St Martin-in-the-Fields continues to invigorate London’s classical music scene with outstanding concerts this autumn, strengthening its place as one of the capital’s leading venues for choral and baroque music, as well as for fresh programming which makes the most of the historic church’s warm acoustic and stunning spaces.
CONCERTS OF CONSCIENCE REFLECTING ST MARTIN’S WIDER WORK
St Martin’s is famous for its important and progressive work with homeless and vulnerable people, providing a place of opportunity, sanctuary and support for everyone, no matter who. The church’s concerts, commercial and cultural activities are all an important way for St Martin’s to reflect its values and ethos. In addition, they all help, through the income they generate, to support the important work of the church.
It is fitting then that one of the notable events announced today [21 Jun] is a powerful concert of choral and instrumental music on the timely and enduring themes of refuge and displaced peoples. Award-winning vocal collective SANSARA joins forces with the United Strings of Europe and Syrian oud player Basel Saleh for Music of Solidarity and Sanctuary. The programme features music by renowned Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir and a European premiere by Pulitzer prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. Her striking six-movement cantata To the Hands, a response to Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri, reflects on the ‘suffering of those around the world seeking refuge, and of our role and responsibility in these global crises’, says the composer. The concert is completed with the world premiere of The Journey by Lebanese composer Houtaf Khoury, commissioned by the United Strings of Europe [25 Nov].
Also pertinent to the wider work of the church is a concert with baritone Benjamin Appl, in the first of three appearances by him in the 2022-23 season, a residency in which Appl imaginatively explores themes that are dear to his heart. The opening concert is a poignant musical journey of reconciliation and healing through the extraordinary life of Holocaust survivor and refugee Éva Fahidi, whose happy childhood and dreams of studying music were ended by deportation from Hungary and the horrors of Auschwitz. It’s a 20th-century story of the loss of family and identity; of memory and silence; of survival, and the rediscovery of hope. Èva herself speaks alongside music that was important in her life. The evening includes music by (amongst others) Schubert, Bach, Eisler, Krása, Schumann and Mahler [6 Oct].
Maya Youssef – ‘Queen of the Qanun’ and Songlines Best Newcomer Award in 2018 – explores themes of Finding Home as part of the HP Futures series (a collaboration between St Martin’s and arts agency HarrisonParrott which reflects the shared desire of both organisations to introduce audiences to some of the freshest and most exciting international talent). She performs music from her album of that name alongside her 10-piece ensemble. The qanun (a 78-stringed plucked instrument from the Middle East) is at the heart of Maya’s evocative sound world, which is infused with a sense of loss for her Syrian homeland and inspired by a more universal sense of home. Her intense and emotional music explores the healing qualities of music, building bridges between the Arabic classical tradition, jazz, Western classical and Latin styles [1 Nov].
St Martin’s Voices, the Church’s own professional vocal ensemble, begins a new series of six hour-long concerts with programmes exploring universal themes of philosophy and discovery, each with a distinguished guest speaker. Songs of Justice features musical responses to injustice by James MacMillan, Philip Moore, Cecilia McDowall, Ērik Ešenvalds, Jessica Curry and Rhiannon Randle with human rights lawyer Philippe Sands the guest speaker [3 Nov].
EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS FOR THE CRYPT
The Crypt at St Martin’s has long been considered a jewel in London’s café culture and is a much-loved destination for late-night music events. With its stunning vaulted ceilings of exposed brick, and historic tombstones lining the floor it makes an extraordinary setting for intimate and powerful music making.
An evocative event for Halloween, Death Speaks, features haunting and beautiful songs of death – appropriate for the historic tombstone-clad space – with mezzo soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and young artists from City Music Foundation. The programme includes Dido’s famous Lament by Purcell, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Dowland’s In Darkness Let me Dwell. A particular highlight is the UK premiere of David Lang’s Depart, originally conceived as an installation for the morgue in the Raymond Poincaré Hospital in Garches, France, and performed live by St Martin’s Voices. Lang’s poignant song cycle Death Speaks gives the event its title [31 Oct].
400 years after the death of William Byrd, his Mass for five voices is theatrically staged as it was meant to be heard: by secret worshippers under threat of persecution in Tudor England. For these world premiere performances of Secret Byrd – an event co-commissioned by St Martin-in-the-Fields – Fretwork and The Gesualdo Six create a candlelit community with the audience, breaking bread and celebrating Byrd’s ravishing masterpiece. Conceived by Bill Barclay and Concert Theatre Works, Secret Byrd will later tour to some of England’s most historic recusant houses, known strongholds of Roman Catholic families in Protestant England [27 & 28 Jan 2023].
CHORAL MUSIC IN STUNNING SETTING
Playing to the strengths of St Martin’s warm and spacious acoustic, choral music forms the backbone of the season.
The Sixteen and Harry Christophers begin St Martin’s autumn season with a performance from their Choral Pilgrimage 2022: An Old Belief, a powerful programme of English choral music centered on Hubert Parry’s emotional Songs of Farewell [6 Sep]. The Sixteen returns with Handel’s Messiah as part of Christmas at St Martin’s [6 Dec].
At the heart of Christmas at St Martin’s is John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir, who return to their new London home for a performance of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio across two concerts [13 & 15 Dec].
Also for Christmas at St Martin’s St Martin’s Voices give an hour-long choral reflection on the Christmas story from the perspective of Mary. The programme includes the world premiere of Mary, Mother, a new carol sequence by Bob Chilcott with poetry by Georgia Way as well as music by Bruckner, Britten and Rutter [18 Dec]. St Martin’s Voices is joined by Academy of St Martin in the Fields for Christmas at the Academy, including Finzi In terra pax and Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols [22 Dec]. Also featuring in the seasonal programme are Gospel concerts with the London Adventist Chorale [2 Dec] and Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir [19 Dec].
Tenebrae, the award-winning choir conducted by Nigel Short, returns for two major concerts. The first features the powerful and evocative work by Joby Talbot, Path of Miracles (2005), the first major work commissioned by Tenebrae [20 Oct]. The acclaimed ensemble returns to give Rachmaninov’s Vespers in a special candlelit concert, bringing its enormous precision and skill to a work regarded as among the most challenging to perform in the a capella repertory [20 Jan].
Virtuoso choirs Polyphony, The Gesualdo Six and Rodolfus Choir bring eight centuries of exquisitely beautiful Polish sacred music to life with the second edition of Joy & Devotion. The UK’s annual Festival of Polish Sacred Music, presented by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, follows its acclaimed launch last year with a programme of three concerts including the world premiere of a new setting of the Latin Mass by Marek Raczyński, a rising star of Poland’s choral music scene, and 20 UK premieres, among them two motets to Mary, Mother of God, by the late Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, known to millions worldwide for his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, and Festival Artistic Director Paweł Łukaszewski’s glorious Missa Sancti Papӕ Ioannis Pauli Secundi Magni, a centenary tribute to Saint John Paul II [8-11 Nov].
BBC Singers with Conductor Lionel Sow also return for a performance of the much-loved Duruflé Requiem [4 Nov], while Academy of St Martin in the Fields join St Martin’s Voices for Mozart’s Requiem [19 Nov].
Andrew Earis and St Martin’s Voices also being their new series of hour-long concerts on universal themes of philosophy and discovery with Serenade to Music, for which they’re joined by London Mozart Players. Exploring the ethereal harmony of the music of the spheres by composers including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Ola Gjeilo and Caroline Shaw, the concert is introduced by a short video reflection from art historian Neil MacGregor [13 Oct].
THE BEST BAROQUE AND CLASSICAL MUSIC
La Serenissima celebrates the music of the fascinating English violinist and composer Nicola Matteis the Younger, whose Italian father was a close friend of Henry Purcell but who spent most of his career in Vienna. As well as some of Matteis’ own vibrant ballet music and virtuoso music for violin, the concert includes orchestral music by Purcell, Conti, Telemann, Brescianello and Vivaldi, all of whom were personally known to and probably influenced by Matteis [29 Sep].
In an HP Futures concert, The Teyber Trio – comprising three exceptional young soloists Tim Crawford (violin), Timothy Ridout (viola) and Tim Posner (cello) – perform Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the arrangement by Dmitri Sikovetsky [17 Nov].
In another coming together of outstanding talent in the continuing HP Futures series, tenor James Way leads The Assembled Company – an ensemble uniting top-level period and modern instrument performers and formed by Way with a vision of revitalising repertoire. Handel’s delightful Nine German Arias feature soprano Rowan Pierce alongside a virtuoso solo violin part played by Rachel Podger. They’re joined by James Way for Italian cantatas by Handel featuring familiar music in a less familiar guise: his Messiah cantatas, containing recognisable versions of favourite music from the great oratorio.
John Eliot Gardiner and English Baroque Soloists are joined by leading soloists Isabelle Faust (violin) and Antoine Tamestit (viola) to present some of the best-known works by Haydn and Mozart. The programme includes Haydn’s Symphony No. 84, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and famous ‘Linz Symphony’, No. 36 [13 Jan 2023].
FORWARD-LOOKING, FRESH AND BOLD
St Martin’s aims to present a season not just of impeccable quality, but also one which offers audiences bold and imaginative programming of great range and depth.
Innovative programmes such as those by Benjamin Appl/Éva Fahidi and SANSARA are part of this.
Contemporary music – including UK and world premieres by Caroline Shaw, Houtaf Khoury, David Lang and Marek Raczyński, and music by Hildur Guðnadóttir, Joby Talbot – is also vital.
London Mozart Players build on this, putting Judith Bingham’s new Clarinet Concerto, commissioned by the ensemble and performed here by Jonathan Leibovitz, at the heart of their first concert this season. The concert also features music by Judith Weir, Holst and Elgar [16 Sep]. The ensemble return later for an evening of Piazzolla with accordion player Samuele Telari, centred on Four Seasons of Buenos Aires [21 Oct].
St Martin’s is also broadening its range of performances by presenting music that reaches beyond the Western classical tradition.
These include the concerts with SANSARA and Maya Youssef. Also bringing together different traditions is French-Sri-Lankan pianist Shani Diluka, who is joined by musicians from the great Hindustani Agra Gharana tradition to fuse Beethoven’s greatest piano sonatas with ragas for the first time in London [18 Oct]. The lunchtime concert series (to be announced in due course) continues to feature a monthly Indian Classical Music Wellbeing concert, programmed in association with Darbar Arts Culture and Heritage Trust.
St Martin’s partnership with arts agency HarrisonParrott for HP Futures reflects the shared desire of both organisations to introduce audiences to some of the freshest and most exciting talent from around the world. As well as the concerts with the outstanding Teyber Trio and Maya Youssef, HP Futures also brings the London recital debut of Queen Elizabeth Prize-winning cellist Victor Julien-Laferrière and pianist Marie-Ange Nguci with sonatas by Fauré, Britten and Franck [15 Nov].
Chris Denton, Chief Executive of St Martin-in-the-Fields, said:
“With our excellent acoustic, famous architecture and central location, St Martin-in-the-Fields seeks to build upon its emerging reputation as a vibrant cultural hub in the heart of London and one of London’s key destinations for outstanding classical music and arts. We are proud, therefore, to present an extraordinary season of prestigious ensembles, imaginative programming and concerts featuring some of the world’s freshest and boldest young artists, and we look forward to welcoming both regular audiences and those discovering St Martin’s for the first time, to enjoy it.”