Schumann Street and More – Spitalfields Music:
While it may look as if I am only interested in food and travel, my first love was music. I studied music until I was 21 – at school and then at university. I play the piano and the violin and until relatively recently I sang in small groups and choirs quite regularly.
When we were invited to review at Spitalfields Music, I passed the details on to The-Hedonist. While he studied at University with me, he’s stayed in music and is now a professional jazz pianist and a University lecturer. He picked and went along to Hyperchromatic Counterpoint – a concert exploring counterpoint in a new and innovative way. An event that was around halfway through the festival programme, he wrote up quickly and I had the pleasure of checking and publishing his review. I’d already volunteered to review an event myself – Schumann Street – but really hadn’t bothered finding out too much about the festival in general.
In fairness, what was originally called the Spitalfields Festival has been around for a while and used to be very focused on early music. I’d go along occasionally to see the likes of Emma Kirkby and, as I was singing for Richard Hickox at the time at another festival, in Cornwall, once he took over as Musical Director, I’d pop along to see various performances. But, that was all in the 1980 and 90s.
It’s changed a lot – and I get the impression that much of the change is the work of the new Artistic Curator, Andre de Ridder. I should have sussed that from his heritage – he first appeared in the festival in 1999 at the invitation of contemporary composer Judith Weir. What he’s brought to the event is a very contemporary feel that is both inclusive and accessible. And that was very evident in the wonderful Schumann Street event, which I’d originally picked simply because I wanted to see inside some of the Huguenot houses in the area. The houses themselves were originally the homes of the Huguenots – religious refugees from France who moved to London to escape persecution from the Catholics. They were able to escape because as weavers and silk merchants they had no ties to France. In the 1700s they settled in Spitalfields and the area became a largely French-speaking working class community.
Dichterliebe, ‘a Poet’s Love’ is a beautiful and moving song cycle by Schumann. For Schumann Street, an immersive promenade installation, the audience wanders through the streets of Spitalfields discovering two performers in eight of them. As most of the houses are private homes, it’s an intimate setting and one which in its own right made the event fascinating. What I hadn’t anticipated was the sheer quality of the music making and the breadth of stylistic interpretation. Bengali folk, rap, classical, soul and jazz – it sounded a little confusing but, was spellbinding and my most memorable event of 2017.
I couldn’t pick a favourite musically – but perhaps the most evocative for me was Shapla Salique, a Bangladeshi-born British singer-songwriter and harmonium player.
I’m looking forward to 2018 Spitalfields Music and, while I think I struck lucky in 2017 and caught one of the most amazing events of the Festival, next year I will be checking out the programme far more carefully.
You can add yourself to the mailing list on the Spitalfields Music Website if you are intrigued.
All photos credit James Berry