Latest News and Reviews
May 2023: Legends & Heroes
Coronation offer - 7th/8th May
Live classical music is for life, not just coronations! With the music from Westminster Abbey still ringing in our ears, we have a special - but limited - Coronation offer for Summer Music in City Churches, now just a month away. Hear the fabulous musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Iain Farrington with his Art Deco Trio, the music of William Walton and much more in the historic setting of St Giles’ Cripplegate and Wren churches.
We are releasing 100 concert tickets across the week at half price* until the end of the bank holiday (Monday 8th May 2023). Quote CORO50 when you book. Hurry - when they're gone, they're gone!
*half price entry to all events requiring a ticket EXCEPT Fire! on 14th June. Offer excludes Season Ticket.
2022 news: English Rhapsody
Highlights of audience reactions to English Rhapsody
Stars of the Yehudi Menuhin School Showcase – St Giles Cripplegate
I was impressed with the smooth organisation and polite and friendly disposition of the staff members. The musicians were exceptional for any age but for such accomplishments in those so young is so very impressive. I felt privileged to listen.
Piano Recital: George Fu – St Giles Cripplegate
It left me with a whole new perspective on Chopin and memories of seeing a real virtuoso and communicator doing something that means so much to him and engaging brilliantly with the audience. Many thanks to the “Summer Music in City Churches” festival for a magical lunchtime in the impressive church of St Giles Cripplegate. *****
Beautiful music in a breathtaking venue.
Brilliant Brass – St Stephen Walbrook
The Royal Philharmonic Brass concert was more than brilliant, such a talented quintet who more than complemented the beautiful and acoustically perfect venue of St Stephen Walbrook church. *****
Lovely hosts, fabulous musicians in a great setting. This festival deserves to do well.
In Gloucestershire – St Stephen Walbrook
This was a beautiful setting for some emotionally powerful music. Fabulous venue and wonderfully expressive musicians.
RVW150: The Lark Ascending and Piano Quintet – St Giles Cripplegate
I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear one of my favourite pieces being performed live for the first time. I am also very grateful to the organisers for accommodating my seating request due to my physical disability. *****
A beautifully uplifting concert: part of the annual "Summer music in the city churches" festival. This was the first time I have visited the historic St Giles Cripplegate church, which provided an excellent venue. A big thank you too for the friendly and welcoming staff. I very much enjoyed the pieces by Finzi and John Ireland, all of which were new to me. All the musicians from the RPO were magnificent. A great performance from violinist Duncan Riddell and pianist Mark Bebbington. Lovely to hear "The Lark Ascending” live in such a beautiful church. This was the first time I've heard the rarely performed RVW Piano quintet, which was very moving. Altogether a lovely summers evening's music making. *****
English Song - St Bartholomew the Great
An accomplished and often moving recital by two rising stars, consisting of music by Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. Female composers were
prominent in the programme…The mostly Norman St Bartholomew the Great provided a splendid performance space with fine acoustics. *****
Perhaps the most spiritual venue in London for some uplifting English music *****
Festival Finale – St Giles Cripplegate
What a wonderful idea for a series of summer concerts in city churches. St Giles, Cripplegate provided the perfect venue and sound quality as the backdrop to this finale with the English Chamber Orchestra concert. The playing was full and faultless and so tight with a crystal clear sound. A great programme… *****
What a fantastic concert by the English Chamber Orchestra who were superb throughout. Renowned soloist Emma Johnson joined them for Finzi’s clarinet concerto and gave a stunning and captivating performance. It was a fitting finale to the “Summer Music in City Churches” festival which, fingers crossed, will return next year and is something not to be missed. The organisation and setting were perfect making for a very relaxed and enjoyable evening and a marvellous showcase for the musicians and the music. *****
I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. What more can I say? *****
Wonderful end to the festival. Will be retired next year so looking forward to attending as many as possible. *****
Tickets for Secondary Schools
We are delighted to be able to offer 10% of tickets to each of this year's concerts, free of charge, to students from state secondary schools. This offer is subject to availability and made on a first come first served basis. To apply, please contact us.
2021 news: Sunshine After Rain
Audience reactions to Sunshine After Rain
SUMMER STRING SERENADE: London Mozart Players; Mark Bebbington, piano
“Exquisite program, flawlessly performed.”
“Deep respect to the organisers of this festival for forging ahead with their plans against the odds. This was a superb evening of lush English string music from the brilliant London Mozart Players”
“It was incredibly moving to hear a live orchestra again. I realised that without knowing it I had survived lockdown by shutting down some of my feelings. The acoustic of the church is magnificent and the strings sounded glorious. Every piece had its high point and I was particularly moved by Finzi's Eclogue. With live music we become human again.”
“What a joyful way to resume live performance! The Summer String Serenade, showcasing some of the best-known English composers, benefited from the beautiful setting and acoustic of St Giles, Cripplegate…. it was a privilege to be in the audience. This was a wonderful start to the Summer Music in City Churches series, based here and at St Bartholomew the Great.”
LUNCHTIME WITH POULENC: Mark Bebbington, piano; Emer McDonough, flute; John Roberts, oboe; Jonathan Davies, bassoon
"Thank you for a wonderful concert. The music was played with such passion and joy and we were so grateful to share such an uplifting experience!" "A beautiful, lively performance!"
“My summer definitely kicked off yesterday in the most glorious style….The whole experience was spiritual and uplifting. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to experience an excellent standard of music in glorious surroundings. Perfection.”
COMPOSER PORTRAIT: I, CLARA Lucy Parham, piano and script; Joanna David, narrator
"Delightful performance in a beautiful setting, warm and welcoming staff, well organised and socially distanced seating arrangements."
"This was a sublime evening of story telling and classical piano delivered with emotion and soul by two worthy professionals. Simply captivating, I felt so completely chilled after like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders."
“The most intimate and moving portrait of an extraordinary life and an extraordinary time, beautifully executed by both artists. Exquisite piece selection, all deeply relevant to the story. Inspiring and uplifting.”
SPIRIT OF ETERNAL SUNSHINE: Brother Tree Sound string quartet
"Beautiful music in beautiful Church." “This was a truly inspiring concert in a beautiful venue.”
"This was such a fantastic event, a glorious setting (St Giles Church) and an inspiring and emotional performance. I was transported out of my post lockdown dullness into a sparkling world of wonders. I loved every magical minute, thank you."
“A charming concert in this beautiful church, and arranged impressively perfectly safely. Good varied programme, but the Dvorak shone through like a beacon of light.”
“Wonderful to hear live music again, in a lovely church - and with a world premiere thrown in.”
“A really lovely lunchtime concert, with excellent choice of programme. Really appreciated the commentaries between pieces too.”
ON WENLOCK EDGE: Daniel Norman, tenor; Anna Cavaliero, soprano; Sholto Kynoch, piano
"The music, the visuals, the atmosphere and ambiance, they were all absolutely beautiful."
"Fantastic artist performance in perfect symbiosis with St. Bart's unique ambience!"
“Part of the 2021 Festival of Summer Music in City Churches, St Bartholomew’s was an incredible setting. Built in 1123, the church is the oldest in London and full of history… The acoustics are first class and the church lent itself well to the highlight of this event, Vaughan William’s evocative song cycle of A. E. Houseman’s poems. These were sung by Daniel Norman to a shadow-play animation by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood and accompanied on the piano by Sholto Kynoch. This was an entertaining evening and I especially enjoyed the French songs from Chaminade and, also, Anna Cavaliero’s lively songs from Walton’s Façade. Am so glad the organisers went ahead with the Festival this year, it is definitely a success. Thank you.”
“Spirited performances by three very talented performers.”
“A beautiful and life affirming concert in a wonderful historic church. The highlight was undoubtedly the performance of Vaughan Williams’ song cycle On Wenlock Edge, which was accompanied by an exquisite shadow puppet animation. So moving and emotional. Balanced with some more light hearted chansons of love and parties, it made a perfect evening out.”
LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY: Mary Carewe and Graham Bickley, vocalists; Andy Vinter, piano
“What a lifting of the spirits to hear beautiful songs, performed live by two such talented singers with a wonderful pianist. And the music - Gershwin, Kerr, Berlin, Rogers and Hart, what more could you ask for? Well, being in the beautiful St Giles Cripplegate, fantastic acoustics, a very warm welcome and despite the masks and social distancing it was a hugely enjoyable evening.”
ROYAL PHILHARMONIC BRASS
“Part of Summer Music in City Churches, the Royal Philharmonic Brass with the church organ made sublime, even heavenly, music. The acoustics in the City churches are excellent and being in a smallish space meant I was nearer the brass, affording me a greater understanding of how difficult it must be for brass musicians, under normal circumstances, to be cramped on a crowded concert hall stage. We were all masked and definitely socially distanced so no chance to chat afterwards. Brilliant concert. Thank you.”
“I don’t think brass and organ playing can get any better than this! At this church venue all COVID-19 precautions were well observed and staff were welcoming and helpful.”
“Varied, energetic, and well chosen programme, with fun introductions to each piece, beautifully played by brass and organ. The performers and audience looked like they were all really enjoying this uplifting evening, as we did too. Thanks, and glad the festival went ahead.”
“This was a wonderful concert and a real privilege to be in the audience and hear such top-class musicians performing. I really didn't want the evening to end. I enjoyed the mixed programme of old, really old and new.”
“I don't usually go to classical concerts, but I decided to give this a go and was glad I did. The venue was beautiful and the acoustics suited the instruments well.”
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.