40 Years of Music… 30 Years of Evening Concerts
This month sees St George’s reaching not one but two important anniversaries… In the Autumn of 1976 a concert programme of sorts was begun, in earnest, following the closure of the church (which wasn’t officially declared redundant until 1984); those first lunchtime concerts were organised by the newly formed St George’s Music Trust, which recognised that the church had a remarkable acoustic for music. The BBC cottoned on to this fact very quickly and began recording lunchtime concerts for broadcast as early as December 1976. In the years that followed ‘St George’s Brandon Hill’ became recognised for its classical music broadcasts on BBC Radio 3, plus occasional ‘Sunday Service’ programmes on BBC Radio 4. These public events were played out in front of audiences perched on pews, and surrounded by the familiar trappings of a church – from the ornate marble altar surround and pulpit, to candelabras, tapestries, the towering organ on the gallery and Sir Arthur Blomfield’s impressive altarpiece (or Reredos, designed and installed in the 1870s). Standard lamps provided light enough for the musicians to read their scores and tickets were sold from a card table…
By 1984 it was obvious the church was never going to reopen and a final service took place on St George’s Day; just days later a list of the church’s various contents and furnishings was approved for relocation and churches across the region were given items ‘for safe keeping’. The remaining parishioners (and ‘Friends’ of St George’s) were adamant the church would re-open one day… It wasn’t to be.
An appeal to raise £600,000 was launched by Trust in the Autumn of 1985. Its aim was to develop the church as a ‘top-class concert hall’. Money came in from major companies, charitable trusts, individuals and even the English Tourist Board. Work began with the building of a stage, so the marble altar ‘furniture’ had to be dismantled; it was, however, carefully numbered so that it could be reconstructed. The addition of a stage meant that larger ensembles would be able to perform, in turn expanding the range of music available to concert goers. The crypt was also developed, transformed into a cafe bar (with a small box office at the end of one of the vaults), and some facilities for artists were created backstage.
With the addition of the stage in 1986, the trust embarked on its first ever programme of public evening concerts. Those first seven concerts, known as ‘The G Series’, saw artists giving their time as a contribution to fundraising for the conversion project. The first evening concert was on Saturday 18 October 1986 and featured Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow, who gave a four-hand piano recital. The following month saw soprano Charlotte de Rothschild give a recital, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, with the remainder of the series featuring concerts by local musicians, including the fledgling Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra, Avon Schools Chamber Orchestra and Bristol Junior Choir. The final concert in the inaugural series was a 10th anniversary concert, headlined by pianist John Lill, who was a Patron of the St George’s Music Trust at the time.
The success of that first evening concert series, and the appeal that transformed St George’s, paved the way for the venue we know and love today. A further ambitious project took place in 1998/9 with the help of Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund; that saw the pews removed, chairs installed, the box office built and the backstage facilities and office refined.
Today we are embarking on the next phase of the St George’s transformation, once again with the help of the Arts Council and Heritage Lottery Fund. Building work on our new extension starts soon and the future looks secure for the little church that found a new life in music… We hope you’ll join us and be a part of the next chapter in the St George’s story.
A very happy Fortieth and Thirtieth Anniversary to us!
OAE – St George’s Anniversary Concert
Join us and celebrate our double anniversary with the OAE, which performs a programme of music by the Bach family. For a bit of fun, you get to choose the encore! Read more…
Friday 21 October, 7pm
Tickets £34, £28, £22, £14, £5 Students/U18s (limited availability) (plus fees)
£1 administration fee charged per transaction plus £1 credit/debit card fee where applicable