Concert of Thanet Music by Thanet Light Orchestra
Saturday 16 July 2022, 7 p.m., at St Luke's church, Ramsgate
This was a unique concert by a specially augmented Thanet Light Orchestra. Click on the poster below to view/download a hi-res PDF; there was also a Facebook 'event'. For those who missed it, here is a complete video record of the pieces performed.
The focus of the concert will the rediscovered Thanet Concert Overture by Alfred Wall.
Wall wrote of it, "This overture is intended to reflect something of the gay holiday spirit – together with its underlying romance – which pervades that favourite summer resort of the Cockney: the so-called Isle of Thanet".
This exuberant piece was first performed 100 years ago - although we suspect it has never been performed in Thanet, so this will be a première of sorts.
The overture was rediscovered after some long detective work. Back in the 1980s, a young Ben Jones (current leader of TLO) was presented by his father with a suitcase of music originating from a former mayor of Broadstairs. The mayor was Winifred Browne – an accomplished pianist from Birmingham who gave the first UK broadcast of Rachmaninov's 4th piano concerto, as well as numerous concerts with members of the illustrious London String Quartet.
Included in the suitcase was a piano quartet by Alfred Wall, but the piano part was fiendishly difficult so Ben waited until better pianists were around. The first attempt was with Robert Scott, a very skilled musician from the King's School Canterbury... but the notes were simply too difficult to sight-read, and he ended up ‘slapping’ the keyboard randomly to ensure that at least the *rhythm* was right. A further attempt was made some years later with concert pianist Mariko Mitsuyu, but even she declared that the piece was not playable without lots of advance practice. Listening to the play-through, Ben’s wife read the composer's dedication ("To my wife") and remarked, "What did she do to deserve that?!"
Ben then discovered some new software called Sibelius, and spent over a year typing all the notes into the PC so that at last one could hear at least a mechanical reproduction of what the piece was meant to sound like, as there were no recordings. You can hear the result yourself:
You will also be able to hear a proper performance – probably the first in 100 years – in a chamber concert in Ramsgate on 30 July 2022.
Ben kept looking out for more information on the mysterious "Alfred Wall", including building up a Wall family tree.
Gradually some titbits emerged from old musical magazines – one of which mentioned the quartet as having won a prize, as a result of which it was included for publication in the Carnegie Collection.
Wall himself turned out to have been a Londoner who later headed north to Newcastle, and spent the rest of his life there teaching and performing. The photograph below shows Alfred Wall (back row, second from right) with colleagues of the time.
In the magazines Ben also spotted a few brief references to a "Thanet" concert overture by Wall. Given the small number of pieces connected with the Isle of Thanet, it seemed ideal as something the Thanet Light Orchestra should play.
However, there were no current references online, and no sign of the sheet music, despite extensive searches.
Peter Cigleris of the UK Amateur Orchestras Facebook group then volunteered to check the Royal College of Music archives ... and it was listed! Fearing that the RCM might not grant outsiders access, let alone permission to borrow or copy the music, Ben wrote a tentative email mentioning the wish to 'rediscover' the piece, in Thanet, in its anniversary year of 2022. The RCM graciously agreed, and swiftly scanned the entire conductor's manuscript (there were no individual instrument parts).
Over several months following, Ben (helped by several volunteers inside TLO) typed in the notes, and knitted them together into a cohesive single score. As with the quartet, even the mechanical reproduction made it clear that this was a boisterous piece well worth playing. You can listen to it here (or if you see an error, download directly):
What other music should accompany it? The obvious choice was "other pieces with local connections", and first amongst these was the *Broadstairs Suite* by Bill Worland – for which TLO gave the UK première, appropriately in Broadstairs itself, in 2014. Its movements will sound very familiar for local audiences: Viking Bay & Pierremont Park, Snuff & Nonsense, Pavilion Waltz, Serene Place and Bleak House & Joss Bay. You can watch that concert below (the Broadstairs Suite is item two). (If you see an error, click through.)
There is also a more ‘clinical’ performance by Prague Philharmonic available on Spotify (if you can't see the playlist below, click through):
In addition, the concert will feature “Kentonia”, a march about Deal by Susan Spain-Dunk – another comparatively unknown composer, who lived locally. Female composers are often overlooked, so it is gratifying to find a piece by one that fits in so well.
The programme will also contain Sinfonietta by Alan Ridout – a piece full of local and personal connections, as he briefly taught Ben in Canterbury, and dedicated the piece to David Goodes (Ben’s tutor) for use in the Canterbury Orchestra (which Ben currently leads).
Finally, there will be the Kentish Suite by Hubert Clifford, with movements referring to Dover, Canterbury, the bucolic Kentish countryside, Gad's Hill, and Greenwich.
There is more information about Thanet Light Orchestra and music in Thanet - past and present - at the Thanet Music wiki. There is also a TLO Facebook page, and the Facebook group Thanet Classics is a popular place to share information on forthcoming concerts.