Saturday, May 04, 2013

Piano Passion in...Perivale and Ealing?

There've been some rather amazing noises coming out of what used to be a quiet corner of west London. Two churches - St Mary's, Perivale, and St Barnabas, Ealing - have in recent years sprouted extraordinary programmes of intense music-making, under the artistic direction of retired doctor and passionate pianist Hugh Mather.

With innovative schemes involving big screens for a better view, tickets issued on the door only and a Chopin Festival, which is coming up fast (11-12 May), comprising ten hours of piano music from a plethora of rising stars each playing for 20-30 minutes, it seems that Perivale and Ealing are reaching - with remarkable ease - ideas upon which bigger promoters fear to tread; and, best, making a success of them.

How does Hugh do it? I asked him for a JDCMB Q&A session...
JD: Hugh, you were a medic and now you're a concert promoter! Please tell us your own story? How did you get started in the music scene?
HM: I was a chorister at Westminster Abbey, and played the piano and organ from an early age, gaining the FRCO diploma while still at school, and subsequently the ARCM piano performer’s diploma. I then studied medicine at Cambridge and in London, and was appointed Consultant Physician at Ealing Hospital in 1982, specialising in diabetes. However, I always combined medicine with music, and continued to have piano lessons with the eminent teacher James Gibb, initially at the Guildhall and then privately, for over 30 years. I gave many concerts as a solo pianist, including concerti by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Chopin, Grieg, and Schumann, and played Beethoven’s 'Hammerklavier' sonata at the Guildhall and elsewhere. In 1986 I commenced weekly classical concerts at Ealing Hospital, providing performing opportunities to musicians living around Ealing, and these continued for 20 years, with approximately 800 concerts. I retired from medicine in 2006 and since then I have developed a second career, promoting about 100 concerts per year - about 600 concerts since 2006 - at two contrasting Ealing venues, namely St Mary’s, Perivale, and St Barnabas Church.  

JD: Tell us about your two west London venues, St Mary's Perivale and St Barnabas Ealing - what makes them great places to play and listen to music?

HM: St Mary’s, Perivale, is a small, 12th-century Grade 1-listed church hidden away within Ealing Golf Course, just off Western Avenue in Perivale, near the Hoover Building. It became redundant in 1973 but is now a flourishing concert venue, run by a charitable trust, the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale, of which I am Chairman. It is a stunningly beautiful building with a magical ambience, and provides the perfect setting for small-scale concerts, particularly instrumental and chamber music, with a capacity of 70. It has excellent acoustics, a good piano, and the audience appreciate being closer to the musicians than in most other venues. 
We cultivate a ‘club-like’ informal atmosphere, with free admission, free drinks and nibbles at the end of the concert. We hold about 50 concerts per year, most of which are ‘double concerts’ with different musicians performing in each half, as can be seen from the Archive section of our website ( ). This has details of around 320 concerts since 2006, with performances from over 180 pianists and 100 violinists. The standard of performance is very high indeed, and is rising year by year. Musicians love the both the venue and our enthusiastic audience, and are invariably keen to return.  
We have informal links with the Royal Overseas League, who send their top prizewinners to play, as well as with the Royal Academy, the Royal College and the Guildhall, so we have a constant influx of the best new talent. We have excellent in-built video recording facilities, and produce a high-quality DVD recording of every performance, which is sent free of charge to all the musicians.  We have recently commenced putting some highlights onto our Youtube channel ( and so far have uploaded about 60 performances. These amply demonstrate the high calibre of our concerts.
St Barnabas Church, Pitshanger Lane, Ealing, is a large active Anglo-Catholic church built in 1916 with a fine choral tradition and a magnificent, newly-installed pipe organ. I have attended the church as a parishioner for many years, and in 2007 I bought a very good Bosendorfer concert grand, previously used by the BBC at the Maida Vale Studios for broadcasts, from Harrow School. This fine instrument has been the basis of all our subsequent concerts. The church has a much larger capacity than St Mary’s Perivale, and is used for Friday lunchtime recitals and occasional large festivals, such as the forthcoming Chopin festival. Since 2007 we have had 260 Friday lunchtime concerts. We have also held eight major festivals devoted to single composers, listed in, and three series of Summer Proms, each with 12 concerts. About 170 pianists, listed in our archive, have played in concerts at St Barnabas. Concerts are held in the ‘round’, with the piano in the nave and the audience seated as close as possible.

We have developed a novel ‘big screen’ system. This was originally acquired for organ recitals, but is now proving immensely beneficial in piano festivals, enabling everyone to see each pianist in ‘close-up’. The concerts have been used to raise funds to pay for the new organ, and to date have raised over £130,000.       

JD: We hear that you don't sell tickets in advance - people just come along on the night and pay what they like in a retiring collection at the end. How does that turn out in practice? How do your musicians respond to this?
HM: We don’t sell tickets in advance, and all concerts at St Mary’s Perivale are indeed free admission with a retiring collection. This simplifies the administration of concerts, and encourages more people to attend.  In practice, the amount donated varies from £1 or less to £20 or more, and averages at about £6-7 per person. This attracts Gift Aid, raising the total to approximately £8 per person. Our Wednesday concerts at St Mary’s Perivale are ‘double concerts’ with different musicians in each half, so that we can provide more performing opportunities and the audience have a more varied and interesting evening. Soloists usually get paid around £100 for half a concert, or £200 for a whole recital, depending on the size of the audience, and we usually give ensembles £50-60 per person. We aim to give the musicians about 70% of our receipts and to keep 30% to pay our overheads. All musicians also receive a high-quality DVD of their performance free of charge.
At St Barnabas, our Friday lunchtime concerts are also free with a retiring collection, and we pay our musicians a fixed fee, namely £100 for a soloist, £120 for a duo, £150 for a trio and £200 for a quartet. We do charge a fixed fee for our festivals of £12 per session (afternoon or evening) (£6 for young people).

JD: Why a Chopin Festival, and why this very unusual format? Please tell us how it's going to work, why you're doing it and what you hope to achieve with it?
HM: The Chopin festival repeats the well-tried and successful formula used in previous festivals, as detailed in our archive These have covered all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas (twice), Liszt piano music, Chopin piano music, Haydn sonatas, the music of Schumann and Schubert (including chamber music as well), and an organ festival.

The formula really does work brilliantly well in practice. It is infinitely more interesting and rewarding to hear many different pianists playing similar repertoire on the same piano, rather than have a single artist, however good or eminent. We have an inevitable bias towards piano events because there are so many excellent pianists based around London who need  and deserve performing opportunities.

The St Barnabas Chopin Festival will take place on May 11th and 12th 2013 from 2.30-6.00pm and from 7.00-10.00pm on each day. A flyer with the detail, and full information on the pianists, their programmes and brief biographical notes, is on

We have 21 pianists, including many prizewinners from international piano competitions, giving short recitals of 20-30 minutes, including virtually all the most famous Chopin works, comprising almost 10 hours of piano music. Admission is £12 per session, or £40 for the whole festival (four sessions), half price for young people under 16. No tickets will be issued beforehand – just turn up on the day. The church is large and admission is guaranteed. Free parking is available in nearby residential streets. There are regular breaks for refreshments, and tea and supper will be available.

All piano fans, and all lovers of Chopin, are encouraged to come along to this festival of fine piano playing. I am grateful to the support of both the Chopin Society and Liszt Society in helping to advertise this event. I have no doubt that it will be as successful as our several previous festivals have been.

JD: What are your aims for the future of your series ?
HM: My overall aims with my concert-promotion activites are threefold, namely 1) to provide vital performing experience for the best musicians based in London, particularly at the start of their careers, 2) to provide concert-goers in Ealing with much pleasure in their locality, without having to travel into central London, and 3) to raise funds to preserve St Mary’s, Perivale, in pristine condition for future generations, and funds to support St Barnabas Church. It is gratifying to see several of our regular musicians starting to make waves in the musical world.

As regards pianists, two of the finalists in the Leeds competition last year – Jayson Gillham and Andrejs Osokins – are regular performers, as are many other rising or established piano stars, such as Viv McLean, Ashley Fripp, Mishka Rushdie Momen, Mei Yi Foo, Ivana Gavric, Rustem Hayroudinoff, Jianing Kong, Meng Yang Pan, Konstantin Lapshin, Ji Liu, Evelina Puzaite, etc, and many of the best string players and chamber ensembles based in London have played at both our venues. 
JD: Anything you'd like to add?
HM: Only that organising 100 concerts a year, with all the fixing, advertising, publicity and sorting out arrangements, has now become a busy full-time job, but is an excellent and rewarding way of spending my retirement!