247 LIVE concerts broadcast from St Mary's Perivale in the pandemic
Critics' Circle - 'LOCKDOWN STAR' award 2021 - see below
A brief resume of the past eventful 2 years
The Covid pandemic adversely affected almost every arts organization in the UK. However, at St Mary's Perivale we have survived and flourished by transforming ourselves into a high-quality broadcasting centre for young musicians, using our superb video facilities and thus have been able to continue supporting them and providing entertainment for our many supporters, living both locally in the UK and throughout the world. We have now broadcast almoost 250 LIVE concerts and 53 recordings since April 2020 and paid almost £60,000 to our musicians, and our concerts have been viewed over 230,000 times on Youtube and Vimeo. This article explains our activities over the past two remarkable years in detail.
St Mary's Perivale is a tiny, Grade-1 listed medieval church in West London, only 6 miles from Marble Arch, which is redundant and now functions solely as a classical music centre, where I have organized over 1190 concerts since 2004. Our success in the pandemic has depended on the remarkable video system installed by Simon Shute (R), aided by George Auckland (L) shown in the photograph above, who both retired from distinguished careers at the BBC. Initially concerts were recorded to provide musicians with a memento in standard definition video. In 2016 High-definition cameras were installed, and we now have 8 such cameras, and since 2018 we have live streamed all concerts on Youtube and Vimeo from our digital facility situated in the 15th century tower. Until the pandemic this was regarded as an unimportant adjunct to our concerts.
During the first total lockdown in April and May 2020, we streamed 53 recordings on successive afternoons from our library of about 400 concerts. Few other organizations were streaming concerts at that time, and we were competing with the Berlin Philharmonic and the New York Met for our virtual audience. Following the partial relaxation of restrictions in June, we restarted LIVE concerts in an empty church, and broadcast 154 without an audience in 14 months from June 2020 to July 2021. From September 2021 we were able to admit an audience, and since then have broadcast 93 more concerts, producing a total of 247 LIVE concerts in the pandemic as detailed in this lockdown archive, including 110 piano recitals, 35 trios, quartets or larger ensembles, 31 violin and piano duos, 15 cello and piano duos, 14 jazz concerts and 10 lectures. Our highlights were the two Beethoven Piano Sonata Festival in October 2020 and 2021, when 32 pianists played all the sonatas over a weekend, and our recent Mozart sonata day, with performances by 18 pianists. The total of views on Youtube is around 200,000, with another 30,000 on Vimeo, with viewers from over 50 countries. The musicians performing in these concerts have been paid over £59,000. All events have been freely available, with no ‘paywall', and we have been entirely dependent on donations from viewers, with no external sponsorship or public funding. These have been remarkably generous, perhaps because our supporters realize that we are a team of unpaid volunteers, so all funds go to the musicians or to maintain our historic building rather than providing administrative support or salaries.
So our video and streaming facilities have unexpectedly been a lifeline for our organization over the past two years, and have transformed our concert model. We now have ‘hybrid' concerts, with a small audience of 20-50 local people in the church, providing the ambience, support and applause, and a virtual audience of several hundred people, providing a wide platform for our musicians to display their talents. Thus our tiny venue has assumed a prominent role in providing valuable concert exposure and financial support for many of the best young musicians, and cultural entertainment and solace for viewers around the world. We firmly believe that live-streaming of classical concerts is here to stay, as a major new method for large numbers of music-lovers to enjoy concerts, particularly those who are elderly or disabled, or who live far from a city with a music venue. We are now probably the leading supplier of livestream classical concerts in the UK, particularly piano recitals, and we stream far more concerts than any other venue. We offer consistently high musical standards from the best young musicians and stunning broadcast quality, particularly when viewed on a ‘smart' television. We have 80 more concerts before the end of this year, and we hope that viewers around the world will enjoy them, and that we can continue to support musicians. We urgently need more publicity so that many more potential viewers become aware of our service. Huge thanks are due to our technical team, which comprises Simon Shute, George Auckland and Andrew Whadcoat, and to other key members of our organization, notably Roger Nellist and also Andrew Goodhart, Richard Norris, Gill Rowley, Rob Jenkins, Truus Bos. Sherry White and Felicity Mather. Finally, thanks to all our on-line supporters who have made this possible, and of course to our huge pool of superb musicians.
PS The Critics' Circle have awarded us the title 'Lockdown Star' for 2021 in recognition of our pandemic activities. Their citation reads as follows :
St Mary's, Perivale – a tiny, Grade 1-listed redundant church in west London – has punched far above its weight with the range and quality of its streamed recitals. Dr Hugh Mather and the team – all volunteers – carried on with their three weekly recitals when Covid hit, providing young artists with paid employment and a platform during this hardest of times, raising their own funds, largely through donations, to pay the artists without any public subsidies. Both the quality of the concerts on offer and the diversity of performers and repertoire put the response of many larger, subsidised venues to shame. The concerts were streamed live using very high quality equipment installed by two former BBC engineers, Simon Shute and George Auckland. Live audiences are now back at the free-of-charge concerts, and live streaming continues. St Mary's broadcast 154 live concerts and 53 recordings during the pandemic, and a full schedule of recitals for the year ahead is already in place.
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