Spring 2012

WELCOME BACK,  after a mild, wet and very windy Christmas and New Year. Writing, as I am, in early January, the festive period already seems to have been blown away in the wind….Anyway, the reputation of the SMS continues to spread, with an article about the first seven seasons in BMS News 132, the December 2011 issue of the British Music Society’s newsletter.


Remember to make note that we are back at Sittingbourne Community College, but that the concert is on Saturday February 25th, at the slightly earlier time of 7.30pm. The change of date is to allow the choir to rehearse in the afternoon, which is not possible of course, on a weekday.

Just a quick reminder of the programme, which is full of lovely things, including Elgar’s popular From the Bavarian Highlands, Moeran’s  Songs of Springtime, the glorious spirituals from A Child of our Time, by Tippett, and the Missa Brevis by Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, one of our Patrons – we are particularly delighted to be able to present a substantial and very beautiful work by this multi-talented composer.  There is also a little piece (The Lily-White Rose), by one John McCabe, who will also come out of piano retirement to play a few delightful short piano works by Elgar.

We don’t often put on a choral concert, not wanting to intrude on the Sittingbourne Orpheus Choral Society’s territory. However, there is an excellent reason for this concert, because it was as a result of a concert by the CCCC, conducted by George Vass, in St Mary’s Church, Park Road, in July 2003 that the SMS came about, thanks to the encouragement and assistance of Peter Morgan, MBE.


The ebullient English conductor George Vass may pad around looking like a super-sized teddy bear, but he is one of the busiest people around, as Director of the Presteigne Festival, as well as long-term conductor of the CCCC. He is also Director of his own Orchestra Nova, and of the Bushey and Dartford symphony orchestras. He’s a busy recording artist too, especially for the Dutton label, and in this respect has conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National, and Ulster  Orchestras, together with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and major ensembles here and abroad. The Presteigne Festival, though based in a town as large as an average Kent village, is one of the UK’s leading festivals, especially known for commissioning and performing works by contemporary British composers, such as David Matthews, Cecilia McDowall, and our own John McCabe. The Festival also has strong links with CCCC, who are frequently their choir-in-residence.

The City of Canterbury Chamber Choir gave its first concert in October 1995, and in the last 15 years has built up a reputation throughout Kent, including appearances at the Canterbury Festival. Their raison d’etre was to raise money for charitable purposes, not least the churches in which they often perform, but they increasingly also appear for professional purposes, including commercial recordings. They have made a number of highly-praised CDs for Dutton of the choral music of Cecilia McDowall. In 2005, Tony Eldridge, who ‘fronts’ and sings in the choir, was one of our two soloists in our Year of the Sea  concert.


The last concert in this season is a recital by Chris Grist (cello) and David Wright (harpsichord). It is part of their Bach Project, with the emphasis on Bach’s works for cello (both accompanied and unaccompanied) and harpsichord, the immortal Goldberg Variations. According to legend, the Variations were requested by one Count Keyserlingk, who lived in Leipzig, to entertain his house-guest Goldberg when he was unable to sleep. He asked, therefore, for some gentle pieces suitable for the purpose. What he got was one of the most astonishing masterpieces in the keyboard literature, by a composer at the height of his powers – some of them are indeed gentle and reflective, though even here Variation 25, which was called “The Black Swan” by the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, is profoundly tragic. The work is marked also by a bewildering array of compositional devices, many pieces of supreme virtuoso difficulty, and above all the spirit of the dance that lies behind so much of Bach’s music.

Chris Grist is a cellist who has already, with his ensemble the London Concertante, given the SMS much pleasure, and he will also be playing a Bach Suite and a work by Bach’s contemporary and friend Georg Philipp Telemann. (Chris is also a talented photographer – see left.) David Wright is a well-known harpsichordist, whose fine recording of the Goldberg Variations is available direct from him – he has established himself as an authority on music of the Baroque, and the opportunity of hearing this wonderful music is not to be missed. How often, one wonders, have the Goldbergs been performed in Sittingbourne?


We are very fortunate to have been able to obtain financial support for our two remaining concerts of the 2011/2012 season.  The Queenborough Fishery Trust has generously provided sponsorship for the concert by the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir on 25th February.  Additionally, as the major item of their programme will be Elgar’s From the Bavarian Highlands, we also acknowledge assistance from the Elgar Society.  Our sincere thanks, too, to Mrs Pauline Panton and Councillor Alan Willicombe for their sponsorship of our final concert, a rare chance to hear a live performance of Bach’s great keyboard masterpiece the Goldberg Variations. The personal involvement of sponsors is something for which we are particularly grateful – Mrs Panton is, of course, also much involved in the Society as one of our Patrons alongside Sir Richard Rodney Bennett. The Society is extremely grateful to its sponsors who enable us to bring artists of international standing to Sittingbourne.


Look out for our brochure for our ninth season 2012/13, which we hope to publish during the Spring. We’re planning a mix of opera (Cameo Opera), piano recital, a string quartet from Lithuania in association with the Lithuanian Embassy, and flute/clarinet/harp trio.


 Here’s the pen-portrait of our new Membership Secretary Miriam Lynch we promised you:

Miriam Lynch attended Highsted School for Girls, and Canterbury Teaching College, where she specialised in Child Development, Contemporary Studies, Education for 3-9 year-olds, and also took a Foundation course in Art (Fine Art and Sculpture). Her first two teaching posts were in Bow and Stepney, in London’s East End, and after moving to Sittingbourne to be with her future husband, she resigned from teaching and ran a bookbinding service alongside her husband’s bookshop in Sheerness.

Later she became a class teacher in Chatham and Milton Regis, Head of the Infant Department at Sittingbourne Nativity School, and, after death of her husband and the closure of the school, Music Co-ordinator at The Oaks, Sittingbourne, where she became Deputy Headteacher in 1997. Now married to Terry Lynch, Police Officer, and in phased retirement from September 2011, her interests include the welfare and development of children, music (especially the violin), gardens and the countryside, reading, dancing, and some charities.

Swale Arts Forum Shop

The Swale Arts Forum Shop at Unit 28 in the Forum Shopping Centre, Sittingbourne, was a great success. Manned (should that be “Personned”?) by representatives of some of the member societies of the SAF, it lasted from 8th September to 18th December, 2011, with tremendous input from Sioux Peto and Colin Barnard, who put a lot of effort into ensuring that it was set up properly and provided an interesting and worthwhile community resource. Apart from providing information, including leaflets, about member societies, it was a useful venue for the sale of artworks of all kinds, including paintings and sculpture, literature, and CDs, and  provided a useful focal point for people to pop in and exchange views and catch up on arts news. The Guest Book people were encouraged to sign was full of favourable comments, many of which were to the effect that people hoped something like this might be provided on a permanent basis, or at least that it might happen again. Thanks are due to the owners of the Forum Centre and to Swale Borough Council for allowing this otherwise empty space to be used so productively.                                          Photo: Ken Miller

As you see from the picture,with our Secretary Anne Ryback and the McCabes at the Shop, the SMS was one of the organisations helping out (we think we were the only musical organisation to do so!). The success of the Shop can be judged from these figures from its residency:

  • The total value of sale of artworks etc.                          £3127.75
  • The total amount paid back to artists                             £2502.20
  • The total commission to Swale Arts Forum                    £625.55
  • The total hanging fees to Swale Arts Forum                 £320.00
  • The total income for Swale Arts Forum                           £945.55
  • The total number of visitors (carefully counted in)                        8172

Total value to the community:                                                                    priceless!


News from the extended family (which we like to think is the SMS) about an actual extended family. Company Secretary Anne Ryback received the pleasant Christmas gift of a second grand-daughter, born 28th December. And gone-but-not-forgotten ex-Membership Secretary Jeane Holmes paid a flying visit in January, with her husband Ben, while attending the annual Memorial Service for HMS Truculent (remember that tragedy, in the Estuary, in 1950?). Jeane and Ben settled in Dorchester last year, closer to family,and in an area they love, for both its history and its connections with Thomas Hardy. Both looked healthy and happy, and are enjoying life in Dorchester, where, we gather, the local little cinema “streams” in top productions of opera and ballet, from the New York Met and Covent Garden, for £2.50 per ticket – now that’s a thought for Sittingbourne!

We also like to feel that our artists are in a way members of our extended family. You may remember Sviatoslav Antipov, who played so beautifully for us in our “At Home” concert (February 2009). Slava, as he is known, studied at the Purcell School, and is now at the Royal Academy of Music, as we learnt when we bumped into him at a Park Lane Group concert in London the other week. He is giving a number of concerts in Kent, and it’s good to know that he’s really making a success of things. Here are some dates:

Thursday 2 February – Kingfisher Piano Trio: St. John’s Church, Notting Hill, Landsdowne Crescent,

London W11 2NN. 1.00pm

Sunday 19 February – Pro Corda Musical Encounters (Chamber Music concert, students of the Royal

Academy of Music and Royal College of Music): Wigmore Hall, Wigmore Street, London. 7.30pm

Thursday 23 February – Piano recital: Dartford Parish Church, High Street, Dartford, Kent DA1 1DE

1.05pm. Admission is free

Saturday 26 May – Piano concert: St. Leonard’s Church, Oak Walk, Hythe, Kent CT21 5DN: 7.30pm

Sunday 27 May – Piano concert: Astor Theatre, Stanhope Road, Deal, Kent CT14 6AB: 7.30pm

Thursday 19 July – Piano recital  To be confirmed: All Saint’s Church, Mill Street, Maidstone, Kent.

1.05pm. Admission is free

Saturday 21 July – Piano recital: St. Alfege Church, 16 St.Alfege Passage, Greenwich, London.

1.10pm. Admission is free


While we don’t like to let news of our affairs to intrude too much into the contents of the SMS Newsletter, it so happens that February and March are both pretty  complicated for us, with close conflicts between SMS and McCabe engagements. Just prior to the CCCC concert we will be recording four chamber orchestral works on two very crowded days at Henry Wood Hall in London. Coincidentally the conductor will be George Vass, and one of the soloists will be Harriet Mackenzie, who you will probably recall as the leader of that remarkable group KOSMOS, with whom we opened this season. We keep our fingers crossed! Recording is always done under such pressure of time, and the list of problems John and I have encountered on sessions makes almost unbelievable reading, from  houses being demolished with ball and chain, to brewery orders picked up on the mikes – during the best take, of course!  It’s sometimes good for a laugh afterwards, of course, at night, with company, and a glass in our hands!

A CD we made two days before Christmas last year (remember the snow?), also in Henry Wood Hall, has just come out. It is of piano music by John, for piano duet, and two pianos, plus two large-scale solo piano works. The pianists are Joseph Tong and Waka Hasegawa, who you may recall did a wonderful concert for the SMS in October 2006, including the piano duet version of Debussy’s La Mer.

Our final concert (March 16th: The Bach Project) runs into even closer conflict with a McCabe engagement, as we will have to rush away immediately after it to drive at least part-way – details not yet worked out – to Pembridge, on the Hereford/Wales border. There is the first performance of a new work for baritone and string quartet the next day, and John needs to be there in time for rehearsals. Pembridge is a picture postcard village, with an amazing church, and this work was written to commemorate the late Simon Boosey (of Boosey and Hawkes, the music publishers). We often stayed with Simon and his wife Jo, while involved with the Presteigne Festival, of which George Vass is the Artistic Director – so, many wheels with wheels….

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