Chamber concerts given by leading musicians have a long history in Dorchester. It seems that a regular series began soon after the Second World War with artists of the calibre of Victoria de los Angeles, Clifford Curzon and the Amadeus Quartet visiting the town. The venue for what must have been memorable concerts was the Plaza Cinema in its original, single auditorium state. Those of us with long memories will remember it as a most unprepossessing place with little to recommend it either visually or aurally; visiting artists’ spirits must have sunk when they arrived for rehearsal. For this and what seem to have been financial reasons these concerts were discontinued in the late 1960s.
But a taste for chamber music was still in evidence and it was not many years later that a new series was inaugurated with Roger Peers (then curator of the County Museum) as a prime mover. It will of course have been on his instigation that the venue was changed to the Museum’s Victorian Hall which, unlike its drab predecessor, proved to be extremely well-suited to chamber concerts, small enough to create a pleasing intimacy but large enough to enliven the sound. In the early days there was little to be met with in the way of other concerts in the town (apart from those given by local choirs) and so the Dorset County Museum Music Society had the field largely to itself. Artists of the highest calibre continued to be engaged though there was more emphasis on promising youngsters rather than established stars. But musical demography is constantly evolving and the musical life of the town became richer and more varied at the same time as many people sought entertainment at home via television and radio rather than venturing out. Nevertheless the society was able to maintain its presence attracting a core membership of regular subscribers as well as an increasing number of casual visitors.
The proposed rebuilding of the museum was greeted by the Society with somewhat mixed feelings, the main worry being that the architects might seek to ‘improve‘ the Victorian Hall. As it was, while the rebuilding took place we had to move to other venues in the town, none of which came anywhere near matching what we were accustomed to. And then came Covid… All in all live music, along with all other aspects of life, suffered greatly at the turn of the new decade. But imagine our delight when the museum reopened with the Victorian Hall structurally untouched though with physical facilities improved. And so the concerts restarted, maintaining the same intention but operating under a slightly different name and with the advantages of IT systems to help with publicity and ticket sales. The concert-goers of seventy years ago, sinking into their squashy tip-up seats amid the lingering odour of the previous night’s cigarettes would surely hardly recognise the environment of today’s concerts. But it is only the externals that have changed; the intention of bringing to the town chamber concerts of the highest calibre has remained exactly the same.