Although the title of this blog might suggest that I’m targeting tourists, the subject should appeal to Londoners as well. Based on my own experience and that of others, it takes an outsider to make the insiders take a closer look at what’s on-offer close to home. As a tourist and sometime resident, I think that I know more about London than many who have lived in London all their lives.
As a person who always has an eye for a bargain, I’m somewhat of an authority on finding free and budget music in what is reputedly the world’s most expensive city. Before coming to London, I always check various sites to see who and what is playing where. I am not just about to drop in. Knowing the musicians and their programs, I can pick and choose.
The following venues are among my favorites. I am including the websites so you can easily check the programs for yourself.
Two of my favorite lunchtime concerts can be found at St. James Piccadilly and St. Martin-in-the-Field. Aside from the music, I like St. James because it is across the street from the Royal Academy and next door to Hatchards’ and Waterstones’ bookstores. Also, compared to St. Martin’s, the church is somewhat off the beaten path so the concerts attract a more serious audience. Free lunchtime concerts are at 1:10 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Donations are suggested. Do the best that you can. If you can’t donate, enjoy and go away with a lighter heart. Find their schedule at www.st-james-piccadilly.org/LunchtimeRecitals.
St. Martin-in-the Field also has fabulous classical music in a beautiful setting. I love the Devon cream walls and the slathering of gold-leaf. In contrast to Sir Christopher Wren‘s St. James which is dark, St. Martin’s (by James Gibbs, 1726) is light and airy. Convenience-wise, St. Martin’s is in Trafalgar Square, so whether you are there for the National Gallery or the Portrait Gallery or The Square itself, the church is handy. The flip side of that handiness is that the lunchtime concerts attract a good number of tired tourists who just want to have a sit-down and get off their feet. If I’m torn between two equally attractive programs at St. James and St. Martin’s, the window at St. Martin’s will tip the scales.
The window was designed by Shirazeh Houshiary and is to my mind a portal to another world. The concept was to view the cross as if it were a reflection on water. What I see, in the tipped oval is a hole leading to the larger universe. The hole doesn’t lead to answers; rather, it leads to wonder. That “wonder” plus world-class musicianship is a great combination. Luncheon concerts are held Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays at 1:00 p.m. Find their program at www.smitf.org/page/music/lunchtime. Donate if you can afford to; otherwise the concert is free.
Another church of interest is Southwark Cathedral– home church of both Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. The church itself (on the south side of London Bridge) is well worth a visit, but you can find free organ concerts there at 1:00 p.m. on Mondays and a musical recital at 3:15 on Tuesdays. Check the program at http://cathedral.southwark.anglican.org/worship/calendar.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, can be a bit pricy at 15 pounds for an adult ticket. Worth it if you climb to the Whispering Gallery, but if you are skint, you can enter for free by attending the free organ concerts held on Sundays at 4:45. See www.stpauls.co.uk>Worship&Music>TheOrgans.
And, of course, no mention of music would be complete without listing Westminster Abbey. The adult ticket price is 16 pounds: however, you can get in for free if you attend an Evensong Service at 5:00 p.m. The service is well attended (yes, you will have to listen to the liturgy) so I advise you to show up (to the right of the main entrance and around back towards the gift shop) at 4:40 or 4:45 p.m. and get in line. If you arrive early, you will be sitting behind the choristers in the Quire. Unforgettable! The schedule is on-line at www.westminster-abey.org>Music.
Moving away from classical and ecclesiastical music, you should check out the free music in the foyer of the National Theatre on the Southbank. Music begins at 5:45 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturday sees music at 1:00 and 5:45 p.m., and Sunday has music at 1:00 p.m. The program is varied, and in one week’s time, two or three programs will call out to you. View the programs at www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/1821/music/foyer-music.
At Covent Garden you will find any number of street performers, but if you go to the south courtyard of the market building, you will find exceptional classical musicians playing or singing in The Piazza. See www.coventgardenlondon.uk.com/events-entertainment…musicians.
If you are a late night person, check out your favorite museums. Most of them have Friday Late Nights with free music. You can listen to music and pick up a date at the same time. What a deal!
And there we have it. Well… we don’t have everything: I’ve just scratched the surface, but free music is out there. And while I’m at it, support your favorite street musicians: they’re just trying to make a living, and they add immeasurable to the quality of life in a big city.