Sam, and say you’ve never been to anything like this, have you?” Jean Richards of Witney Music Society said to me indicating the 50th anniversary season brochure. “You wouldn’t dream of coming to anything like this, would you?”
We were discussing the lack of young people at WMS concerts. In the 1970s there were far more in attendance than today. “We have a very elderly audience,” Chairman Tom Jones said, “we don’t mind in many ways as it’s providing something for older people that they wouldn’t otherwise get.” Those older people who live in Witney and surrounding villages don’t have to make the trek into Oxford for their classical music, it’s right on their doorstep here, free parking right by the venue and no waiting around for a bus. “We don’t apologise for the fact there are a lot of older people” Tom said, “but it would be nice if we had more young ones.”
Tom, Jean and I chatted about what the lack of young people was down to. “There is a perception of elitism about this music,” Tom said, “and it’s not cool for teenagers to go to classical music concerts whereas it is to go to pop concerts.” It must be difficult for Tom and Jean, actually, to solve this issue; when you’re so in awe of something yourself understanding why everyone else isn’t can be the first hurdle – and one that is hard to overcome. “Why doesn’t everybody want to come to this?” Jean finds herself feeling. “It comes to us in Witney and it’s really good!”
So what about what WMS has in store for those who do go to the concerts?
“Younger artists come through on different schemes. They are really outstanding young artists but they’re early on in their careers. These different schemes subsidise it so we can get really high class people at a really good price” Jean said. The 2015-16 season will include flautist Katherine Birtles, selected artist on the Making Music Philip and Dorothy Green Awards for Young Concert Artists scheme, alongside pianist Jose Menor. This takes place 11 December 2015, 7:30pm at Wood Green. Soprano Alison Rose and pianist Matthew Fletcher will perform the works of Wolf, Schubert, Strauss and more on 8 January (7:30pm at Wood Green); the pair were granted Young Artist Awards in 2014 under the Oxford Lieder Young Artist Platform scheme. On 12 February 2016, 7:30pm at Wood Green, Alessandro Ruisi (violinist and selected artist under the Countess of Munster Musical Trust scheme) and pianist Dina Duisen do Mozart, Beethoven and Franck.
Witney Music Society balances their budget so they can get hold of more expensive artists. It’s a balancing skill that apparently wavered in the 1970s that, with a loss of enthusiasm, caused a bit of a crisis in which people wondered whether the society would continue. “But it did and it’s never looked back since” said Tom. Today there is money to spend on the likes of the Aronowitz Ensemble, the main event of the season, coming at 7:30pm on 13 November 2015 to High Street Methodist Church – not always as practical, and certainly not as cheap, as Wood Green School but visually beautiful.
At the age of 22, maybe I could help raise the WMS young demographic. “My colleague DJs in clubs,” I told Tom and Jean, “if you go to one of his gigs we’ll come to one of yours”. Phoenix Piano Trio (11 March 2016, 7:30pm at Wood Green) have caught my attention; as this show closes the season perhaps it is late in the day…but better late than never.
Every year Witney Music Society organises a programme of six live classical music concerts on the second Friday of each month from October to March.
For more details on the 50th Anniversary season and to find out about booking and WMS membership (each year entitling you to all 6 concerts for the price of 4) visit witneymusicsociety.org.uk.