On 28 May 1942, four people met at 1 Suir View, Newtown Road, Waterford and agreed to explore the possibilities of setting up “…some form of musical entity in order to further the interests of Chamber Music etc., to encourage local talent, and to invite well-known professionals from other centres to contribute items”. These founding figures were Elizabeth (Bessie) Downey (singing and voice production teacher), Ida O’Reilly (née Starkie, cellist), William F. Watt (businessman and tenor) and Maurice Bayly (banker and music lover). A public meeting was held in June, a committee was formed, and following six further meetings, Waterford Music Club’s first concert took place on 17 September 1942 in the Large Room in City Hall. The performers were Charles Lynch (pianist), Maura O’Connor-Tyrrell (mezzo-soprano), Beatrice Penrose (violin), Herman Gebler (viola) and Kitty O’Callaghan (accompanist).
Mr P.J. Little, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, was elected President and thus it was no coincidence that for many years extracts from the concerts were broadcast on Radio Eireann. William Watt was Chairman from 1942 to 1973, and in 1962 he was presented with the medallion of office to celebrate the twenty-first season of the Club. The medallion, designed by jeweler Horst Kneisel, features the Waterford Coat of Arms.
Concerts were held in the Large Room of City Hall until 1948, in nearby school halls in 1949, and then returning to the Large Room which had been converted into the new Municipal Theatre until 1981. Concerts were held in Newtown School until 1988 with Garter Lane Arts Theatre being used from 1988 to 1993.
The Large Room
We are blessed to be able to hold our concerts in the Georgian period Large Room on the first floor of the City Hall. It provides superb acoustics in a classically proportioned space. The building dates from 1783 and like Christ Church Cathedral nearby it was designed by local architect John Roberts (1714-1796), who also designed the Catholic Cathedral on Barronstrand Street. It was built as an Assembly Rooms, incorporating a Playhouse/Theatre, where the genteel folk of the city would gather for political meetings, conversation, and music and dancing, with the musicians in the gallery at the back of the room. In The Pickwick Papers (1837) Charles Dickens conjured up the comparable Assembly Rooms in Bath thus: “..the hum of many voices, and the sound of many feet, were perfectly bewildering. Dresses rustled, feathers waved, lights shone, and jewels sparkled”.
In 1813 the Corporation bought the lease on the building, and the Assembly Rooms became known as the City Hall and the Playhouse as the Theatre Royal. The City Hall is a large two-story building with nine bays and a central breakfront. It faces onto the Mall, which had been laid out in 1735, expanding the city outside the old town walls, parts of which survive at the rear of the building. The Large Room was refurbished in 1993, and the three Waterford Glass chandeliers were installed at that time. The Council Chamber serves as our Green Room for the performers. The entrance vestibule and stairway were upgraded when the theatre was restored in 1998 and some of the Municipal Art Collection is displayed there.
The piano in the Large Room is the third piano owned by Waterford Music. It is a Hamburg Steinway Model C. It was bought (with the welcome support of Waterford Corporation and the Arts Council) for £57,000 in 1996, which would be equivalent to over €90,000 today. It is tuned professionally before each concert and is overhauled every five years at considerable cost by Steinway’s master piano tuner, Ulrich Gerharz who has been described by The Guardian newspaper as “possibly the single most important figure in the entire piano world, at least to pianists and to concert halls”.