The Spitalfields Music Festival is an annual celebration of innovative music, featuring local and international talent. Venues across east London play host to a wide variety of performances. The last event of the 2017 festival in December was the captivating Schumann Street. Sixteen artists from very different genre and backgrounds were invited to perform their own interpretation of the songs in German composer Robert Schumann’s 1840 song cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love).
The audience were split into groups to start our journey on the immersive, promenade musical installation. For the evening, eight local residents of the Huguenot houses of Spitalfields had opened their doors to stage two performances across different floors. The whole event takes place over 75 minutes so participants were invited to come and go as we please from each house, spending just long enough to hear the 16 pieces. We started our experience in Wilkes Street, a small group of us stepping into the parlour of a charmingly creaky early 18th century home. With just six of us squeezed into the wood-panelled front room, we sat quietly as a pianist Andrew West and tenor Rob Murray provided an interpretation of one of the song cycles by candlelight. Next, we headed upstairs for a cosier experience with a guitarist Aart Stootman accompanying singer Abimaro by a roaring fire in the living room.
Despite being a classical piece, the story of Dichterliebe was told to us through hip-hop, Bengali folk, soul, jazz, R&B, blues, as well as a classical. We stood, sat on chairs, tables and floors; or lingered in dark corners as we snuck in and out of the performances trying not to interrupt. The song cycle is about love, then loss, with the musicians giving musical expressions of the joy and the torment the heart goes through. One particularly enchanting performance was Mara Carlyle and Liam Byrne in the basement kitchen of a courtyard home. Carlyle sang while wearing Marigolds and washing up at the sink, as Byrne accompanies her on the viol. She then switches direction with a musical saw, bringing a quirky, modern end to the piece. Moving upstairs, we were greeted by an incredibly emotional performance by soprano Héloïse Werner and harpist Anne Denholm in a darkly lit living room. Werner looked positively heartbroken as she forlornly belted out lines from Und Wüssten’s die Blumen. I also particularly enjoyed German duo Apollo 47 depicting the torment and obsession that love can inflict as they rapped Hör’ ich das Liedchen Klingen. In a room covered in lyrics on the wall, the pair were oblivious to the audience as they rambled around with their lanterns trying to make sense of their emotions.
In the end, I only visited seven houses and was disappointed to have missed the last one, due to the fault of my own time management. I enjoyed the different stagings – from a more formal setting of a singer by a piano, to a drunken singing rampage around another house. While some artists acknowledged your presence, for many of the others, it felt like we were eavesdropping on a private or mundane moment – the writing of love letters, household chores, a lonely moping session. In addition to being entertained by very different performances, I felt privileged to see inside these amazing Georgian houses. I loved checking out their original shutters, fireplaces, wood panelling and window seats. Overall, it was certainly an ambitious premise, but the Spitalfields Music Festival certainly pulled it off. The result was a quirky, innovative experience which brought the classical workings of Schumann to a new audience.
- The Spitalfields Music Festival will return in December 2018. To keep up to date, visit the Spitalfields Music website.
Spitalfields is full of fascinating buildings, with Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century well represented. Many businesses are moving into the area, with some redeveloping or demolishing older buildings. While some historic architecture has been restored and changed for the better, there are others which meet a sorry fate (see my post on a crime against architecture in Artillery Lane). One of the things I love about the Spitalfields area is its many old lanes and alleys. Although many were destroyed during the Blitz, some still remain despite the encroaching modernity and skyscrapers of the City. As businesses come and go from the area, it’s interesting to see which ones embrace the history and heritage of the buildings they occupy… or completely annihilate any original features.
This post focuses on one particular street and one of its buildings. Widegate Street is just 200ft long and connects Middlesex Street and Sandy’s Row. The name Widegate comes from the former ‘white gate’ entrance into the Old Artillery Ground, which was established in the 16th century. Areas of the ground were sold off for housing and shops in subsequent centuries, with its legacy living on today in names such as Fort Street, Gun Street, Artillery Passage and Artillery Lane. Widegate Street used to be longer than what you see today, but some of it was absorbed by Middlesex Street in the 1890s. Today, Widegate Street features a mix of narrow historic buildings, including two listed houses at No.24 and 25 dating back to 1720.
No.12-13 is currently home to Honest Burgers, who have branches across London in a variety of historic premises. However, long before burger buns were being served, more traditional buns were being baked on site. The building was designed in the 1920s by architect George Val Myer as a bakery, in a neo-Georgian style to complement neighbouring buildings. The ground floor features glazed white bricks, giving a clean, clinical look. The two upper stories are made of red brick, Crittal windows and a strong cornice projecting above. The most striking part of the building are four ceramic panels, giving a permanent reminder of its origins as bakery. ‘Bakers Relief’ were created by Brixton-born sculptor Philip Lindsey Clark (1899-1977) in 1926 and were fired by Carters of Poole. The white and blue glazes are 1.2metres by 50 centimetres and depict the baking process. The panels start with a man carrying a sack of flour; a baker kneading the dough, baking the loaf in the oven and a baker carrying a tray of loaves. The original business itself was called the Nordheim Model Bakery and was opened by Charles Naphtali Nordheim (1864-1941). Although the bakery has long moved out, today customers their getting their carb fix in buns with their beef burgers.
- 12-13 Widegate Street, Spitalfields, E1 7HP. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.
Returning to London this December is the annual Spitalfields Music Festival. Over eight days, local and international musicians will gather in east London for a programme of bold and innovative performance. This year has been curated by conductor André de Ridder, with his vision shaking up the festival for 2017. Ridder is Artistic Director of Finland’s largest Contemporary Music Festival, founder of the ground-breaking ensemble s t a r g a z e and has worked across many genres with artists such as Nico Muhly, Damon Albarn, Max Richter, Uri Caine, Brian Eno and Jonny Greenwood.
Among the wide variety of performances and experiences include an immersive time-travel journey in a Spitalfields Huguenot House, meditation-inspired music under an interactive light display, an art commission in a church and a new work inspired by US punk band Fugazi. Acts include Sam Amidon, Bryan Benner, Sam Beste, Liam Byrne, Uri Caine, Mara Carlyle, Rahel Debebe-Desselegne, Anne Denholm, Abimaro, Lisa Hannigan, Topi Lehtipuu, Katherine Manley, Phil Minton, James McVinnie, Robert Murray, Ben Nelson, Alex Reeve, Shapla Salique, Saied Silbak, Aart Strootman, Heloise Werner and Apollo 47.
Among the highlights include:
- 3 December : East End Speed Histories: Tales Less Told
An unpredictable adventure through history including tales from actors, historians and authors in a mystery location not usually open to the public. 2pm and 4pm. Tickets: £10. At secret location, meet at steps of Christ Church.
Classic Album Sundays presents an evening with composer Max Richter and conductor André de Ridder to discuss Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi, The Four Seasons. 7pm. Tickets: £15. Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s).
- 4 and 6 December : Musical Rumpus: Fogonogo
From the award-winning Musical Rumpus series, explore the multi-sensory world of Fogonogo – an opera specially created for babies and toddlers. 11am and 1.30pm. Tickets: Child £8, Accompanying Adult £2. Rich Mix.
- 6 December : Renegade New Classical: Daniel Brandt, Nik Colk Void
Presented by André de Ridder’s orchestral collective s t a r g a z e, listen to the realms of classical collide with minimal techno, experimental and electronic music. 8.30pm. Tickets: £10-£28. Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s).
- 7 December : Late Night Bach
Festival-featured artist James McVinnie performs a stunning 40-minute set of solo keyboard music by JS Bach. 9pm. Pay what you decide. Shoreditch Church (St Leonard’s).
- 9 and 10 December : Schumann Street
An ambitious staging and (re)interpretation of Schumann’s iconic song cycle: Dichterliebe. Set across the stunning Huguenot Houses of Spitalfields, each of the 16 songs in Schumann’s cycle will be performed by a different artist drawn from a wide range of stylistic backgrounds including Bengali folk, rap, classical, soul and jazz. 5pm and 7.30pm. Tickets: £35. Huguenot Homes of Spitalfields.
- The Spitalfields Music Festival takes place from 2-10 December 2017. At various venues around Spitalfields. Nearest stations: Shoreditch High Street or Liverpool Street.
For a guide to what else is on in London in December, click here.
When developers buy old buildings, there is often fear of what will become of them. Depending on what protections have been put in place by local councils, some can be changed beyond all recognition or even demolished. However, some buildings can be mostly destroyed with only the façade remaining. Sometimes this can be done with great sensitivity and the modern building can complement the older. However, there are some pretty horrendous examples of ‘façadism’, one of which I’m going to look at in this post.
Spitalfields is one of my favourite areas of London – I love the architecture, the history and the atmosphere. Admittedly there has been a lot of development in the past 10 years especially, both good and bad. However, when wandering around the back streets of the area, I often sigh when passing by this shocking example of façadism.
On the corner of Gun Street and Artillery Lane stands what remains of the Cock A Hoop tavern. Today, only the 19th century façade remains, with the modern Lilian Knowles House student housing behind. What is so bizarre, is the windows of Lilian Knowles House don’t even line up with the façade’s windows so residents would have limited lighting and views of brick walls… a very strange design decision.
When I attempted to research the history of the building, there wasn’t much around. The Cock A Hoop tavern was established in 1810 and was first run by publican Joseph Hammond. I’m presuming (although please comment if I’m wrong!), that name referred to an earlier building on the site and the current façade we see today is the second building. The pub belonged to Meux’s Brewery, owned by brewer Henry Meux (1770-1841) and subsequently his son, MP Sir Henry Meux (1817-1883). Although the brewery no longer exists, its name became infamous due to the London Beer Flood of 1814. At the time, the company was named Meux And Company and its brewery was based on Tottenham Court Road – around the current site of the Dominion Theatre. Surrounding the brewery was the incredibly impoverished slums of St Giles. On 17 October, one of huge vats ruptured, spilling 323,000 imperial gallons of beer onto the surrounding streets. The beer flooded basement homes and destroyed several buildings, resulting in the deaths of eight people, half of which were children. Meux and Co were taken to court, but amazingly managed to escape prosecution, with the judge and jury claiming the spill was an ‘Act of God’. The brewery was later demolished in 1922, with the Dominion Theatre going up on the site in 1928-29. Read the rest of this entry
Kicking off the new season is the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival. Over three weeks, a range of music will be performed in unique venues across E1. Now in its 40th year, the Summer Festival will entertain audiences with opera, folk, jazz, early and contemporary music. Interesting and unexpected venues will host concerts and gigs, such as museums, cafés and churches to markets, gardens and, even, cemeteries.
Here’s some highlights of this year’s festival:
Jazz saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings and spoken word artist Anthony Joseph will be combining their talents to tell the folk stories of the Caribbean. £5-£15.
- Sister @ Rich Mix (3 June)
A cross-arts show, featuring an outpouring of memories – some tender, some comic, and others painfully raw. Created through interviews with sisters around the world. £12.
If you fancy having a go at singing, sign up to a workshop based on the idea of play: you’ll get a chance to make music from a cartoon score, create a human loop station and make a body percussion piece. Free.
Step into a dark Oval Space and immerse yourself in the passing of a year. Listen to an exciting première by Anna Meredith, based on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, while watching visual projections of the seasons passing by. The music intertwines Vivaldi’s original with Anna Meredith’s own writing, using cadenzas and electronics to transform the distinct four concerti into one continuous musical experience. £15.
- Schubert Ensemble @ The Octagon (13 June)
Romantic chamber music presented beneath an elegant high-domed ceiling. The Schubert Ensemble premieres a piano quintet by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, winner of the BBC Young Composer competition at the age of just 15, along a quintet by Louise Farrenc, the only woman to hold a permanent post at the Paris Conservatoire in the 19th century. £15.
Explore the museum after dark in this atmospheric late-night performance by the Multi-Story Orchestra. £15.
- Depart @ Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (16-26 June)
Haunting sights and sounds will seduce you down a path punctuated by unexpected encounters as you weave through the space between life and death in this East End cemetery. Led by Yaron Lifschitz and his internationally acclaimed company, Circa and with a creative team including the electronic musician Lapalux, this ethereal collaboration brings circus artists, choral singers, designers and musicians together for a summer night full of surprises. £15/£20.
- The Spitalfields Music Summer Festival 2016 takes place from 2-26 June. For more information and tickets, visit the Spitalfields Music website.
For a guide to what else is on in London in June, click here.
Returning to London this month is the Spitalfields Music Winter Festival 2015, bringing together local and international musicians. Straddling the border of the City of London and the East End, a host of concerts and special events for adults and families will taking be place across E1 over the 12 day festival. While there’ll be plenty of music on offer, there will also be a pop-up dining club, a walking tour, a film screening and interesting talks.
Among the highlights of this year’s festival are The Riot Ensemble – who mix the classics of Bach with world premieres of new music. Led by Serbian-Swedish composer Djuro Zivkovic, the ensemble will also performing a composition by the festival’s youngest composer 10-year-old Marie-Louise Ptohos. 7 December.
Take a lively journey across the Baltics with instrumental group She’Koyokh, bringing together winter music, traditional Eastern European melodies, stomping klezmer music and a puppeteer. 10 December.
For those who like something a bit different, why not visit the House Of Love. Inspired by Angela Carter’s short story The Lady of the House of Love is a special collaboration between choreographer and dancer Ella Robson Guilfoyle and composer and installation artist Mira Calix. 7 December.
If you fancy some fine food with your music, pop-up supper club Disappearing Dining Club is appearing at the festival for one night only. Diners will be treated to a cocktail apéritif and three-course meal in the historic surrounds of Shoreditch Church of St Leonard’s while listening to contemporary singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle and viola player Liam Byrne. 5 December.
For those feeling festive and prefer more traditional music, the Marian Consort is a traditional choir performing Renaissance music inspired by the visitation of shepherds at the nativity. 14 December.
Throughout the festival, keep your eyes peeled for the Rocking Chairs, an installation by Dutch sound artists Strijbos & Van Rijswijk. A modern rocking chair will pop up at various locations around Spitalfields, bringing the listener through a kaleidoscope of sounds, while creating a good selfie opportunity.
- Spitalfields Music Winter Festival runs from 4 – 15 December 2015. Tickets start from £5. Discounts include 25% off for 16-25 year olds, £5 students for best seats available and Tower Hamlet residents can attend for free. For more information and tickets, visit the Spitalfields Music website.
For a guide to what else is on in London this month, click here.
If time travel were ever made possible, I would do everything in my power to get to the front of the queue to try it out. However, with the possibility of crossing space and time looking unlikely at the moment, I’ll have to make do with my imagination…
This is where the unique Dennis Severs’ House comes in. While not exactly a museum, this private house is opened on rare evenings as a ‘still-life drama’. Earlier this month, I booked tickets for an evening visit time slot with my mother after hearing the house was opening its doors. As we weren’t allowed to take photos – so as to not distract from the experience – I will attempt to give a best description as possible of this unusual visit.
The Dennis Severs’ House is located at 18 Folgate Street, standing amidst a neat row of early Georgian terraces, just a stone’s throw from Spitalfields Market. No. 18 was built in 1724 and had four storeys, including a basement – featuring 10 rooms which are all accessed on your visit.
The late American artist Dennis Severs bought the property in 1979 when it was dilapidated and spent 20 years restoring each room in different historical styles from the 18th and 19th centuries. Throughout each room are signs of the fictional inhabitants, the Jervis family, who are imagined to have lived in the house over several generations.
After being greeted at the front door, we were given a brief premise to turn off our phones, no cameras or talking and let the house draw us in. The motto of the house is, ‘You either see it, or you don’t.’ Starting on the ground floor, before working our way down to the basement, then up to the upper floors, each room was full with antique furniture, clothing and other remnants from yesteryear. However, in contrast to museums where visitors are kept at a distance from roped off interiors, you are invited to study the objects in furniture in great detail, up close and personal. If you looked close enough, you could see little notes written by the Jervis family.
Although no-one lives in the house now, lit candles, sound effects and crackling fires makes 18 Folgate Street feel very much alive. Discarded clothing, half-eaten food, unmade beds and broken cups on the floor give the impression the house is still being lived in – but as if the inhabitants have just popped out for a minute, or perhaps left in a rush. The creaky, original staircases and my barely-visible reflection in the aged glass mirrors added to the feeling I was in another time. Further fuelling the historic atmosphere, sound effects of ringing bells, clip-clop of horses and carriages and cannon shots helped drown out the 21st century sounds outside.
After 45 minutes, I left the Dennis Severs’ House very impressed. It is such a unique place and gives you plenty food for thought. When visiting for the first time, keep an open mind and embrace the quiet and olde world of the house. Although it is also open for some daytime visits, through personal experience I would believe the evening visits would be a lot more atmospheric.
To watch Dan Cruickshank’s BBC documentary on the house on YouTube, click here.
- Dennis Severs’ House, 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, E1 6BX. Check the website for detailed opening times and how to book. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street or Shoreditch High Street (Overground). For more information, visit the Dennis Severs’ House website.
Read about another special Georgian building in the area, 19 Princelet Street.
For more blog posts on London history, click here.
I’ve always enjoyed Lebanese and Turkish food, so when a friend booked a table at restaurant serving a fusion of both, I was looking forward to it. A group of six of us dined at Adiva, located just a short walk from Old Spitalfields Market, on a Saturday night to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The table was booked through TopTable so there was a special £14.95 set menu (two courses) to choose from, however we were able to order off the a la carte menu if we preferred.
Adiva is located on Commercial Street in the Spitalfields/Aldgate East area of the city. Although it looked like a regular restaurant from outside, once you step inside you are transported to the Middle East with warm red and yellow interiors, Moorish designs and glass and wrought iron lamps. My friends and I all arrived with our own bottles of wine as the venue was BYOB, with just a £1.50 corkage fee.
Presented with our set menus, our helpful and attentive waiter was able to answer any questions we had about the dishes and offered his recommendations for those among us who were unsure of what to choose. I opted for the Vegetarian Mixed Mezze Starter – which consisted of Hommous, Lentil Kofte, Taboulleh, Falafel, Dolma (stuffed vine leaves), Sambousek Jabneh Sabanegh and warm pitta bread. Although quite large, the starter was light and delicious. I easily could have ordered a second serving it was so moreish. For my main, I went for the Samkeh Harra – pan-cooked fillet of Sea Bass with potato and leek mash with sautéed vegetables. The sea bass was cooked to perfection and melted in my mouth and the mash (one of my favourite foods) was creamy and full of flavour. I quite liked the vegetables, although some of them were slightly undercooked and a bit crunchy – I would have preferred them a bit softer. Regarding some meat options, one of my friends ordered the Lamb Shawarma (pan-roasted slices of lamb in Shawarma spice and onions) and said it was incredibly tasty.
Aside from the food and setting, Adiva has the added asset of entertainment by a belly dancer. The talented and friendly dancer moved around the restaurant so everyone got a chance to see her in action and she really livened up the evening. As expected, she managed to convince a few diners to leap out of their seats and show off their moves, which brought a camaraderie between our table and our fellow diners. Due to the BYOB alcohol policy, when it came to receiving our bill, we couldn’t believe how affordable it was. Overall, the food was delicious, the setting was comfortable and attractive and the service was good. With the added appeal of BYOB, it results in a very good value meal out.
- 43A Commercial Street, E1 6BD. Nearest tube/Overland: Liverpool Street or Shoreditch High Street. For more information and booking, check out the Adiva restaurant website.
To read Metro Girl’s other restaurant and pub reviews, click here.
I have seen or visited museums of immigration in various cities abroad and found them fascinating places. However, it’s astonishing that we don’t have a permanent museum dedicated to it in London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The word ‘immigrant’ can conjure up negativity in the media and I have been astounded to hear people I know – who are first generation British born to immigrant parents – talking about immigrants in a bad way, despite their family history. London itself was built by immigrants after all – the Romans! I myself am a daughter of immigrant parents, who came from Ireland in the 1970s. While the Irish are greeted with open arms nowadays, 40 years ago they were often unwelcome in Britain, with signs being placed in pubs and shops reading ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’. My parents faced racism from some areas of society when they first arrived, but fortunately they stayed and I am proud to be a Londoner and of my Irish roots.
While London is noticeably lacking a permanent museum of immigration, this is where, hopefully one day, 19 Princelet Street comes in. This unique building in Spitalfields is a window on the past and an insight to different waves of immigration which shaped our city. Princelet Street is a lovely road off Brick Lane full of 18th century terraced houses which have been mostly restored. At No.19 is the unrestored, Grade II-listed Museum of Immigration and Diversity, which is open only a few days a year.
Two weeks ago, a team of volunteers opened the doors of No.19 to the public for a few hours on three separate days. Despite the biting freezing temperatures, I ventured out on a Sunday afternoon, joining a growing queue along Princelet Street. Although I anticipated waiting for over an hour, it was actually only about 30 minutes (although, I did arrive 15 minutes before opening). No.19 is a three storey (not including the basement) Georgian house which started life as home to French Huguenots, who were fleeing persecution in France. Over the years, the building was divided into separate lodgings and workshops for weavers. As the years went by, No. 19 housed other trades. After the Huguenots moved on, the Irish came to Spitalfields, fleeing the potato famine, then the Jewish. Over their decades at No.19, the Jewish residents built a hidden synagogue in the garden in 1869, which is the main draw of the museum today. The light streams into the synagogue through the coloured glass roof, lighting up the names of those who donated to the synagogue inscribed on the wood panels of the ladies’ balcony.
Within the building are exhibitions prompting the visitors to think about their ancestry and what they think about culture and diversity today. ‘Leave to remain’ by three contemporary artists looks at asylum in Britain, while ‘suitcases and sanctuary’ is a look at immigration through the eyes of local schoolchildren. For me, my visit was a mix of indulging my love of history by seeing an old house in its ‘natural’ state and also giving me food for thought. No.19 is slowly crumbling, hence why it isn’t open all year round. While the faded wallpaper and creaky floorboards are undeniably charming, the building is in need of restoration, with a team trying to raise money to save it and develop it as a museum. I hope they reach their aim, it really is a special place which should be preserved for future generations.
- 19 Princelet Street, Spitalfields, E1 6BH. Nearest stations: Liverpool Street, Aldgate East or Shoreditch High Street (overland). Check out their website or follow them on Twitter to find out about the next open days or how to donate.
Find out about another unique Georgian building in the area, the Dennis Severs’ House.
For more of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.