BY JOSEPH ASQUITH, UK CORRESPONDENT
Classical Vauxhall is a series of concerts in the London district of Vauxhall. Sponsored by Vauxhall One, this concert series is in its fourth year — and it’s about to open the door to 60 young musicians from the area, giving them the chance to work directly with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
We catch up with Classical Vauxhall co-founder and artistic director Fiachra Garvey — also an award-winning concert pianist who will play in the festival — to find out more about the program.
Hi there Fiachra, thanks so much for joining us at CutCommon! Can you tell us a little about the background of Classical Vauxhall and how the idea of it started?
In 2019, my friend Will enlightened me to all the fantastic work [festival sponsor] Vauxhall One do in making Vauxhall a better place to live, work, and do businesses. He mentioned that Vauxhall One wanted to add more cultural offerings as part of their program. Having founded the West Wicklow Festival two years earlier, Will introduced me to his colleagues at Vauxhall One and we had a chat about the idea of starting a classical chamber music festival. From there, really the idea was conceived — and we’re now heading into year four, which is a testament to the drive and commitment of everyone involved.
London is one of the global centres of classical music. With Vauxhall being a notable district in the City of London, how do you think it contributes to this thriving culture of classical music concert-going?
Vauxhall’s iconic Pleasure Gardens have a historic connection to the classical arts and wider cultural and social life of London. This was the place where Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks received it unofficial and unintended world premiere. When word got out that a rehearsal was taking place in the Gardens, large crowds flocked from all over London to sneak a peak!
The Pleasure Gardens were also a place were all fantasies and dreams could be lived out; a liberal and welcoming place where different was the norm. The Gardens attracted some of the most vibrant people in the arts and cultural scene of the time. One of the reasons for the festival was to re-connect Vauxhall with this history, and bring classical music back to [its] home in London!
The slogan for this concert series is “Classical done differently”, which I find intriguing! Can you tell us a little more about this?
As mentioned, different was always historically, and even today, the norm in Vauxhall, which is something I particularly love about this part of London. Anything goes in Vauxhall. And there is a place for every person and animal too, with the amazing Vauxhall City Farm — another reason I felt instantly at home, coming from a farming background in rural Co. Wicklow in Ireland.
We want the atmosphere at the concerts to be super chilled; for people not to worry about clapping in the ‘wrong’ place, what to wear, what to say, not feeling worthy as they may not know how to pronounce a certain composer’s name or know much about the cultural context of the works. Like any artform, we all are deserving of it, and our opinions on whether we enjoy it or not are all equally valid.
I of course want people who are regulars at classical concerts to come along too. But what I really want is for people who might ordinarily not engage with classical music — or have never been to a classical concert before — to come and try something that might challenge them, but will bring them so much joy and inspiration as a result of opening their ears to a whole other world of possibilities!
The more genres of music one appreciates, the greater the pleasure one gets from the variety within them, and the more one notices the many similarities and differences that exist between different styles and cultures.
There’s an impressive line-up of artists in the festival this year with some eclectic repertoire. What are you most looking forward to?
All the concerts are so different, it’s hard to pick out specific highlights. The Brahms Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor is a giant of the chamber music repertoire, so that will be great fun to play alongside [fellow musicians] Tamsin Waley-Cohen, Clifton Harrison, and Jamal Aliyev.
Tenor Nicky Spence was a big favourite when the festival was online in 2021; his musicality, but also his comedic talents, make him one of my favourite performers to watch and listen to.
We’ve not yet had any electronic music in the festival, so [violin and electronics artist] Rakhi Singh’s program will be an exciting fusion of acoustic and electronic playing. Everyone loves the big hits from Hollywood, and Julian Bliss’ septet is one of the best bands in the businesses.
Finally, the joy on all our young musicians’ faces when they get to perform with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday will really be a fitting end to the festival, with community at the heart of it!
You have the role of both performer and artistic director. What is your approach in balancing these two roles?
Trying to be as organised as possible, amongst the inevitable chaos of being a freelance musician!
I’ve been artistically directing Vauxhall and the West Wicklow Festival now for a good many years, and so you get into a certain groove of somehow managing to juggle a lot of different roles. But honestly, I love the variety, and the different qualities and skills that being a performing musician and a festival director bring to my life.
You’ve also partnered up with the London Philharmonic Orchestra to support young musicians. Can you tell us a little more about the opportunities you are offering with this collaboration?
Yes, we will have 60 young musicians from the Vauxhall and Lambeth area have the opportunity to work with the LPO for a whole day, in sectionals and as a whole orchestra, with a public performance of the works they’ve workshopped throughout at the end of the day.
This Overture Day is a wonderful opportunity to identify and nurture young talent in the area, and to build a lasting relationship with them going forward as well.
In an age where music is so accessible to download on apps or search on YouTube, why do you think live music, particularly live classical chamber music, is still so appealing for people?
As great as it is to stream and download music, there is nothing like the live experience — and I feel this is particularly relevant to classical music, as there are no gimmicks or distractions. It’s such a pure artform, the musicians and their instruments. Nothing is lip-synced or autotuned or faked in any way, and it’s a privilege to witness a person creating something so special in front of your eyes, in a unique moment in time and place, which will never be the same again. That thrill of live performance is as rewarding for the performer as it is for the audience.
Even with the possibility to record concerts and watch again, it will only ever be the people who were present at that specific concert who will have the feeling — for life — of what it was like to be present in that particular moment in time.
Classical Vauxhall spans 2-5 March and takes place in St Mark’s Church. For full program information and bookings, visit the website.
Images supplied. Credit Marshall Light Studio.