Written by: Colin Anderson
In 1956 the Park Lane Group was “formed for the same reason it exists today. Three Guildhall students realised there was no platform for talented young artists. By chance they met this dear old chap, Mr Catchpole, an elderly Bradford accountant. He ran the company that owned Park Lane House, 45 Park Lane, and rented it out for anything legal. He said, when I’m not using it, you can – and I won’t charge you. There was a 150-seat theatre where John Ogdon did his first London concert, Gwyneth Jones her first, she was still at college. We did four seasons. When Catchpole retired, he sold the freehold to the Playboy Club.” The words of John Woolf, PLG’s Director, now based in Regent Street, who came on board a few months after the students’ fortuitous encounter with Catchpole. “We’d shared in something that could actually be done and was useful – it set our standards.”
Today, PLG promotes Anniversary Concerts – Stan Tracey the subject in 2002 – and evenings with the likes of Joan Sutherland and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Developments and refinements have established the “cornerstone” of PLG’s year, the week-long series of Young Artists Concerts that occupy the first week of January, a concentrate of ten recitals over five days in the Purcell Room featuring talented young performers and a wide mix of contemporary music. How are the musicians chosen? “We hear at least two pieces. One is standard repertoire, back to Bach, and a contemporary piece that they want to play. We always audition live, never with recordings. The programming process takes a long time.” John sums up the Advisory Council, Artistic Committee, Audition Panel and Programme Committee as “a lot of people playing a part in a quiet way.” Short-listing of artists is done purely on merit, which might mean “31 pianists and one oboist.” It was a glut of pianists one year that kick-started the 6pm concerts. Those chosen are written to for a “substantial list of contemporary and 20th-century music; also if they know of composers who would write for them. When they write back, that’s the result.” John produces a book of repertoire – “acres of it!” That’s there’s no featured composer this year is concomitant with the natural selection process – the artists’ choices determine, or not, this aspect. “If you announce at the beginning a composer who hasn’t written much violin music, then some violinists will decide not to audition. That would be a shame.”
John advises a change of programme. Nan Li, classical accordionist, has dropped out (7th, 7.30), so pianist Helen Read – “still keys!” – will include music by Geoffrey Poole, for whom 2002 was “a year devoted to the piano, 64 pieces.” A project with a Chinese influence, which can also be sampled, as scheduled, on the 9th and 10th. Harriet Mackenzie (pictured) “is going to be good” (6 January, 7.30). “She’s learnt the Payne, Fokkens and Andriessen especially; that’s a good example of the enthusiasm I’ve been jabbering about.” Matthew Sharp (8th, 7.30) “auditioned three years ago as a highly talented cellist and we put him on. He wanted to audition again. I said no because he’d already appeared. He actually wanted to audition this time as a singer. One piece is for singing cellist; he’s singing and playing!”
These concerts are not something for a standard audience? “Actually, it’s one of the best ways of hearing contemporary music. The quality of the artists, we rarely make a mistake – I will boast about that. You’re assured that technically they will be very competent. Also they’ve got tremendous enthusiasm, freshness and commitment. It’s such a marvellous way of hearing what for a lot of people is still strange music. We’ve never allowed ourselves down one particular road, and that’s on purpose.” PLG has no reserves of cash, so funding is from “anywhere we can get it, anything legal!” This, then, is a very important concert series for a whole host of reasons. Whether one concert or all ten, the opportunity is there to sample new performing talent and a wide range of music. Or, to quote PLG’s motto: Helping young musicians realise their talents.