Latest News and Reviews
News: Joanna David joins Lucy Parham for I, Clara
We are sorry to learn that Juliet Stevenson is indisposed and unable to perform on 23rd June.
However, we are delighted to announce that JOANNA DAVID will perform with Lucy Parham instead, and much look forward to welcoming them both to Summer Music in City Churches.
News: Festival featured in BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone
Summer Music in City Churches is delighted to have been featured in both BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone. The article in Gramophone’s UK Festival Guide draws specific attention to the festival’s concert on 19th June, where tenor Daniel Norman will perform Vaughan William’s On Wenlock Edge alongside Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood’s award-winning shadow-play animation. BBC Music Magazine focuses on ‘Pianists in the City’, highlighting Mark Bebbington’s performances (both with the London Mozart Players on 17th June and his Lunchtime programme of Poulenc Chamber music for winds and piano on 24th June), as well as Lucy Parham’s I, Clara, a musical portrait of Clara Schumann performed with actress Juliet Stevenson on 23rd June.
News: Endorsement from the Lord Mayor
From The Rt Hon. The Lord Mayor, Alderman William Russell: "I am delighted that Summer Music in City Churches will re-open this year, carrying with it the optimistic message of Sunshine After Rain. Following a long musical drought in all our lives, and after such a very tough year for musicians, it will be marvellous to have concerts happening again in the City. And where better than the Square Mile's own historic churches? I wish Summer Music in City Churches a successful third festival and hope that many of the City's residents, workers and visitors will, like me, seek out some of these glorious concerts for a spirit-raising, life-enhancing experience."
2019 News: Words and Music
Review: "London Mozart Players, Davan Wetton, St Giles Cripplegate - rousing Shakespearean revel"
We are delighted to close this year's festival with an excellent review from Bernard Hughes for The Arts Desk:
"The festival Summer Music in City Churches is in only its second year, filling a gap left by the demise of the long-running City of London Festival. This year’s festival had the theme of Words and Music and offered an enticing programme of recitals, talks and walks, focusing on English music through the ages, and finding enterprising ways of combining solo performers with resident ensembles the London Mozart Players and the City of London Choir. The closing concert showcased works inspired by Shakespeare plays, presenting them alongside Shakespeare’s words, spoken by actor Tama Matheson.
The orchestra were on fine form in the opener, William Walton’s suite from Henry V, described by (the not disinterested) Laurence Olivier as “the most wonderful score I’ve ever heard for a film”. Matheson, dressed in tweed jacket and a union jack t-shirt, declaimed the St Crispin’s Day speech from the pulpit, leading into the fabulous overture, trumpets blazing. The slower central movements featured the strings, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton taking “Touch her soft lips and part” at a no-nonsense tempo, avoiding any threat of sentimentality, but allowing the triple-time pulse to breathe. The “Agincourt Song” gave the choir its opportunity: first the men, then everyone intoning Walton’s stirring patriotic hymn. It sounded wonderful – literally spine-tingling – in the big church acoustic.
Gerald Finzi’s music for Love’s Labours Lost is exquisite but rarely performed. The overture has a terrific tune, Elgarian in both tone and calibre. Leader Ruth Rogers here played the first of several excellent solos through the evening. “Soliloquy I” had enough moments of astringency to avert cosiness, and the rhythmically intricate “Finale” offered lively playing from the woodwind.
Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, heard in its version for choir and four soloists, was touching, the choir providing a bed of sound over which the solos could float. Soprano Rebecca Bottone was excellent in the high register, and tenor Aaron Godfrey-Hayes shone in his brief moment. But perhaps the pick was mezzo Maya Colwell (pictured left by Hope Lavelle), whose big, rich sound was gorgeous: she is one to watch.
Where the three pieces of the first half were all written in Britain within a few years of each other in the mid-20th century, the second half dived back to the 19th for Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was presented with a linking monologue, written and spoken by Tama Matheson, that told the story of the play, interspersed with verbatim extracts. Matheson’s narration was in cod-Shakespearean couplets, replete with modern references, that called to mind Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes or Ogden Nash’s version of Carnival of the Animals. It was at times a bit de trop – describing the lovers’ misunderstanding as “hashtag: abuse” was a bit, well, “awks” – but there were some clever rhymes: “Helena” with “put a spell on her” or “Hermia” with “hypothermia”. The decision to narrate the entire play, in all its intricate silliness, stretched the second half to an overlong 80 minutes but Matheson was an engaging personality, and his Shakespeare speaking really very good.
The music itself is, of course, extraordinary. The overture, written when Mendelssohn was 17, is miraculous, and the orchestra’s skittering strings and nimble woodwind drove it forward. Davan Wetton kept his players on a tight rein but found a real energy and sense of fun. Also amazing is that Mendelssohn could pick up his thread several years later and add the rest of the incidental music in the same vein. The “Scherzo” was sprightly, not to say spritely, the “Lullaby” irresistible and the “Finale” magically works its way back to the opening music of the overture for the final words of the play."
2018 News: Swords & Ploughshares
Review: Musical Opinion Quarterly, an "out-of-the- ordinary concert'
We are delighted to read these thoughts on 'Gathering Storm Clouds' from Monica McCabe. Full review available in Musical Opinion Quarterly: Oct-Dec 2018
"...Three works by Ivor Gurney opened the recital...Played with sympathy by Bebbington, they served to highlight the shocking waste of the young composer’s life...
Three works by Vaughan Williams followed, the first being the exquisite, mysterious The Lake in the Mountains...beautifully played, with a wide range of tone colour. He was then joined by the gifted Nigerian/Romanian pianist Rebeca Omordia, for a piano duet version of the transcription of the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis for two pianos... it worked movingly well, Bebbington, as the more experienced performer, obviously watching to ensure synchronicity with his young partner. His piano, a splendid Bechstein, had sounded a little strident in the extreme upper register, the result no doubt of the unrelenting stonework of St Giles, but the warmth of its bass and middle registers helped bring out all the nobility of the theme, and Omordia’s Steinway seemed well-matched, both pianos beautifully in tune...
In the second half Bebbington was joined by Irene Loh. Again, the Delius On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring seemed to come off remarkably well in this piano duet version by Warlock. Bridge’s Sonata, written by him with agonising effort, between 1921-4, completed the programme... [Bebbington's] short introduction to the works of the second half was of great assistance, and he performed the Bridge with passion, power, and compassion, again revealing a wonderful range of pianistic colour. All the participants, and the organisers, are to be congratulated on the this out-of-the-ordinary concert."
Review: "a performance to be treasured"
Touched and delighted to close the festival this first year with a five star review from Amanda-Jane Doran in Classical Source:
"A new festival has been launched, Summer Music in City Churches, here commemorating the centenary of the First World War, with an emphasis on British composers affected by the Great War.
This programme was carefully constructed to present an elegiac nostalgia for simpler times. Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite set a lively mood, the London Mozart Players strings playing with finesse, the stately richness of the ‘Pavane’ balanced by the dashing ‘Mattachins’. George Butterworth’s settings from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad followed in a sensitive arrangement for strings by Roderick Williams. His vocal performance was exemplary, with effortless phrasing in ‘The Loveliest of trees ‘ and ‘Look not into my Eyes’, and the solo scoring for ‘Is My Team Ploughing’ proved a masterstroke.
Patrick Hawes’s choral I Know the Music (2014) sets an unfinished poem by Wilfred Owen in a highly effective and descriptive fashion. The intimate details from the Front contrast with the descriptions of Nature and country life in the poem. George Butterworth’s The Banks of Green Willow (1913) provided folksong in sophisticated musical clothes and Elgar’s Chanson de matin anchored us securely in his Edwardian soundworld, and then Ruth Rogers transported us to the skies with her delicate impersonation of The Lark Ascending.
The bucolic dream continued in Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera, haunted by strains of Butterworth and also Housman’s melancholy, especially in the opening section where ‘Loveliest of Trees’ and the bugle-call of battle are quoted. The setting of nine stanzas of Masefield’s August 1914 is quiet and close and was conveyed with light simplicity by the City of London Choir; hushed and profoundly moving. The baritone solo found Williams’s bass notes resonant with Finzi’s distinctive chromatic turns and triplets, and the final verse “We who are left” evokes the despair of the bereaved and the hope enshrined in renewal and birdsong, part of a performance to be treasured under Hilary Davan Wetton."
Review: Daily Telegraph, "a beautiful showcase for the glories of the capital"
We are thrilled to read this glowing four star review of our opening concert from Ivan Hewett in the Daily Telegraph.
"The beautiful churches of the City of London are among the capital’s glories, and wonderful places to hear music – especially at this time of year, when the City of London Festival normally takes place. The demise of that festival was a definite loss, which Ian Maclay, former MD of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was determined to fill. Together with Jenny Robinson, he’s created a week-long festival named Summer Music in City Churches, based around the the centenary of the end of the Great War.
The theme has been interpreted loosely, as the opening concert in St Giles Cripplegate from the City of London Choir showed. It included settings of Psalm 29 and 48 by Elgar, which actually date from the beginning of the War, or just before, and aren’t yet touched by it. But already one detects an elegiac feeling, alongside the outbursts of fervour, and at times – in the second – a strange harmonic unease, as if the music has temporarily lost its moorings.
All these feelings were beautifully caught by the choir under their artistic director Hilary Davan Wetton. They summoned a terrific intensity of tone in the final tumultuous lines of Psalm 48, but even this was topped by the incandescent ending of the evening prayer Nunc Dimittis by Gustav Holst. It’s an extraordinary piece which began with an uncanny feeling of harmony emerging from a vast distance, and gradually took shape as a homage to the great Renaissance tradition of Byrd and Palestrina.
After the interval we heard the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé, a piece composed in 1947, which may seem to be stretching the First World War theme implausibly far. But in spirit the piece is close to Gustav Holst, in the way it recreates something precious from the past, as a way to stave off the spiritual confusion of the present. In Duruflé’s case that precious thing is church plainchant, which winds its way through the choral writing like a golden thread.
The performers, including baritone soloist John Lee caught the music’s seraphic calm, while the incisive playing of organist Mark Williams made sure the music’s radiance never seemed becalmed, which is always a danger with this piece. Occasionally the rapture was disturbed, as in the tragic Pie Jesu, which was thrillingly sung by mezzo soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons. In all it was a fine start to the festival, which promises many good things over the coming week."
News: Summer Music in City Churches featured in the Telegraph
Simon Heffer featured Summer Music in City Churches in his Telegraph column this week. Heffer spoke of how even a century on, music written in response to the Great War can still stir the soul.
Read the full article on the Telegraph website.