Stephen Hough on classical music in churches

Photo: Christian Steiner
Photo: Christian Steiner

As you all know, the Two Moors Festival main two-week event in October takes place in churches all across Exmoor and Dartmoor, bringing some of the best musicians in the world to the south-west for 14 days of brilliant classical music-making.

Of course, as these venues aren’t dedicated concert halls, putting on productions under their roofs can certainly be a challenge – as Stephen Hough, concert pianist and blogger for the Daily Telegraph, observes in a very interesting post on the paper’s website.

He’s playing a concert in Wendover’s St Mary’s Church (a building that dates back to the 13th century!) and says that even though churches haven’t been designed for musical productions there’s “something magical” about borrowing them for this purpose. He’s absolutely right! We love being able to put on concerts in these old and mystical buildings, even though the acoustics (lovely for choral singing of centuries ago but other than that, generally awful) can prove problematic.

Stephen’s anecdote about the noise that can be made in churches is rather amusing: “I did play once (with the bishop’s permission) over the tomb of St. Nicholas in Bari … yes, Santa Claus himself. It was the Liszt sonata at a crushingly slow tempo due to the extreme resonant echo of the ancient stone space. It’s a strange experience to hear bar 35 still ringing in the air when your fingers are already playing bar 42.”

Despite this, for the Two Moors Festival taking concerts out of the traditional concert halls and putting the best musicians in front of audiences who might never see them live for themselves – at least not without going to London and paying a pretty penny into the bargain – is a must.

And it might even be good for the musicians themselves. Stephen goes on to say, “perhaps it’s easier to lose the heavy weight of the ego in a building where what you are doing is encouraged and appreciated, but not essential to its life. A kind of ‘bringing down to earth’ as the music itself soars to heaven”.

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