Newbury String Players
Newbury String Players were formed in the dark war winter of 1940 by Gerald Finzi at a concert given in Enborne Church, when live music had been shut down. There was an urgency felt by those who played and those who listened, for the need of music in time of deprivation. Supported by a yearly grant from the Arts Council and a small allocation of petrol they became a mobile body, taking music wherever it was wanted throughout the south of England in churches, halls and schools. When Gerald Finzi was himself called up to the Ministry of War Transport in London he returned at weekends for the Saturday rehearsal or concert. His search for new music for this mainly amateur band, staunchly supported by professionals, led him to discover and edit many of the composers of the 18th century including his volume on Boyce for the Musica Brittanica. His well-shaped programmes always contained that which was new, in any century including contemporary, with what was familiar - and a continuous support for English music.
He was convinced of the importance of this work and since his death in 1956 Christopher, his elder son, a freelance professional cellist at the time, took on the conducting of the Strings and their weekly rehearsals throughout the year. Newbury String Players have given 400 concerts over the past 40 years.
Memories of Two Newbury String Players
Memories of being part of the N.S.P. come flooding back over the years.... making music in the warm friendly atmosphere which seemed to surround us all at concerts and rehearsals.
On the first occasion when I took my place amongst the row of cellists who sat at the back of the orchestra Gerald Finzi was conducting and Kiffer (Christopher) was playing WITH us. I soon forgot my nervousness - so absorbing was the music. Later memories come of rehearsals with Kiffer, now taking the baton, Nigel playing in the violin section and Joy (as usual) quietly organising everything.
So many fellow members come to mind with pleasure and gratitude:
- Barbara Ward arriving on her bicycle clutching her cello - a great feat of balancing! She was always ready to help and give advice about the best fingering to use in difficult passages, and was assiduous in her practice whereas I fear I took a more leisurely approach!
- Mary Young who played the double bass was always cheerful and ready for a laugh. We were rehearsing in a very cold church, one afternoon, and on turning round to speak to Mary I noticed that she had put her cold feet into her sheepskin gloves and had them perched on the instrument! Needless to say our row of ‘cellists had a hard job to keep their expressions suitably serious for the next few bars.
- Anna Shuttleworth joined us with her exhilaration and vitality. She just radiated a zest for LIFE.
- Jacqueline du Pré, just at the beginning of her career, came one day and played with us in the ‘cello section. Then we heard that Kiffer had married her sister, Hilary, and she came to rehearse a flute concerto by Quantz and played with us many times after that.
- Most inspiring of all was Wilfred Brown’s superb performance of Dies natalis. These will live long in my memory as occasions of rare beauty.
Ronald Finch (Gerald Finzi’s copyist) suggested that I might be interested in playing with Newbury String Players and he introduced me to Gerald Finzi. What a warm welcome awaited me, in time of war - and new to the South. I was deeply touched by such kindness. Joy Finzi, the mainstay of the strings, added to the pattern of life which was to form a successful career in music for me (such was the insight of Gerald Finzi who first suggested it). What an enterprising plane this orchestra worked on, giving such splendid performances in those beautiful churches - so rich in their history.
- Ashmansworth Church - so small and lit by candies - what reverence, followed by a gathering in the nearby home of Gerald and Joy - where with inspiration and detailed planning the concerts were created.
- Stockcross Church. Easter and daffodils blooming outside. Mozart’s Concertante with a viola solo by Jean Stewart, (how it enriched my own viola playing).
- The Bucklebury Barn. Midsummer and a performance of Dies natalis with tenor Wilfred Brown. What great sensibility and pure simplicity in this music, with words by Thomas Traherne.
- Enborne Church. Christmas Eve. The Brockhurst boy’s choir arrayed in red surplices. A performance of Kenneth Leighton’s Symphony for Strings and Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. Afterwards a great feast in the home of Mrs Neate (viola). I remember red curtains and candles, silver and generosity. The stars had an extra brilliance that night. Countryside surrounded all the places of performance. A perfect setting in which to absorb the beauty and richness of such music. Surely the orchestra played a vital role in those war days. Students added to its vitality and brilliance. Characters too- including May Hope’s valuable leadership and later Jack Kirby from Oxford.
- My time with the players ended in 1955, almost with the untimely death of Gerald Finzi, but not before Christopher was established in the continuation of his father’s great work. And still the music lives on.