Saturday 25 March 2023

A lockdown success story: St Mary's Perivale and its amazing programme of 120 recitals per year, viewed live and online

Piano recital by Alasdair Beatson at St Mary's Perivale (Photo : John Ross)
Piano recital by Alasdair Beatson at St Mary's Perivale (Photo : John Ross)

One of the success stories of Lockdown, St Mary's Perivale has managed the tricky task of creating an engaging concert series, with a strong focus on young artists, that has both an online and a live presence. Run by a team of volunteers, led by artistic director Hugh Mather, the concert series is based at a redundant church in Ealing where they give around 120 concerts per year; three per week during 'term time' with concerts usually on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  There are usually two weekend festivals per year, and they recently had their New Faces Piano Festival where eight pianists gave their Perivale debut recitals.

The church, St Mary's Perivale, dates from before the 13th century with a major Victorian renovation and then in the 1960s urgent repairs were undertaken as well as a modernisation that stripped out the pews. The church was made redundant in 1972.

Their concentration is on piano and chamber music, last year a little over half the recitals were solo piano, plus duos, trios and occasional larger ensembles, together with a monthly jazz concert. Eminent musicians also come to give lectures, and recent visitors have included György Pauk, Tasmin Little, and Peter Donohoe with Peter Frankl to come. Concerts last around an hour, and Hugh Mather asks performers to play mainly mainstream repertoire, as they need the programmes to appeal to a general audience.

It is Hugh who sorts out both artists and repertoire, a significant task given the sheer quantity both of artists and recitals. Since 2005, over 500 professional pianists have played at Perivale and of these, 150 would like to come back for a solo recital but there are only some 60 or so slots per year! So Hugh tries to mix established and regular pianists with newcomers, concentrating on young musicians. 

Hugh points out that there are so many fine musicians based in London, from all over the world studying at the London conservatoires, and Perivale aims to provide the very best of them with regular performing experience, and exposure via their broadcasts. In fact, there are few venues that offer this sort of opportunity. And Hugh frankly adds that older, more established pianists may not need this exposure quite as much and may want fees greater than Perivale can afford.

The whole is amazingly run on a shoe-string by volunteers (including Hugh). The money comes from donations from the audience, so Perivale is able to pay solo pianists some £200 per recital; this is obviously less than larger and more prestigious venues but more than the London churches which pay nothing for lunchtime concerts. The concerts are also broadcast on YouTube and Vimeo, and these receive on average over 500 views, thus giving the performers further exposure and performers get a high-quality video recording to keep for their own use.

A small amount of money goes to the maintenance of the building and of the piano, but the vast majority of the donations from the audience go to the musicians, something that the team at Perivale are immensely proud of.

They first installed video equipment with the intention of being able to offer musicians a high-quality live recording of their recital. They are lucky enough to be able to take advantage of the services of several retired BBC personnel who live locally and provide expertise free of charge. But, from 2018, they started live-streaming as well, and then during Lockdown, they were doing this from an empty church, providing one of the few regular concert series available. For this, they received the Lockdown Star award from the Critics Circle in 2021. The church is tiny, holding a maximum of 75 people, so the online audience for the recitals is important and the team at Perivale hopes that this can be grown.

The team are all volunteers, many are retired, and Hugh comments that reward comes from the satisfaction of helping brilliant young musicians who are almost invariably charming young people and deserve support, and providing entertainment to music lovers, both living around Ealing and (via our broadcasts) now around the world. Hugh took over the management of the concerts at Perivale in 2005 after a career as a Consultant Physician, combined with a life-long passion for classical music and training as a pianist and organist. Initially, there were just 50 concerts per year, but this was gradually increased to 120.

St Mary's Perivale
St Mary's Perivale

You can explore the full range of events at their events archive, whilst recent live streams can be found on their YouTube channel.

Tomorrow (Sunday 26 March) there will be pianist Peter Frankl in conversation, then further ahead there are recitals from pianist Joanna Kacperek in Clara Schumann and Robert Schumann, pianist Ivelina Krasteva in Beethoven, Chopin and Scriabin, and pianist Dominic Doutney in Brahms and Rachmaninoff. Full details from St Mary's website.


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