Music Camp


For years, decades actually, I've been hearing about Music Camp, taking place up a hill in the Chilterns, where dedicated amateur musicians camp in a field over the weekend in order to rehearse music under spartan though sociable conditions. I heard about Handel Opera performances there, do-able in such circumstances I suppose, but amazingly, also Mahler's Eighth and the Elgar-Payne Third Symphony.


However, peak eccentricity was reached with the news that Music Camp would be staging a whole weekend of my own music. It was high time to get myself to Buckinghamshire and see this place for myself. And what a visit it was. This was once the studio-workshop of sculptor Eric Gill, where some of his most prominent sculptures (eg those on the front of BBC Broadcasting House) were made. Since his death, these musical gatherings have been housed for more than six decades in many of the same buildings. (Music Camps had begun even earlier, in 1927 at another site near Hitchin. Not for the first time, I reflected that our finest amateur music institutions often predate what we think of as the UK's musical establishment: in this present case, the ROH and all but one of the major opera companies, most professional orchestras, the South Bank, Barbican, Edinburgh/Aldeburgh/Cheltenham Festivals etc etc.)


Come the playthrough, it wasn't as if these performers took an easy route through my repertoire, having chosen some really tricky stuff - my String Quartet for instance, and the wind sextet Airs from another Planet - all played with panache. Most marvellously to me, Sam Laughton led a large choral ensemble through my recent oratorio In the Land of Uz; only its third live performance anywhere yet, and as Sam pointed out, "definitely its Buckinghamshire premiere".


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JUDITH WEIR

Composer