Core Program Freshman Uncovers Musical Past of NYU London

Louisa Bahet, a Core Program freshman studying at NYU London, has dedicated many hours of her time abroad to investigating a previously unexplored history of the site where NYU students now live and learn: It was formerly the headquarters of the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club (OCMC). Bahet, a violinist of 11 years who studied at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, uncovered the details of this period through independent research in some of the U.K.'s richest historical archives. To honor this past, she also organized a joint NYU London-OCMC chamber concert, reception, and exhibition on May 22. Five musicians from NYU London, including Bahet herself, joined OCMC musicians to play an international program for an enthusiastic audience of OCMC members and NYU London faculty, staff, and students. The music spanned works by Bach to a New York-themed cabaret song. Bahet tells us more about what led to this festive evening of music and celebration.   

How did you cLouisaBahet.jpgome upon the link between NYU London and OCMC?

Just over a year ago, I made the decision to matriculate to NYU London, located at 6 Bedford Square.  Motivated to become musically involved in the city, I was fortunate in my research to discover the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club, a prestigious classical society that began as a gentleman’s club in 1899. Its first president was Joseph Joachim, one of the 19th century’s most esteemed violinists, and its membership has included the likes of Sir Edward Elgar, Lytton Strachey, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and many others. I experienced a great shock when I found that, in 1914, the club had begun its residence at 6 Bedford Square.  Of all the buildings in London, the OCMC had made 6 Bedford Square its home, and so I settled to make it mine.

How did you pursue further research into this history?

The idea for a joint concert occurred to me soon after my discovery last Spring.  This year I proposed to the NYU London administration that we invite the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club back for a centenary celebration.  After learning that the club’s archives are held at the University of Oxford in the Bodleian Libraries’ Special Collections, I thought an accompanying exhibition would complete the event. Despite it being my first year as an NYU undergraduate, I presented a successful application to the Library, and so I spent part of Spring Break in the "city of dreaming spires," mulling over thousands of pages of archives!

What took place at this site while it housed the OCMC headquarters?

From 1914 to the onset of World War II, NYU London’s Academic Centre in Bloomsbury was the lively headquarters of the OCMC. As NYU London members do today, stellar classical musicians, composers, and leading public figures signed in at the foyer entrance.  The building was home to countless musical events, and featured concert, smoking, and rehearsal rooms, six grand pianos and other instruments, a large music library, several bedrooms, and even offered refreshments throughout the day.

Where are the OCMC headquarters now?

In fact, 1940 marked the end of the OCMC’s residential period. Today, the club continues its programs in Bloomsbury and around London, performing regularly at University College London just a few blocks down from the Academic Centre.

Has your research led to any other acknowledgements of this history?

In my research at the Bodleian I located the first musical program that the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club presented at 6 Bedford Square, an event that took place on December 3, 1914. As this December will mark exactly 100 years since the first performance in the building, a reenactment of the program has been suggested to honor the centenary.

NYU London’s Academic Centre already has a further heritage stretching back to Lord Eldon’s residence in the building. His residence is commemorated with one of London’s infamous blue plaques. The possibility of applying for a second plaque is in discussion, since the OCMC brings a very rich history.

What will you miss most about London when you leave at the end of the semester?

It’s hard to say for sure what I will miss most about London, but if I had my bet, it would be the city's architecture. One never has to look for beauty here. It’s everywhere to be found, and, since the city is 2000 years old, the age and style of the buildings vary quite a bit. I like to say that walking through London is like walking through time; you turn a corner and find yourself in another era.

(Left) Drawing from the Bodleian Archives: The Music Room at 6, Bedford Square; drawn from an original watercolor.
(Above right) Bahet has conducted
independent music history research for six years, with a special emphasis on Jascha Heifetz and the Russian musical tradition.
Updated on 12/22/2014