Tucked down a narrow lane in Perivale, west London, a stone’s throw from the A4/Western Avenue, is St Mary’s Perivale, a beautiful 12th-century church. The tiny church became redundant in 1972, but has been transformed by the efforts of the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale into a fine music venue, serving west London.

Music events at the church (and also at sister venue St Barnabas, Ealing) are run by the indefatigable Hugh Mather, a retired doctor with a passion for the piano  and classical music in general. Hugh studied medicine at Cambridge, but was a chorister at Westminster Abbey and also played the piano and organ, achieving an FRCO while still at school. He subsequently completed the ARCM piano performer’s diploma. Throughout his medical training and career, he has continued to study the piano and gives many piano concert himself.

Inside the church

St Mary’s Perivale attracts an impressive roster of fine musicians, including pianists Viv McLean, Mei Yi Foo, Ivana Gavric, Karim Said and Rustem Hayroudinoff, and Leeds Piano Competition finalists Jayson Gillham and Andrejs Osokins. Concerts are free, with a retiring collection, and audience members can enjoy a free glass of wine and nibble, along with a distinctive “salon” feel thanks to the small size of the venue (it seats just 70 people). The church has a fine Yamaha piano, an excellent acoustic, and the audience can appreciate being closer to the musicians than in most other larger venues.

One of Hugh Mather’s main motivations for organising concerts at St Mary’s is to offer vital performing opportunities to young musicians, both those still at conservatoire and those just embarking on a professional career. The venue is also available for private hire and has proved a popular meeting place for the London Piano Meetup Group.

Full details of events at St Mary’s Perivale here

by Gavin Dixon

Is classical music in need of a revolution? The industry probably is, but classical events themselves seem to tick over quite nicely in my view. But then, I’m the kind of person who is happy to sit in silence for hours on end and take my medicine. That usually involves besuited, unspeaking and unsmiling performers presenting the music in socially stifling environments, on the shared assumption that the elevating sounds that result make it all worthwhile.

It is easy to see why many people disagree that this is a healthy way for an artform to function, and Classical Revolution is out to do things differently. The core goal here is to get more people listening to classical music by taking it out of the concert hall and presenting somewhere more friendly, on this occasion a gay(ish) bar in Soho. There are other innovations too, sofas for example – a couple of those in the Purcell Room would certainly be welcome. And spoken introductions, which I’m certainly in favour of. Despite the rhetoric of revolution (that’s a metaphor right, these guys aren’t actually planning to shoot anybody?), the classical soirée format is hardly new. But Classical Revolution has a specific format that’s fresh and interesting. It is an American thing that has only just reached the UK, but on the strength of this first outing, I think it might have legs.

The Busch Trio (photo by Tristan Jakob-Hoff)

There is still a bit of an identity crisis going on though. ‘Informality’ is applied to what is essentially a mixed classical recital. Talking, drinking and background noise all play a part in the ambience. But nobody here this evening was prepared to treat the performances as background music, and nor should they, as the quality of the playing was very high and deserved close attention. So there was a definite change in atmosphere when the first act began. The programme opened with Bach’s First Cello Suite, played by Richard Harwood. His account was compelling, but with a lightness that was ideal for the occasion. But as soon as he started, everyone stopped talking and started listening. That came as a surprise to me, given the spirit of informality that the event promotes. I had an idea to spark up a conversation or something, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do. It reminded me of the story about Eric Satie conducting one of his ‘furniture music’ pieces to a Paris audience stunned into silence by the bizarre sounds. Satie’s solution was to turn round and demand that everyone keep talking.

Cellist Richard Harwood (photo by Tristan Jakob-Hoff)

None of that here though. It turned out we didn’t actually have to talk during the music, listening is fine too. And there was plenty here worth listening to. I understand that the programme had been drawn up late in the day, so the diversity of the performers and repertoire was down to chance as much as anything. Nevertheless, I was impressed at the diversity of the music, and also at the fact that there was no pandering to populist tastes. One approach to this sort of thing could be to ensure that all the music on the programme is familiar and friendly, but extended works by Judith Weir and Schnittke demonstrated that the organisers had more faith in their audience. That said, the concept of ‘classical’ music was ring-fenced to a certain extent. I spoke to a singer in the audience (you know who you are) are asked if she would be performing. It turned out that she wasn’t allowed because she does rock and roll. Apparently she’s looking into an Elvis Costello/Brodsky Quartet type collaboration for a future event, but for the time being classical is classical as far as the revolution is concerned. The only exception was The Frolick, a singer and ensemble act (ensemble of one on this occasion) specialising in bawdy 18th century songs. Apparently this counts as ‘classical’ on account of the music’s vintage, and sure enough, you’re unlikely to meet it in most non-classical club nights.

I attended the event as a guest of the organiser, Simon Hewitt-Jones. It’s not usually my policy to own up to the freebies that get me into classical events, but when I told Simon I’d be writing about the evening, he insisted I make a full disclosure. I suggested that I could just write a bad review to compensate for any possible bias, but apparently that is missing the point. There is too much nepotism and insider trading in the classical music world, at least in Simon’s view, and that is part of the problem that Classical Revolution seeks to address. After all, how are you going to get new people involved in an event like this when everybody knows everybody else? And even worse, pretends not to?

The Frolick (photo by Tristan Jakob-Hoff)

Professional musicians are an important ingredient for this concept, just simply to perform the music to the standard required to show off classical music at its best. But non-specialists (‘newbies’ was the evening’s buzzword) are the target audience, and I wasn’t convinced that many people here were not musos of one sort or another. That said, the relaxed format did allow the listeners and performers to interact socially, and I appreciated the opportunity to have a chat with some of the players later on. That’s something that this format could promote much more, and for me it was considerably more valuable than the introductions from the stage.

The evening concluded with a chamber music jam, which was wonderful, but the fact that the punters were now on the stage playing Schubert at a professional level only further underlined the fact that a large proportion of the audience were professional musicians. Still, the drinks were flowing by then and the relaxed atmosphere was certainly convivial. I had to leave them to it to catch the last train – the gig running into the night is another notable distinction between a chamber concert and a classical club night. But I left with the pleasurable sensation of Schubert’s C Major Quintet still ringing in my ears and the feeling that the evening had been a success. A few minutes earlier, the bar takings had reached the level required to guarantee a repeat of the event next month. I’d certainly recommend it – especially if you’re a newbie.

Gavin Dixon is a writer, journalist and editor specialising in classical music. He tweets as @saquabote and blogs at Orpheus Complex

More photos from the event here

Classical Revolution London

Classical Musicians of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but other people’s prejudices that we are all stuffy, elitist and live in ivory towers.

Alexander Rodchenko

Classical Revolution takes classical music out of its traditional home of the concert hall, and into bars, cafes, clubs and other unusual venues to allow audiences to engage with the music and the musicians in new and alternative ways.

It was started in San Francisco in 2006 and has migrated to some 25 cities across Europe and the USA. Classical Revolution London is curated by energetic and innovative violinist Simon Hewitt Jones (the Road to Jericho project, Musbook, Music Teacher Map). Classical Revolution encourages both “indie” classical musicians and more established professional performers to showcase their work, and offers “open mic” sessions to allow up and coming performers the opportunity to present their music as well as headline acts and “chamber music jam sessions”. The informal presentation allows the audience to connect more closely with the music and musicians, to chat informally over a drink, and the opportunity to play with the musicians in the Chamber Music Jam sessions.

I am a huge fan of this kind of “democratisation” of classical music, which makes it more accessible to a wider audience, and breaks down stereotypes about classical music and classical musicians. Come and get to know us – we are mostly harmless!

The first event, on 23rd March, takes place at The Red Hedgehog, an intimate arts venue in Highgate, north London, and features pianist Christine Stevenson, playing Liszt.

More on the Classical Revolution London here

My reviewing job for Bachtrack.com has enabled me to attend many more concerts than I used to, and I am at the Southbank at least as frequently as I am at the Wigmore Hall these days.

Each venue has its own audience, with its own quirks and foibles. The Wigmore audience is famously high-brow – or at least would like to be regarded as high-brow – elderly and “north London” (the hall is often nicknamed ‘The North London Concert Hall’). Members of the audience are expected to sit in reverential silence, to know when to clap, and to generally behave impeccably. I have twice been asked to remove my watch at the Wigmore because “the tick is too loud”. Sometimes, if a member of the audience coughs too much, or fidgets, or – Heaven forfend! – rustles a programme, they will be met with fierce looks and angry, hissed “shusshings”. It is therefore always interesting to see who has turned out for a more unusual or adventurous concert programme, or a young performer debuting at the Wigmore (“doing a Wigmore” as it is known in the trade). At Di Xiao’s recent debut, the audience were younger, many were fellow Chinese, and my friend and I also spotted quite a few musical “slebs” including cellist Julian Lloyd-Weber. The presence of such “slebs” may suggest that these people know something we don’t, or that the soloist is “one to watch”. Last summer, at a charming and touching Chopin concert with readings, organised by pianist Lucy Parham, one couldn’t move for theatrical lovies: both the Fox’s, Martin Jarvis, Timothy West and Prunella Scales, to drop but a few names. Stephen Hough tends to attract young, mostly gay, acolytes, and if Till Fellner is performing, you can almost guarantee to see his teacher, Alfred Brendel in the front bar. As a member of the ‘press pack’ now, I often arrive at a concert to find the venue has put all the journos together (excellent seats at RFH and QEH, right at the back at the Wigmore), and we all scribble away trying not to read what our neighbour has written, just like being back at school!

The audience at Cadogan Hall is different. Stepping into the champagne bar there’s always a great buzz of chat and shouts of laughter, enough to suggest that this audience is likely to be younger, more awake and maybe more receptive to what they are about to hear. Audiences on the Southbank are generally younger, more trendy, more relaxed, while the Proms audience is different again – a real mixture of music afficionados, groupies, students, curious tourists, old timers who go year after year and people who are just beginning to explore the great annual music festival. The enthusiasm of the Proms audience is really infectious and undoubtedly contributed to my enjoyment of the Proms this summer.

Sometimes the soloist or musicians themselves can affect the way the audience responds and behaves during a concert. At Maria Joao Pires’s wonderful Schubert series at the Wigmore a few years ago, the musicians (the Brodsky Quartet and singer Rufus Muller) remained on the stage while Pires played her solo pieces (a selection of Schubert’s Impromptus) and the audience was asked not to applaud until the end of the first half. This created a wonderful sense of an intimate, shared event, and we might have been in Schubert’s salon, enjoying an evening of music making amongst friends, for friends.

But if we, the audience, are too much in awe of the soloist, we can put up invisible barriers which can affect the atmosphere in the concert hall. This was very apparent when I heard Daniel Barenboim perform as part of his Beethoven Piano Sonatas series some years ago.

Recently, I’ve attended and performed in informal concerts in other people’s homes. My husband likes these kinds of concerts, with wine and friends and chat between pieces. As he rightly points out, this is a much more natural way of enjoying music that was written before c1850 (when Liszt, almost single-handedly, made the concert into the event as we know it today), and reminds us that music is, above all, for sharing. With the increasing popularity of presenting music in more unusual and intimate venues like The Red Hedgehog or Sutton House (London), or in the beautiful library of the cloisters in Wittem (Belgium), musicians are able to bring music much closer to the audience, literally and metaphorically, while events such as Speed Dating with the OAE (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) offer audiences the chance to meet the musicians after the performance.

Audiences Behaving Badly

Some other small venues:

Woodhouse Copse, near Dorking, Surrey

Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre, Walton, Surrey

Guildford Guildhall, Surrey

The Forge, Camden, London

Rook Lane Arts Centre, Frome, Somerset