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Abingdon & District Musical Society

Our history

From 1946 to the present day

Abingdon and District Musical Society gave its first performance on 23 May 1946, in the Corn Exchange, Abingdon. The orchestra comprised nine violins, two violas, three cellos, one double bass, two flutes and a clarinet.  In the chorus were 24 sopranos, 14 contraltos, five tenors and six basses. The programme was a mixture of choral and orchestral pieces including Stanford's The Revenge and Quilter's Non Nobis Pacem. Mary Schott conducted this first concert and stayed with ADMS until 1954.

Programme of the first concert

Under the guidance of a number of different conductors (principally Anthony Caesar, Hugo Langrish, David Pettit, Edward Olleson and Antony le Fleming) ADMS grew stronger and larger. It performed in St Helens Church and in the newly opened (1966) Amey Hall at Abingdon School. 1n 1972 Donald Burrows took up the baton with ADMS – a partnership that was to last 11 years and include two consecutive performances of Berlioz’s Grande Messe des Morts in Dorchester Abbey. (Donald used a "stage name" of Donwald in concert programmes to distinguish himself from another local celebrity with the same name.) He was followed by David Andrew who stayed until 1990.

After just a year under Mark Goddard, Mary Moore took ADMS through to its Golden Jubilee "Last Night of the Proms" Concert in 1996. Neil Farrow took over from Mary in 1997 and led us through to our Diamond Jubilee year with a magnificent performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Alexander Walker joined us as Musical Director in 2006 and we look forward to many years of music making under his baton.

A full list of conductors, guest conductors, leaders, guest leaders and well-known soloists appears here.


The musical fashion in the early days was for a larger number of shorter pieces – the first concert still holds the record for its twenty pieces. The most common composers initially were from the Classical, Early Romantic and Modern periods, and it was not until the 1960s that Late Romantic composers began to be programmed routinely. Tchaikovsky was not performed until 1962, 1966 for Rachmaninov, with Gershwin not until 1992. Concerts in the early days period were more often than not on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but perhaps with the rise in numbers of other orchestras and choirs competing for rehearsal nights, the norm lately has been for Saturday concerts.

Roughly coinciding with the arrival in 1960 of conductor Hugo Langrish, who was also an orchestral horn player, ADMS's concert format began to take on the style we are accustomed to these days – orchestral overtures, concertos, symphonies and larger works for choir and orchestra.

These days, repertoire suggestions are sought from members annually, with a programme committee meeting to identify the most popular works and form practical programmes likely to appeal to audiences.

Concert record

Previous ADMS Secretaries have kept and passed down a record of all the society's concert programs from 1946 to 1976 (including most if not all of the Christmas charity concerts). This has been compiled by choir members Mark Peters, Gordon Skidmore and Phil Stopford, and recently updated from his own collection of concert programmes from 1981 by orchestra horn player Geoffrey Bushell. Two versions are available here:

Concert record sorted by date

Concert record sorted by composer

As ADMS nears its 300th concert, an analysis of the concert record reveals how many times works by the top ten most often-feature composers have been performed:

56 Mozart

49 Brahms

41 Handel

40 Beethoven

39 Vaughan Williams

37 Elgar

37 Bach, JS

35 Haydn

32 Dvorak

26 Schubert

The most frequently performed pieces have been:

12 Handel - Messiah

9 Haydn - The Creation

7 Brahms - German Requiem

7 Faure - Requiem

7 Mendelssohn - Elijah

7 Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on Christmas Carols

6 Parry - Blest Pair of Sirens

6 Haydn - The Seasons

5 Bach - St John Passion

5 Dvorak - Symphony no 9 "From the New World"

5 Elgar - The Music Makers

5 Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius

5 Mozart - Requiem Mass

5 Schubert - Rosamunde Music

5 Verdi - Requiem

And a popular piece that got away? In over 70 years, ADMS has never performed Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony!