Scribe’s final flourish

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All things come to an end and circumstances dictate that these are my last words for the Sheffield Telegraph as its classical music writer since it was re-launched as a weekly paper in autumn 1989.

Those of a certain age may recall it has not been my only stretch in this capacity. Prior to it closing in March 1986, I wrote for the daily Sheffield Morning Telegraph from around the mid-1970s. I am not, however, calling it a day – see below.

It was suggested that this valedictory piece should single out memorable highlights. There have been many but one has always stuck out, the second time I spoke, by telephone, to violin legend Yehudi Menuhin in his hotel room in Manchester when a sound began to worry him soon after we began chatting.

I suggested it sounded like a fire alarm. A short silence, and he asked in his polite way if I would mind ringing him back. When I did he was in a different, less-wet room. It transpired he had caused the alarm to go off by leaving the hot water tap on his bath running.

It seems more pertinent, however, to reflect on classical music in Sheffield over this time. In a nutshell, it has exploded. A fairly active scene 30-40 years ago, it has since evolved into probably the most active, vibrant one outside of London.

Showered with awards, Music in Round, which began life as festival fortnight of Beethoven in 1984 anchored by Peter Cropper and the Lindsay Quartet with no thought of making money, is now the biggest promoter of chamber music outside the capital.

It attracts world-class musicians, like those lured to the annual Bradfield Festival and engaged for the Sheffield University Concert Season, which started shedding its in-house only image some 20 years ago.

Now promoting more concerts in the city than any other organisation, the university’s Department of Music is also co-ordinating the biggest centenary celebration of Benjamin Britten outside of Aldeburgh.

On a City Hall stage that has undergone four facelifts in 40 years, the Sheffield International Concert Season – Sheffield Philharmonic Concerts as was – is in a purple patch of consistency, though more adventurous programming from the Hallé would be welcome, after some dodgy years in the 1990s.

Choral societies vying for audiences have doubled over 40 years but there is one genre of vocal music still sadly lacking in Sheffield: opera. All the more reason to be surprised that people like Deborah Norman and Elizabeth Watts cut there singing teeth here and have hit the big time, especially Liz.

They may not be one-offs. Two other sopranos are in the wings, Andrea Tweedale and Chloe Saywell, not to mention a pair of highly talented young baritones, John Savournin and Matthew Palmer.

We will follow their progress on a new website. It can be found at www.classicalsheffield.org.uk