St-Martin-in-the-Fields outlines a grim musical future

St-Martin-in-the-Fields outlines a grim musical future


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2020

The church has banned independent ensembles. It wants to make all of the music itself. Your views?

Over the past few months at St Martin-in-the-Fields we have been reviewing our concert structure with the aim of shaping a new programme of carefully curated, sector-leading and inspiring performances. We intend to combine the popular programming for which St Martin’s is known and loved with new strands of ambitious music-making; and we will work alongside select partners to deliver this vision. In these challenging times, when St Martin’s is under immense financial strain, we also want these changes to create a music structure that best supports both musicians and our wider work.

Our aim is to create an open venue that is welcoming to a broad range of musicians and artists, both up-and-coming and established, giving many more people the opportunity to perform at our iconic church. In particular, we want to enable St Martin’s to support a large number of professional musicians directly, rather than through third-party promoters, whilst at the same time continuing and growing our support for voluntary music-making and our flourishing music education programmes.

We intend to open up more of our site to music: using not only the church space, but also our outdoor courtyard and indoor crypt. We plan also to work with our partners across the HeartEdge network to facilitate more music-making opportunities in churches across the country.

When St Martin’s is able fully to reopen, we hope in the first half of 2021, we plan to deliver our programme in three ways:

1) An enhanced in-house concert offering. For the last seven years St Martin-in-the-Fields has been increasing the number of concerts performed by its own musicians, choral and instrumental, working alongside a number of musical partners. All of our instrumental concerts and most of our choral concerts involve professional musicians. We will be significantly increasing the number of these, with both popular and more adventurous programming.

2) Working with sector-leading musical partners. Governed by a new set of partnership principles, we will work with a number of key musical partners in order to build the profile of our musical output. The principles and process of becoming a partner will be advertised in the coming weeks and will be open and transparent.

3) Externally promoted concerts. We will continue to be open to applications from all those who wish to hire the church to promote concerts, including those who have hired the church or performed previously, along with new promoters. The process for selecting these externally promoted concerts will be transparent and fair.

We begin this new direction with a three-week long Summer Festival of virtual concerts starting on Thursday 13 August. The Summer Festival is supported by donors to St Martin-in-the-Fields Trust. Following that, thanks to the generous support of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we are delighted to announce a weekly concert series beginning in September, online-only, and then with socially-distanced audience as rules allow. We are working to bring back our lunchtime concerts in an online format soon, and we hope that they will return with an in-person audience as soon as we are able. We will shortly be publishing our partnership principles, inviting partners to work with us, and at the same time putting out a call for auditions to significantly build our pool of freelance orchestral musicians for in-house concerts. We hope to be able again to offer St Martin’s as a performance venue to external groups from April 2021, depending on government regulations. 



  • Greg Bottini says:

    My wife and I heard a string quartet play (beautifully, I might add) at a noontime concert at St. M-I-T-F, 40 years ago, while we were on our honeymoon. But I can’t for the life of me remember if it was an outside group or part of the church’s ensemble.
    It would be a shame if all public concert music there were to cease, so I wish them the best of luck in their endeavors!

  • Edward says:

    Like the Sheffield debacle, this seems a pointless thing to do, to try and replace a tried and tested formula with something pretty similar, and aggravating large numbers of people in the process. Without wishing to appear elitist, SMITF succeeds because it caters for the Classic FM crowd, who want to enjoy popular classics, nothing too challenging. Nothing wrong with that. Its shop front on one of the nation’s most popular tourist sites helps bring in the crowds, but it’s a tourism thing, rather than a more ‘serious’ venue such as the Wigmore. Trying to create a more ‘adventurous’ programme I think will not entice their usual clientele who want the 4 seasons and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, so I think this will not be as successful as what went before. Good luck doing an outdoor performance in the courtyard just outside a busy London terminus.

    • christopher storey says:

      This document is sheer cloud cuckoo land stuff . “Governed by a new set of partnership principles”….”The principles and process of becoming a partner will be advertised in the coming weeks and will be open and transparent.” It is quite clear that Covid-19 has softened the brains ( always assuming there are any brains ) of those responsible

    • Sarah says:

      Who would pay for the heating and lighting of the church? The socially distanced audience? And who would pay for and/or do all the sanitising required by law to make the place a confident place to worship on ona Sunday morning? People forget what has to be done and what costs money that simply isn’t there.
      It has nothing to do whatsoever with Sheffield disbanding a choir or Ripon Cathedral’s organist retiring.

    • Stephen says:

      Reading between the lines, SMitF might well have been undercharging the external promoters and, understandably, want a larger slice of the pie. The hackwork Mozarts and Vivaldis also undermine what is still, thanks both to the ASMF and to the church’s own work, a premium brand. There are dozens of half-empty churches in central London which could usefully use the income from a budget concert promoter.

      At a time when church incomes are almost non-existent, but the outgoings still there it makes sense to try a new direction.

      • Grittenhouse says:

        Or, they want the money going directly to the musicians.

      • Anon says:

        Would you consider £2,350 venue hire (for 8 hours) plus 15% commission on all tickets sold (not just those sold by the venue) plus 20% VAT, as undercharging ? Considering that the vast majority of seats are in hard church pews on one flat ground level, it’s probably the most expensive venue to hire in London, taking into account what is acceptable and fair to charge customers for tickets taking into account their view (or lack of). All at NO risk to the church

    • Grittenhouse says:

      The part about eliminating having to pay outside promoters and hiring the musicians directly does make great sense.

      • Gerry McDonald says:

        Dear Grittenhouse, with respect you are being a little naive. Outside promoters pay a substantial hire fee for the church, pay a large commission on ticket sales and are almost entirely responsible for advertising the performance

  • LondonPianist says:

    I think it’s a good idea. It’s been extremely difficult to perform at SMITF if you’re not part of a 3rd-party scheme, which many amazing musicians aren’t. I’ve performed lunchtime concerts there twice, once because a violinist asked me to play with her (via a 3rd party promoter) and once with a duo partner via SMITF’s own application process (which only offers limited recital slots). So, yes, totally, bring on better access for musicians.

    That said, neither above concert paid a cent – not even covering travel (even while the audience is encouraged to pay an entrance fee). So I hope SMITF will actually PAY its professional musicians going forward.

  • LondonPianist says:

    Oh, I should add – the Steinway D at SMITF is in wretched condition. It’s clear they don’t maintain it (or even tune it regularly). A terrible shame that will only get worse when, in the not-too-distant future, it’s beyond saving and they have to fundraise for a new one….

  • Anonymous says:

    They do seem very keen on everything being ‘Open and transparent’ so I ask the following question : When the new post of Director of Music was created (combining concerts with church music) was the appointment of the current incumbent ‘Open and transparent’ ie, was the post advertised and were other candidates considered. If not, then that hardly chimes with their current aspirations and if the correct process was not followed was it even legal ? I would be most interested to know the answer to this.

  • Julian Rowlands says:

    This has deprived a lot of fine musicians of a future livelihood at the worst possible time. It would be great if you could investigate the internal machinations behind this appalling development.

  • R A Stephen says:

    I am one of many professional musicians affected by this decision. I used to perform regularly at St Martins with two orchestras. When covid hit I lost all my work. Now I find out that part of this work will never return. St Martins has shown zero consideration for us, and clearly couldn’t care a jot about our livelihoods. Some of the musicians in the affected ensembles orchestras have been playing at St Martins on a weekly basis for over 20 years. Their loyalty has been rewarded with a kick in the teeth at the most difficult possible time.

  • Anon violinist says:

    I have performed at hundreds of these music by candlelight concerts …. please can someone give me the details of the auditions mentioned above so that I can audition to plea to get my livelihood back ( post Covid)?

  • Grittenhouse says:

    I don’t understand what number 2 means. Is this an active church, or just a music venue? Do they still have the famed orchestra?

    • christopher storey says:

      Grittenhouse : the Orchestra was the creation of Neville Marriner, and as far as I know the Church never had any control over it , nor any financial stake in it , at all. Just as well, it would seem !

  • Cellist says:

    14 years I’ve been performing in these concerts… now I’ve learnt via this web site that I’ve got to audition to see if is possible to continue earning my living in this way. Disgusted and feel that I DESERVE BETTER. Would somebody from SMTF church Like to tell me otherwise?

  • Howells of Indignation says:

    This is the same Director of Music who, just three years ago, campaigned against external ensembles being able to hire St Sepulchre’s for rehearsal and performance activity. Poacher-turned-Gamekeeper?

  • Anonymous says:

    ‘All of our instrumental concerts … involve professional musicians.’ Yes, the lunchtime concerts involve highly talented students of professional standard, often playing to packed out audiences. The church solicits, and receives donations from the audience, yet not one penny goes to these performers.