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St John’s Smith Square
The magnificent church of St John the Evangelist was designed by architect Thomas Archer as part of the ‘Commission for Building Fifty New Churches’ of 1710. St John’s was the most elaborate of all, with construction lasting 14 years, from 1714 to 1728, and costing the princely sum of £40,875 (approximately £5.2m today)
For over 200 years, St John’s Smith Square served as a parish church, though not without incident. In 1742 a major fire led to extensive restoration and modification to Archer’s design. In 1815 the church was struck by lightning, causing subsidence to the towers, and in the early twentieth century it was the target of a Suffragette bomb plot. Ironically, in 1928, the church held Emmeline Pankhurst’s funeral.
Perhaps heralding the future musical life of St John’s Smith Square, in September 1901 Edith Hockey and Robert Britten were married here. Twelve years later, they had a son, Benjamin, who as an adult would record here with the Wandsworth School’s Boys Choir. Perhaps the most dramatic night in St John’s history was 10 May 1941, the final night of the Blitz, when a direct hit from an incendiary bomb gutted the church. After the war it lay as a ruin and there was talk of turning the site into a car park. This galvanised local people, under the leadership of Lady Parker of Waddington, to raise the funds to buy the site and commission Marshall Sisson to lead the restoration to Archer’s original designs. When the work was completed in 1969, St John’s Smith Square was re-born as one of the finest concert halls in London.
As Sir Hugh Casson has said of St John's "...just to come across it in that quiet square is an event. To enter it, to enjoy its spaces, to listen to fine music within its walls is an experience not to be matched in conventional concert halls and is a lasting tribute to the man who designed it."
The theme for London Festival of Baroque Music 2017 is ‘Baroque at the Edge’. Inspired by the anniversaries of Monteverdi (450th of birth) and Telemann (250th of death) the Festival explores the ways that composers and performers have pushed at the chronological, stylistic, geographical and expressive boundaries of the Baroque era.
Artistic Director Lindsay Kemp said: “This year’s two anniversary composers come from opposite ends of the Baroque era, which got me thinking about ways in which musical styles and tastes change over time. At times such as the transition from Renaissance to Baroque around 1600, and from Baroque to Classical around 1750, change can come quickly and different styles end up jostling with each other. These corners of music history, and the whole idea of blurred edges and crossed boundaries, is what has given us our Festival theme this year.”
This year there are 13 concerts over 9 days, with highlights including Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 from the stellar partnership of Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra; the Pergolesi Stabat mater with Early Opera Company under Christian Curnyn with soloists Lucy Crowe and Tim Mead; Telemann’s cantata Ino with Florilegium and Elin Manahan Thomas; Monteverdi's L’Orfeo with I Fagiolini and Robert Hollingworth; Handel’s Jephtha with the Holst Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music under Stephen Layton; string-ensemble music by Biber, Schmelzer and Fux from Swiss ensemble Les Passions de l’Ame (with Turkish percussion!); and a harpsichord recital (entitled ‘Le Vertigo’) by Jean Rondeau.