Barnet’s Youth Music Centre prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary

Youth Music Centre

Youth Music Centre - Credit: Archant

A music service which had its beginnings in a family’s front room so pupils had a chance to play their instruments together is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Manny and Kay Hurwitz, founders of the YMC

Manny and Kay Hurwitz, founders of the YMC - Credit: Archant

The Youth Music Centre (YMC) has 200 students clamouring through its doors in Bigwood House, Hampstead Garden Suburb every Saturday morning to take part in classes, orchestras, and chamber orchestras.

String virtuosos Emanuel ‘Manny’ Hurwitz CBE and his wife Kay Hurwitz MBE first invited pupils into their home in Finchley in the 1950’s.

The space became too small and in 1967 Kay and three friends established the Saturday morning group in the grounds of Henrietta Barnett School, where it continues to flourish today.

Michael Hurwitz, Kay and Manny’s 68-year-old son was eight when he started attending the classes, first in their home, later in the centre. He said: “It was much more disorganised in some ways, much less formal, we ran summer schools in the old days. It’s much more structured now than it was, quite marvellous.”

Young musician from the Youth Music Centre which is celebrating 50 years

Young musician from the Youth Music Centre which is celebrating 50 years - Credit: Archant

Nigel Goldberg, the centre’s artistic director, was taught violin by Manny and was invited to join YMC as a teacher in 1982.

He said: “Manny and Kay gave me my first job but from what Kay told me, it started more informally much earlier at her and Manny’s house. She and some musical friends wanted to have some chamber music for their kids, they were all musicians and they wanted to introduce chamber music to kids and it grew from there. Kay was more the teacher of the young children than Manny, Manny was in an advisory capacity and conducted the orchestra.”

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Manny received his CBE in 1978 with Kay receiving hers in 2007, for services to music. In between times the YMC became a charity in 1999 as Kay wanted to put it on a more secure basis for the future, said Nigel, who became artistic director the same year.

The service is fee paying but there is a strict open door policy. Nigel said: “We have a very generous bursary scheme, no-one would ever be turned down. We don’t have competitive auditions either. We really want to give the most help for everyone to reach their potential rather than say we only want the best cherries. It’s not how we see music and that was very much Kay and Manny’s feeling and one that I have determinedly carried on. To be able to start children from literally putting a violin in their hands to see them as young teenagers playing big concertos, that’s where the joy lies, and that’s what happens here.”

Young musician from the Youth Music Centre which is celebrating 50 years

Young musician from the Youth Music Centre which is celebrating 50 years - Credit: Archant

Young musicians have been involved with Benjamin Britten’s opera productions in Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast. They’ve worked with British composer Peter Maxwell Davis in the Shetlands, performed in the St Jude’s Proms, given concerts in the Purcell Room at the South Bank Arts Centre, the East Finchley Arts Festival, and in 2003 were asked to perform in ‘Youth Makes Music’ at the Royal Albert Hall. For the last five years they have been playing in St Martin’s in the Field where they will be next Tuesday lunchtime playing a Valentine’s Day performance.

The children have also been consecutive first-prize winners in the North London Music Festival since 1995.

Parents, many of whom are former YMC pupils, have set up a parents orchestra in recent years.

A special 50th anniversary concert is taking place on June 18, at St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Totally free, bring a blanket and a picnic.

Nigel said: “Kay would be thrilled to bits. She died two years ago aged 94. She was coming into YMC on a Saturday morning up to the age of 92. Every Saturday morning she would be there helping with the smallest children, she just loved it. She was one of those great examples, life affirming, there was nothing to stop her. If she didn’t have something in her diary it would be an unusual thing, a very remarkable woman.”