Guest post by Hugh Mather, Chairman, the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale 

St Mary’s Perivale is a tiny redundant medieval church in West London, only 7 miles away from Marble Arch. We are now a classical music centre with a national reputation and growing international outreach. The venue has a maximum capacity of only 70, but has state-of-the-art video broadcasting facilities, a good piano, perfect acoustics and a dedicated fibre-optic link to the internet. Our video facilities comprise 8 high-definition cameras and 6 high-quality microphones, and the technical quality of the broadcasts on YouTube and Vimeo is outstanding. Over the past four years we have taken a lead in livestreaming classical concerts, and pride ourselves of now being the foremost UK video broadcasting venue for instrumental and chamber music. During the pandemic, we initially broadcast daily recordings from our archive, and then over 150 ‘live’ concerts with no audience in the church. Since being allowed to admit an audience in September 2021, we have streamed another 150, making a total of over 300 broadcasts since June 2020 – more than any other venue. These activities have now been recognised by the award of the ‘Lockdown Star’ venue by the Critics’ Circle.

We are passionate about the future of livestream classical concerts, which came to prominence in the pandemic in June 2020, when they were the only means of providing performing opportunities and income for musicians. At the time they were presumed to be a temporary pandemic phenomenon, but they have now become established as an important new way of enjoying concerts. There is a huge swathe of the population who cannot travel to attend concerts, because they are variously elderly, disabled, have family commitments, live far away from a concert venue, cannot afford the cost of the ticket and travel, or cannot face an unpleasant journey, particularly in adverse weather. The convenience of being able to enjoy the concert in the comfort of one’s home, particularly via a smart TV, for little or no expense, is obviously attractive, particularly with the current pressures on living costs. While the livestream is not a complete substitute for the ‘real thing’, it is a different and valid option for many concertgoers. It is admittedly difficult to obtain emotional involvement in a concert when sitting alone at home, but this can be partially resolved by participating in ‘live-chats’, sharing opinions with other viewers, leading to the formation of on-line communities enjoying concerts together. The frisson of a ‘live’ event is important, providing an authentic ‘feel’ compared with watching old performances on YouTube.

We have now developed a ‘hybrid’ concert model, catering for two separate audiences simultaneously. We have a small cohort of 20 to 60 local music-lovers in the church, and perhaps ten times as many viewers watching the broadcast on YouTube or Vimeo, either concurrently (about 50) or in the following few days (about 250 to 500 viewers, and sometimes more). This arrangement works well for us, and we intend to continue it indefinitely. The audience in the church provides the ambience and applause, and their donations usually cover the musicians’ fees. The latter gain vital exposure from the viewing of their performances throughout the world – so far in over 50 countries. All concerts remain freely available to view for 3 weeks after a concert, and most are retained permanently. However, we receive disappointingly few donations from our virtual audience, with perhaps 2 to 5 using our PayPal Donate facility from several hundred viewers. This lack of financial support for broadcasts has been noted elsewhere, and is probably why so few other venues now livestream their concerts. Everyone has become accustomed to free entertainment on the internet. Nevertheless, we will continue to provide this important service to our musicians. We can afford to do so, because we are unpaid volunteers and have no salaries to cover, and we have no hire charges for the church, and are thus in a much better position to provide this facility than other organizations.

We specialize in solo piano recitals, making use of the large pool of exceptional pianists currently living around London, and these provide performing experience for about 65 carefully selected musicians per year. Most of the best young pianists in the UK play regularly at Perivale. We also have ‘blockbuster’ piano festivals, devoted in the past 13 months to all the Beethoven and Mozart piano sonatas, and most recently all the important Chopin piano works, and we have forthcoming talks by Julian Jacobson, Pascal Nemirovksi, John Humphreys and Peter Frankl, following on from lectures by Christopher Elton, Peter Donohoe, Leslie Howard, Vanessa Latarche, Murray McLachlan and Norma Fisher. Our performer database has details of over 150 pianists, and it is difficult to accommodate them all, but we try to be as fair as possible.

Our residual problem is that of publicity. The broadcasts only receive a fraction of the number of viewers watching some international piano competitions. It is difficult breaking into the dominance enjoyed by larger publicly funded organizations in Central London, but we will persevere and hope to attract more viewers to our high-quality concert schedule. Perhaps the award from the Critics’ Circle might increase our profile. We are dedicated to promoting the careers of the best young musicians. Do please help to spread the word.

Concerts at St Mary’s Perivale can be viewed on our website or direction via YouTube. We have around 100 concerts planned before summer 2023 – details here


 

A retired physician, Hugh Mather is a pianist and organist who organises c160 concerts per year at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas Ealing. Concerts are free to attend with all donations going to support the artists.

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St Mary’s Perivale Beethoven Piano Sonata Festival

All 32 piano sonatas played by 32 pianists to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 1770
October 3rd and 4th 2020


St Mary’s Perivale is one of those wonderful little gems that once discovered you will want to return to again and again. For over 10 years now, this beautiful little 12th-century deconsecrated church has been home to a busy and varied programme of concerts, organised by the indetafigable Hugh Mather, a retired doctor with a passion for classical music. St Mary’s supports many young musicians at the start of their professional careers as well as presenting more established artists.

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, St Mary’s will showcase 32 pianists, who will each play one of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas – an incredible body of work considered to be the ‘New Testament’ of piano music. The sonatas will be performed in chronological order by a tag team of pianists, which includes Florian Mitrea, Callum McLachlan (son of Murray McLachlan), Ashley Fripp, Mishka Rushdie Momen, Julian Jacobson, Sasha Grynyuk, Dinara Klinton, Mark Viner and Julian Trevelyan. Many of these pianists live in and around London, which makes getting to the venue easier for them (sadly many musicians have been hit by travel restrictions due to the pandemic).

By having 32 different pianists playing the sonatas audiences can not only enjoy the variety and breadth of Beethoven’s musical imagination but also each pianist’s individual “take” – their approaches, interpretative choices and personality – on the music. Each will have something special to offer and all will perform to a very high standard.

This is not a festival which has been put together in a hurry in response to the limitations placed on public performances by government policy towards the pandemic: Hugh Mather has been planning it for months, inviting and priming the pianists involved to ensure they are fully prepared.

It promises to be a really wonderful weekend of music making.

This major Beethoven festival takes places over the weekend of 3rd and 4th October and will be streamed live from St Mary’s Perivale. For full details please visit the St Mary’s Perivale website

St Mary’s Perivale

Hugh Mather, the indefatigable director of concerts at St Mary’s Perivale in West London, introduces a major weekend festival of Chopin’s immortal piano music, and examines some of the rationale behind the festival.

We are holding the St Mary’s Perivale Chopin Festival from Friday 15th June to Sunday 17th. In summary, this comprises most of Chopin’s solo piano works played by 21 excellent pianists giving recitals of 24 to 44 minutes, providing about 12 hours piano music over a glorious weekend of piano-playing.

Firstly, it gives a chance to ‘show-case’ the amazing pianistic and musical skills of so many of our younger pianists. I currently have a shortlist of about 80 pianists who are certainly good enough to give a decent solo recital in my concerts, and the 21 playing in the festival include some of the best. In alphabetical order, they are Ashley Fripp, Artur Haftman, Tyler Hay, Dinara Klinton, Ilya Kondratiev, Renata Konyicska, Ke Ma, Viv McLean, Mikhail Shilyaev, Asagi Nakata, Luka Okros, Mengyang Pan, Mihai Ritivoiu, Tamila Salimdjanova, Colin Stone, Iyad Sughayer, Michal Szymanowski, Julian Trevelyan, Amit Yahav, Yuanfan Yang and Hao Zi Yoh. Most are young (aged below 30) and have won multiple awards in international competitions. Many pianists – possibly most – are at their peak when aged 25-30, after 15-20 years of excellent teaching, long hours of practice, sheer hard work, intense competition and financial support, with little need to divert their energies into piano teaching and other activities to provide an income. Our pianists come from all over the world, with different musical and pianistic backgrounds, and it will be endlessly fascinating to hear their varied approaches to Chopin. This is much preferable to hearing any single pianist – be it Perahia, Zimerman, Pollini or a re-incarnated Rubinstein or Cortot – playing through all this repertoire. I am always amazed to hear how the same piano can sound so different with successive pianists. It will be a heavenly weekend for all pianophiles.

Secondly, it provides an opportunity to hear much neglected Chopin piano music. In the concert hall, Chopin performances tend to be dominated by the same few ‘warhorses’ which most pianists feel obliged to learn and perform. I have undertaken an analysis of works played in over 700 concerts at St Mary’s Perivale in the past decade. Way out top is the ubiquitous G minor Ballade, which has been played 16 times, followed by the Barcarolle and 3rd Scherzo (11), the 3rd and 4th Ballades and Polonaise-Fantaisie (9), the F minor Fantasy, 2nd Scherzo and 3rd Sonata (7) and the 2nd Ballade, Polonaise Op 53 and 2nd sonata (6 times). By contrast, many of the smaller pieces are hardly ever programmed. When I assembled the programme, I asked all the pianists to list all the works they could offer, and it was instructive to see so many offering – yes, the G minor ballade – the A minor Mazurka Op 17 no 4 and the D flat Nocturne Op 27 no 2 , but surprisingly few other mazurkas or nocturnes. On CD, the situation is complicated by the almost universal practice of complete sets of nocturnes, polonaises, mazurkas and waltzes. Hearing all the mazurkas or waltzes in succession isn’t a satisfactory musical diet. Our festival provides a satisfying mix of all the different genres throughout the festival, and a chance to hear many under-performed works in concert. It comprises 12 hours of music, out of the approximately 16 hours in total of Chopin’s solo piano music, without any repetition of a single work. Some early works are omitted, such as the first sonata, and some early variations, but much gorgeous music which is rarely heard in concert will be included. This required a complicated jigsaw puzzle, and was achieved by asking all pianists to list works they could offer, and giving them a limit of one major work (sonata, scherzo or ballade etc), to ‘spread the jam’ evenly among all the musicians!

Thirdly, it is particularly appropriate to hold the festival this year, and in Ealing, which has the highest proportion of native Polish speakers in the UK. Many Polish soldiers who fought alongside British troops in the second world war settled in the borough after the conflict ended. Their numbers were boosted in subsequent waves – first, around the time martial law was imposed in Poland in the early 1980s, then at Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004. Chopin has, of course, always occupied a special place in Polish culture. And in this year, we mark the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence in 1918. Our festival can be regarded as part of this celebration. It also marks the 170th anniversary of Chopin’s visit to London and Scotland in 1848, the year before his death. Our festival will commence with a short introductory lecture from Amit Yahav, entitled, ‘Chopin: A Polish Poet at the Piano in Paris’ to set the scene and to consider the main features of his life and the influences on his piano composition.

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Inside St Mary’s Perivale
Fourthly, it utilizes the special atmosphere of St Mary’s Perivale. This is a charming, small and intimate venue which has much more in common with the Paris salons of Chopin’s day than those other larger venues in Central London. It is a Grade 1-listed architectural jewel which is blessed with excellent acoustics and a glorious ambience. Its small size creates problems of its own, in that our church can only seat a maximum of 100 people, but we are confident that this will accommodate our audience. No tickets will be sold beforehand. All our pianists will be paid £200 for their performance, and we are charging £15 for admission to each long session. Since they contain between 3 and 6 piano recitals, we think that this is a reasonable charge, and compares well with those for piano recitals elsewhere. Please bring cash rather than cards or cheques.

In summary, this promises to be a very special weekend of exceptional piano-playing which should appeal to lovers of Chopin and the piano, in London and further afield. Come along to enjoy Chopin in Perivale!

St Mary’s Perivale Chopin Festival runs from 15 to 17 June 2018. Full details of all performers and programmes here

For more details about the church and other concerts at St Mary’s please visit www.st-marys-perivale.org.uk

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Hugh Mather is a pianist, organist and retired physician, who organizes classical concerts at St Mary’s Perivale and St Barnabas Ealing.