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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: open-air at St Mary’s Tower; Proms

17 July, 2020 — By Michael White

Music at St Mary’s Tower

IT’S going to be a long and painful wait until normality returns to concert life; and as we wait, we’ve all been making do with things online.

But musicians are entrepreneurial. They haven’t been sitting on their backsides. And this week I’m delighted to announce a new venture by the eminent soprano Mary Bevan to hold real concerts, with a real audience, in the open air at St Mary’s Tower – a remnant of a church amid green space in Hornsey.

They’re running at weekends in an informal way: you just turn up, preferably with a picnic and a responsible sense of social distancing, and take what comes.

And what comes will be special – because Mary ropes in her family (the Bevans are a striking musical dynasty that includes her sister-soprano Sophie) and friends, who happen to be some of the most notable British singers around.

This Saturday she has an “opera gala”, with contributions from tenor Nicky Spence, bass Brindley Sherratt, soprano Natalya Romaniw… the list goes on.

And according to Mary, “the performers will arrive like everyone else, with picnic, and just get up and sing when it’s their turn” – accompanied by Anna Tilbrook, the pianist who made a name for herself during lockdown by playing every week for Radio 3’s questionable karaoke sessions.

It has the makings of a cult event. It’s certainly a landmark in the slow process of reconstituting musical life after Covid.

And this gala starts at 7pm, the address being St Mary’s Tower, Hornsey High Street N8, close to Hornsey Overground.

There’s no booking but you’re asked to donate. And full details are at www.facebook.com/musicatthetower. Pray it doesn’t rain.

THE BBC insists that this year’s Proms season is happening, albeit in a different form.

You may think otherwise when you find it’s effectively six weeks of re-run archive material on radio and TV, followed by a handful of live concerts playing in the empty Albert Hall with no audience.

And how you manage a Last Night on those terms, I’ve no idea. But that said, the re-runs do include some outstanding concerts.

And they start this Friday with a Radio 3 broadcast of highlights from past Proms that include pianist Igor Levit playing Beethoven’s 3rd Concerto and the infamous cacophony of Harrison Birtwistle’s Panic, written for the Proms’ Last Night in 1995.

I personally remember Panic very well because I was there, with my mother, who declared when it was over: “That was all a bit unnecessary.”

Unknown to her, Birtwistle was sitting in front of us and, being a generous soul, thought this judgement funny enough to quote back at me at other performances of his works

“Your mother would think that was all a bit unnecessary”, he’d say in his broad northern accent.

And he was probably right. Full details of the archival Proms broadcasts are at www.bbc.co.uk/proms – but be warned: the website is confusing, so it takes some thought to figure out what’s playing where and when.

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