Monday, 14 March 2011

The Knitting Concerts

In our London neighbourhood we are very lucky to have the Knitting Concerts, a classical concert series which takes place during the first half of every year since 2005. We love the informality of the concept, the closeness of course and above all the very good quality of the performances! The venue, the beautiful All Saints' Church, is quite intimate and therefore very appropriate.
The average Knitting Concert goer is probably between the age of 4 and 99. This makes a refreshing change to the normal suspects at these kind of concerts, although keep in mind: this is a concert with a slight difference after all! 

If you want to know how they came about, how this series got its name, please look below and read the very entertaining Knitting Concert History by its founder, Robert Bridge (go to the read more link).

The next Knitting Concert will be this coming Sunday, 20th March, 7pm, at All Saints' Church, Putney Common. Expect an evening of French and English Songs with works by Fauré, Poulenc and Quilter. Mezzo-Soprano  Clare McCaldin will be accompanied by pianist Lindy Tennent-Brown.

The Knitting Concerts
About ten years ago I was asked to give a piano recital and had chosen quite a demanding programme, much of which I had never previously played in public. Now as any performer will know, be they musician, actor, speaker or sports player, you can practise as much as you like by yourself but what happens on stage is always rather different. So I wandered round my children’s school playground and handed out invitations asking listeners to come and sit for an hour whilst I played some music at them; that I would give them wine and juice for nothing and I didn’t mind what they did whilst I was playing. Bring your knitting, I said. About 20 people came, drank a few bottles of wine, read Arabic poetry, drew portraits of each other, finished their tax returns and indeed knitted whilst I played them Beethoven and Ravel. At the end they wanted to give me money and wondered when the next one was because they had really enjoyed themselves. They seemed a bit disappointed when I explained that it was free and it was a one-off.
About a year later I found myself in the same predicament, this time with a piano trio. Word must have got about because that summer evening there were about 60 people who brought cakes and strawberries and spilled out on to the grass whilst little children kneeled on the floor at the front and drew the musicians, and two little girls went to the loo halfway through and inadvertently switched off the main fuse box and plunged us all in to darkness. But we kept playing and they kept munching and reading and darning and writing, and an idea popped into my head; because at that time I was helping to organise a little series of pukka evening chamber concerts at the church, the usual rather starched classical format, and I wondered whether this new ambience wasn’t rather more appealing.
So in 2005 the first series of Knitting Concerts were inaugurated at All Saints, initially a rather modest series of three concerts, nowadays a monthly date from January to July. And people still come and knit – and darn, and sort socks, and write the first letter to a friend that they have been able to find time since their young kids were born, and read and write, and produce wonderful pictures. For a time there was a rather ferocious line of needles in the front row who, I swear, used to clack more loudly as performers got to really difficult bits of their pieces, the tricoteurs of Putney. And of course most people just come and listen. 
I am very happy that the audience have the freedom to choose. When I started performing again after quite a long break in my 30s I wanted to find a different way to perform that was more sharing and less formal then the norm, and the idea of communal endeavour is really appealing to me. As the gag goes if the musicians are going to work their socks off, the least the audience can do is to knit them some new ones.
And people have come to these concerts who have never been to a classical concert before, felt too intimidated, and parents have felt comfortable to bring quite small kids knowing that if they have something to occupy themselves with they will be much less fidgety than if they were told to sit still. And I don’t believe that audiences listen any less intently just because they have something in their hands, indeed the association of the two can make for an even more powerful experience of the music. But it does give listeners the option to zone out from time to time if they are finding the going tough allowing me, in turn, to programme some fairly challenging programmes from time to time: so this year, in amongst the French song and Mozart chamber music, there will be Berg and Webern and a complete performance of the Goldberg Variations; and in recent years programmes have included works by Stravinsky, Messiaen and Tippett.
And they seem to offer performers the chance to take a risk or two, to try a piece that they have never quite dared play in public before; at one recital a few years ago a performer spoke publicly for the first time about his twin who had died 15 years earlier and dedicated a piece to him; at another a performer gave her first recital after major finger surgery two years earlier had left her believing that she would never be able to play in public again.
So, if that all sounds intriguing, do come along. The concerts take place on Sunday nights at All Saints Church on Putney Common, start at 7pm and finish at 8pm and if you send me an email at I’ll tell you when the next one is.

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