Fancy a cosy, relaxing Sunday afternoon concert in convivial company, in one of Abingdon’s loveliest churches?
Look no further than the Abbey Chamber Concerts series, which has now been running at St Nicolas Church, in Abingdon’s market square, since 2001. Nearly twenty years on, the hour-long concerts, which take place once a month, are still hugely popular, not least because they feature local musicians playing carefully-selected repertoire.
“The concerts have been going ahead in leaps and bounds over the last year or so,” says Simon Payne, who took over running the series from founder David Pedder in 2010.
“We recently had a change of policy and decided that what we really wanted to do was choose wonderful works that people would want to come and listen to, and then we found wonderful local players to come and play them – as opposed to saying ‘Would you like to come and play, and I don’t mind what you play’.
“The really popular ones are always cello concerts and lieder concerts. And St Nicolas Church is such a lovely, perfectly-sized venue.”
The popularity of cello concerts is good news, because the next concert, on November 3, features local cellist Jacqui Johnson and local pianist Anita D’Attellis.
The pair will play Saint-Saëns’ Sonata for cello and piano No.1 in C minor and Debussy’s Sonata for cello and piano in D minor.
The final concert of the year is normally reserved for the Pavlova Wind Quintet, which Simon – a bassoonist – founded in 1999 with oboist Carolyn King and flautist Chris Britton. This year, though, in a break with tradition, the concert will feature a 15-piece wind ensemble conducted by Robin O’Neill, principal bassoonist with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
In another break with tradition, the concert will take place at St Helen’s Church in Abingdon.
Simon explains: “Robin arranges music for the Philharmonia Wind Ensemble, which is fifteen winds. During the last year, he’s been bringing some of his arrangements to Oxford, and we’ve been playing them as Pavlova Winds plus friends, so I thought it would be nice for a change to make that our Christmas concert.”
The programme, still to be finalized, will include Bartok’s Magyar Suite No.1 and Debussy Preludes.
One of the attractions of the Abbey Chamber concerts is the chance to meet the musicians.
“Free tea and coffee are provided at the end of each concert, and a good number of the audience stick around to have a chat with the players, which is rather nice,” Simon says.
The programme for 2020 is already well underway, with The Radcliffe Trio, OxyBaroxy (Oxfordshire Youth Baroque Strings) and the Pavlova Quintet, among others, making return appearances.
Meanwhile, Simon is optimistic about the future of this well-established series.
“It’s changed dramatically in the way we select the music,” he says. “If you choose the right pieces, the audience know them and love them, and they’ll come and listen to the music. Ideally, they won’t notice who’s playing it. You only notice a performer when something goes wrong. So the idea is that it could be anyone up there – that’s what we strive for, anyway. And the audience has grown over the years, which is nice.”
The next Abbey Chamber concert is on November 3 at 3pm, St Nicolas Church, Abingdon. Tickets available on the door or at https://abbeychamberconcerts.org