Early Music in Greenwich

Written by: Colin Anderson

The Greenwich International Festival of Early Music returns; Eleanor Noonan from Trinity College outlines the weekend, which runs from the 12-14 November…

Early Music is cool. That seems to be the message. Only a few weeks ago, the South Bank arranged an Early Music Weekend; now comes another one, at Trinity College in Greenwich, Trinity’s now five-year-old base since decanting from Marylebone. Trinity’s not copying because this is the second such celebration, the Greenwich International Festival of Early Music, that it has undertaken at the Old Royal Naval College. The first one was a knockout success.

Speaking with Eleanor Noonan, Head of the Early Music Faculty at Trinity College, a position that involves “the overall running and management of early music studies”, she tells me that one aspect of the Faculty “is to develop the modern students with a sense of performance practise style; we have a very busy year and this weekend Trinity Showcase is just part of the year, a promotion of the staff as performers and teachers and to give a window into what we do. It’s a wide range of stuff.”

The surroundings appear absolutely ideal, not least The Painted Hall. “It’s incredible! It was designed as the naval officers’ mess, their dining room. It’s a huge space, it’s floor to ceiling frescoes, vast windows. You have to see it! It’s the most beautiful building, and this particular building is used for the exhibition, as a demonstration space, with lots of stalls, instruments, music, CDs and books.”

So, a weekend of concerts, masterclasses and exhibitions. Something of an international forum, then? “Yes, and the advantage of having the performance side of Trinity tied together with the exhibitors’ work means we have a captive audience; people from all over the world come to buy material, try instruments, meet the makers, and also come for the concerts. People come for everything. It’s very much hands-on performance, and there are lots of eating spaces, so people get together and catch up with friends. Last year was fantastic; we performed for over three thousand people, and a lot of those were tourists and members of the public who happened to come to Greenwich that day and discovered this amazing thing going on.”

The weekend has been “timetabled so that it’s possible to get to all the concerts”, save there’s a potential clash with a Trinity Sunday morning recital at Blackheath Halls (from where the Weekend passes and tickets can be bought), but it’s a “lovely walk up through the park” to get from Greenwich to Blackheath. Eleanor outlines that “the programme of performances is diverse. All the performers are members of our teaching faculty and our student body. It’s a really nice way of showing what goes on here and who we have working on our staff. We open the masterclasses to local schoolchildren and students from other conservatoires, so we’re offering to the local community as well.”

Highlights? “I can’t pick highlights, because they’re all highlights; they’re all going to be superb! It’s been put together carefully to be of an equal standing. The performers devise their own programmes; there’s no brief from us. The daytime concerts are free; the only events we charge for are the Friday and Saturday evening concerts. The exhibition space is also charged for but the grounds are public areas so people can just wander in.” Do check out the comprehensive website for a complete picture of the weekend.

To further demonstrate the appropriate surroundings, “a couple of the rooms in King Charles Court are being used for recitals and masterclasses. This site has changed the college; there’s so much respect for the buildings, and the acoustic qualities of the buildings are ideally set for early music performance, which can only stimulate the performers and the audience. You can’t help but be affected by being here.”

  • Blackheath Hall Box Office: 020 8463 0100
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 3 November 2004 and is reproduced here with permission

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