Midnag, the Mid-Northumberland Arts Group, used to organise classical music concerts in the Olympic Room of the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick. Following its demise the Alnwick Music Society was born in 1978 and, with the Duchess of Northumberland as its patron, concert seasons were held in the Duchess’s High School which had a Steinway piano.
The committee, with the knowledge and contacts of past Vice-Chairman Myra Armistead, arranged ambitious concerts with pianists of the calibre of John Ogdon performing for a growing number of members.
Eventually, as the High School Steinway required extensive remedial work, the Society planned its concerts in the Guest Hall of Alnwick Castle and made use of the Duchess’s Bechstein until as such time as members raised sufficient money to acquire a 1974 Steinway D Concert-Grand. The Society’s funding campaign raised £17,500 through generous gifts and loans and the piano, recommended to the Society by the pianist Richard Markham was transferred from its home at London’s Festival Hall where it had been played by Alfred Brendel amongst others, to the Castle Guest Hall.
Thus the Society was able to engage pianists of international acclaim to perform and Marc- Andre Hamelin, Nicolai Demidenko, Piers Lane, Kathryn Stott and Angela Hewitt came to Alnwick. The tenth anniversary of the Society was marked with a performance by the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra conducted by Jean-Bernard Pommier. At the same time, international quartets such as the Endellion, the Sorrell and the Belcea; the Schubert Piano Trio and soloists Tasmin Little and Michael Collins provided a balanced seasonal programme.
The Society also developed a policy of providing a concert platform for young emerging stars and so Freddy Kempf, Sarah Beth Briggs, Jennifer Pike and Ben Grosvenor have all performed in their teenage years.
Today, in its 35th season, the Society offers a programme of six concerts annually between October and May. Three piano recitals continue to take place in the Guest Hall where the Society’s Steinway, considerably increased in value, is stored and a further three instrumental concerts are staged in the tiered auditorium of the Alnwick Playhouse. The Society is supported by a loyal membership and attracts large numbers of guests and visitors to its concerts.