A musical diversion for this blog, although not the first of my visits to Spitalfields.
The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival is currently running and last Sunday I went to In the House, a series of mini-concerts performed in the drawing rooms of Georgian Spitalsfields houses. The houses, all in the vicitiny of Christ Church, had been selected for their beautiful restoration back to Georgian glory (some with a contemporary twist or two); the music was a mixture of pieces chosen to match the location, along with four new works that had been specially commissioned for the event. The musicians and composers were all students from the Royal Academy of Music, and our guide for the evening taking us between each location was one of the excellent Spitalfields Music team who do a fantastic job of running this informative and enjoyable variety of events.
We started at 20 Fournier Street where Raphael Lang performed cello pieces by JS Bach and George Crumb, followed by a new composition by Freya Waley-Cohen. The house has a fascinating history, and in the last 280 years has been home and workplace to hatters, tailors, cutlers, tobacco manufacturers, handbag makers and more; the looms of silk weavers once filled the attics, while at other times the house served as a Wesleyan Chapel and Rectory. The restoration project had uncovered remnants of the original Georgian patterned wallpaper hidden under many layers of papering, and this has been replicated to adorn the walls of the room where we enjoyed the performance of some rather haunting cello music.
From there it was onto our next location, just down the road to 7 Fournier Street, a 1722 silk weaver’s house overlooking Christ Church and typical of the finer houses of the region, which moved from prosperous desirable locations in the 18th century to declining fortunes in the 19th century. Wallpaper again featured as important in this restoration, which uncovered fragments from 1690 through to the 1960s, including designs by William Morris. The star of this evening was, however, the harpsichord, played by Nathaniel Mander. Mander’s choice of pieces was in keeping with the French history and salon atmosphere of the rooms in which we sat, reflecting the salon recitals of 18th-century Paris in which such pieces would originally have been perfomed. Baroque compositions by Jaques Duphly and Claude Balbastre showcased the vivacity of the instrument and technical command of the musician, whilst an original piece by Grigorios Giamougiannis drew on a range of musical influences to experiment with the harpsichord’s capabilities.
In our next stop at 24 Hanbury Street, Thomas Hancox gave a flute recital of works by Telemann, JS Bach and Michel Blavet, along with Angell Lin’s Cocoon - a piece that took the silkworm as its inspiration and created the idea of thread being spun into a cocoon, a wonderfully evocative image for the sound of the flute. This house had predominantly been inhabited by silk weavers, as well as being converted into a shop and later a cigar factory and furriers’ workshop. It was certainly a cosy setting, and one which took us through more of the Spitalfields streets, ever varied and contradictory in the meeting of old and new.
The final location 1 1/2 Fournier Street (yes, that is one and a half!) involved some interesting music history, as Victoria Rule began her trumpet performance with a replica of a much older style of trumpet, which originally had only holes rather than valves and therefore a more limited range. Rule began on this trumpet with the Trumpet Call from Beethoven’s Leonore and later talked us through the history and different capabilities of the varieties of the instrument which made for a very interesting end to the evening. She also performed JS Back’s Goldberg Variations – written for keyboard so again this made for an entertaining performance – and a new composition by Alice Beckwith, both of which impressively showcased the solo trumpet as a more versatile instrument than perhaps often thought.
This was a really unique way to experience live music and historical walking tour, and I really enjoyed the interesting variety of the houses and musical performances, presented with great and engaging enthusiasm by the musicians involved. If you’re in London and looking for a different diversion then do take a look at the Festivals as a fascinating way into experiencing the diversity and creativity of Spitalfields life.