It was Tyne Consort’s great pleasure to give a recital at the Lit and Phil, or the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle in full, last autumn. It is a well-named place, resonating with a stylish antiquity which cannot fail to appeal to classical musicians who spend their time cherishing those things – musical works, buildings, civic institutions – which have survived their hazardous exodus from history. It is very clearly a product of the Enlightenment, in thought if not in strict chronology; it puts one in mind of coffee houses and the kind of unregulated spelling which prevailed before Dr. Johnson intervened. At the same time it is hard to avoid the thought that one of the Enlightenment’s principal bê tes noires, Edmund Burke, that great believer in tradition as the repository of the wisdom of the ages, would have felt as much at home there as Thomas Paine or, for that matter, Mozart.
Yet this fine library in the heart of Newcastle, housed in the characteristically classical architecture of the city, is a useful and practical participant in modernity rather than a mere source of nostalgia. It is, oddly enough full of books; a statement of the obvious perhaps, but when compared to its modern city library counterpart it becomes a statement of some significance. The Lit and Phil is what might be called a proper library, unencumbered by the modern distractions of technology and commerce which, fine though they are, are best appreciated in moderation, and a library seems like the ideal place to escape them, to lose oneself for a short while in learning and possibility. Furthermore, it is a library full of what might be described as proper books, with hard backs, lots of words and that slightly intimidating dusty austerity that most great things possess. However there is more to it than books; musicians can find in there an impressive catalogue of printed and recorded music. And then, right in the heart of the building, resides a recital room. At first glance it promises nothing remarkable, containing only a grand piano and a few equally grand paintings. But it is the perfect place for a string quartet recital, featuring a surprisingly sympathetic acoustic and just the right amount of space for an audience whose attentiveness more than compensates for its modest numbers. Needless to say we are looking forward to returning for another concert later this year.
The Lit and Phil is an independent institution which of course relies overwhelmingly on private patronage to survive. We hope to make some small contribution to its continuation when we next perform there. In the meantime we prevail upon no-one to make donations they cannot afford, but it goes without saying that this august place is a worthy recipient of anything you can give, and that your generosity would not be unappreciated. So if you want to prove that wise men are as easily parted from their money as fools, we invite you to follow the link below.