Thursday 15 April 2021

Now a well-established on-line concert series, Sands Films created The Music Room in their film studio as a response to 2020's lack of performances for artists

Music Antica Rotherhithe at Sands Films Music Room (taken from live-stream)
Music Antica Rotherhithe at Sands Films' The Music Room (taken from live-stream)

Sands Films' The Music Room has become a regular fixture in the internet provision of live-streamed performances which appeared in response to last year's crisis. At first sight, The Music Room seems to have sprung up from nowhere, yet it has its roots in an historic 18th century building in Rotherhithe which is home to a film studio with links to composers has diverse at Nino Rota and Jehan Alain.

Last year I was sent information about an on-line concert which the performers were hoping I would watch and write about (a not uncommon occurence). This was taking place at Sands Films' The Music Room and since then I have caught other concerts from the same venue (Musica Antica Rotherhithe were there in February 2021 and will be returning on Saturday, 17 April) without ever being able to say what the venue was, or where!

Sands Films is an independent film studio and international costumier operating in an 18th century listed building in Rotherhithe, and founded by Richard and Christine Goodwin (Christine Edzard) in 1975.

At the time they started, the building was in ruins and much work was required to turn it into a working building again, but now the company is much more like a small theatre company, the studio has developed in a self-sufficient and independent creative space run by a small community of individuals who work together motivated by their shared interest in art and culture. Sands Films is the producer and maker of several films including Little Dorrit and The Good Soldier Schweijk, as well as producing costumes for films and productions such as BBC's 2015 series, Wolf Hall. It is also home to Rotherhithe Picture Research Library also established in 1975 as a visual reference collection; run as a non-profit-making educational trust, it is freely available to anyone wishing to research.

Olivier Stockman came from his native France at the age of 19 to work at deep interest in film which would later bring him to London at the age of 19, to work at Sands Films and develop his skills as a filmmaker /producer. In 2005, he started the Sands Films Cinema Club, effectively a traditional film society but using modern technology. Last year, when lockdown started, the Cinema Club went on-line and now has a mailing list of 10,000.

Music has always been important to Sands Films; performed in occasional concerts or as part of Sands Films’ productions or plays, but not as a fundamental part of the studios’ work. Olivier Stockman comes from a musical background (he is related to the great organist Marie-Claire Alain, whose brother was the composer Jehain Alain). So last year, Olivier expanded the Cinema Club idea and created The Music Room when the pandemic closed venues and deprived musicians from their ability to perform and to earn a living.

The Music Room is intended as a creative workspace, giving the musicians the possibility to explore and develop skills, as well as the chance to reach a vast audience thanks go the available high quality technological equipment,  and it is a performing space which is adaptable to each artist. The concerts are live-streamed, which means that they are a hybrid between a live and a recorded performance, and the they are keen to keep this mix of the authenticity of a live performance and the chance to capture the musician at one point in time of their artistic journey. The aim of the Music Room is to persevere with this route and help musicians become free of an established conception of the performance tradition which often separates them from their audience. They hope to keep developing the concert series in this way, but eventually want to be able to give each artist the choice of having a reduced audience present during the stream.

The first concerts in The Music Room were done as a collaboration between musicians living in the area. After months of being deprived of a stage to perform on Lorena Cantó Woltèche, viola and Yvain Calvo Caballero, piano, opened the series in July of 2020 reaching thousands of viewers from all over the world live from the theatre at the Sands Films Studios.

Although Sands Films pays all musicians a recording session fee, the streaming from The Music Room is always supplied free in order to be available and accessible to all, including people just curious but open to discovery, with donations requested from the audience, very much as a kind of internet busking.

The studio gives equal opportunities to all artists, and since starting The Music Room has played host to a wide variety of performances and genres including classical music, early music, jazz, folk and traditional music. The Music Club normally takes place on a Thursday night at 8pm, on the Sands Films website, YouTube channel and Facebook page. And the website has plenty of past performances that can be viewed.

Coming up:

  • Les voix humaines - 17 April 2021, Musica Antica Rotherhithe in a century of French and Spanish song, interspersed with music for the viola da gamba by three of its masters: Jean de Saint-Colombe, Marin Marais, and Antoine Forqueray.
  • Marlene in Havana - 8 May 2021, music of the 1930's Weimar Republic inspired by the love of exotic Latin settings for films, as well as the tangos, foxtrots, and rhumbas of the 1950's Havana cabaret scene
  • Irlandiani - 13 May 2021, Irish baroque cellist Carina Drury's picture of the musical life of early 18th Century Ireland inspired by her recent album [see my review} which explores the influence of Irish traditional music on Italian baroque composers living in Ireland at the time, and how a fashion for the Italian baroque style also influenced the Irish composers of the day
  • Nino Rota Festival - this is planned for one concert a month from June to August 2021, including his lesser known chamber music. The studio and its owners were once very dear to Rota, as he had composed the music for Richard Goodwin’s film Romeo and Juliet among others. Today, the piano Rota played on is still available and used by many of the artists that come by and perform at the studio. This festival, is therefore, a commemoration of his connection to this place and an incredible opportunity to cast light on some of his repertoire

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