For reasons that will become somewhat self evident the history of Norfolk Concerts is inextricably tied into my own activities as a passionate but failed musician; my involvements in the music world since 1965; and also the boundless energy and determination of Anne Shih, now the Professor of Violin at the University of Mainz, and a major contributor to the annual Casalmaggiore Festival in Italy.
The ideas and concepts behind Norfolk Concerts began in about 1992 when I was working at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, where Anne was the young Professor of Violin having previously been a student of the legendary Josef Gingold at Indiana, and then his teaching assistant, and then a Professor at Oberlin. We created the Wisconsin Virtuosi Artist Series at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee, and attracted an audience of youngsters and people often quite unfamiliar with classical music. The musicians were mainly drawn from the young faculty at America's major music schools, together with some seasoned international performers such as Fou T'song, and we also made records of some of the emerging young stars with Naxos, and we also broadcast on PBS. Some of these artists have become quite famous, such as Juliette Kang (violin), Antigoni Goni (guitar), and Kevin Gallagher (guitar).
In 1997 Anne Shih became the Professor of Violin in Mainz, and I also then returned to the UK in 1999, but in 2000 I unfortunately had a nasty accident that caused me to take early retirement due to a subsequent serious disability that still affects my general health and my mobility. In 2002 Anne Shih challenged me to stop feeling sorry for myself and create in rural Norfolk a music series and educational programme that would build on the lessons learned in the USA, and our wealth of contacts in the music world. So in 2003 the precursor to Norfolk Concerts was born as a not for profit entity named 'Music in Norfolk'. We presented our concerts at the Assembly House in Norwich; at Binham Priory; at Houghton Hall; and at the Wigmore Hall in London.
Then in 2004 we discovered Salle Church, and its wardens - to whom we owe a great debt - based on our gratitude for them letting us be their guests, who discovered me - and above all Anne Shih - when by chance, and thus spontaneously, she was one day - when visiting Norfolk and visiting Salle for the first time at my suggestion - playing the Bach 'Chaconne' in the wonderful calm and spiritual peace that inhabits Salle. Since that moment in time, seemingly ordered by the powers above, we have all never looked back.
It has not been a journey without bumps in the road, as getting the word out in Norfolk is never easy, but today taking one step at a time we have presented successful concerts each year which audiences tell us have been marked both for their quality and above all joy, and we have also undertaken recordings, and have established a young artists programme, and we present master classes and recitals at some of Norfolk's schools, including Gresham's and Hethersett Old Hall. Agnes Langer, who began with us when just 13 years old, was lent a fine Testore violin this year due to our efforts, and is now at just 17 years old, a major international prizewinner. We have also featured on BBC Newsnight!
Norfolk Concerts has benefited from the generous support of the Columbia Foundation in the USA, and the Yellow Car Foundation in the UK, and we would hope that they feel we have used their quite invaluable contributions to a good result, and in 2010 and beyond we hope to continue to slowly grow in our ambition to be a world class Arts Trust and a charitable organisation providing a valuable service to Norfolk, but above all to Music.
I would like to close by setting out two lists of people associated with us for whom we have a special affection, and in inevitably leaving out some names I apologise, and claim refuge in the defence of old age!
The first list is of those who helped us to get to where we are today:
The Lord Cholmondeley
Salle Parish Church Council
Rodney Vaughn of Bluthner Pianos
Geeta Maude Roxby
The second list is of artists who have gone on to big things after being with us, and also of artists who have generously lent their experience, talents, and names, so as to help us build our reputation:
Elizabeth Watts, soprano
Jose Gallardo, pianist
Raphael Wallfisch, cellist
Gustav Leonhardt, harpsichord
Anne Shih, teacher, violinist and pianist
Connie Shih, pianist
Emma Kirkby, soprano
Laszlo Fenyoe, cellist
Felix Koch, cellist
Marcus Stein, harpsichord
Then above all there is Salle. A miracle was created in 1400 - 1440, and it continues to spread its wonderful joy 600 years later, and Norfolk Concerts is very proud indeed to be a small part of that history.