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Concert in memory of Sir Charles Wilson proves to be an uplifting experience 

This wonderful opportunity for the University to remember the work of its first Vice-Chancellor, Sir Charles Wilson, who died in November last year at the age of ninety-two, was also the occasion at which to engage two young musicians, the baritone Damian Thantrey and pianist Peter Hewitt, to perform one of the greatest settings of poems to music – Schubert’s song-cycle Winterreise. Amazingly, there is no record of the work having been featured in any University concert, at least over the past fifty years.

Described by Professor Aubrey Newman in his obituary of Sir Charles as “the last of its founding fathers”, the University, in its present flourishing state, has much to thank him for - as the present Vice-Chancellor, Professor Burgess, reminded the capacity audience in the Richard Attenborough Centre in his welcome speech. Sir Charles was responsible for setting up a superbly organised institution in a period of remarkable expansion during the 1950s and appointing heads of departments of outstanding ability and influence.

Charles Wilson was also keen to promote up-and-coming artists, so it was particularly appropriate that one of the masterpieces of a thirty-year-old composer should be interpreted by artists of roughly the same age. Winterreise had been meticulously prepared, the twenty-four heart-rending songs being sung from memory. It was, indeed, Damian and Peter’s first performance of the work, and the singing and playing had the intensity that one experiences only on hearing or seeing something breathtaking for the first time. Their stage presence, too, in the “intimate setting of an expanded drawing room” (as one colleague put it), made it, at times, an almost unbearable experience.

Jane Mayers, Charles Wilson’s daughter, who acted as the family adviser and who assured us that Schubert was a particularly favourite composer of her father’s, was quick to respond: “I found the whole event quite amazing – that such an honour was done in the memory of my father both through the music itself and through the beautiful programme.”

I can only add that in nearly twenty years at the University, there have rarely been evenings that matched this one.

Anthony Pither

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Last updated: 30 September 2003 14:37
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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