A famous church destroys its musical legacy

A famous church destroys its musical legacy


norman lebrecht

August 04, 2020

Decca are about to release a 60th anniversary 60-CD collection of major recordings by the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the world- renowned London orchestra.

The Academy began when Neville Marriner and a few pals from the London Symphony Orchestra, plus Christopher Hogwood and other period-instrument specialists, began giving public concerts at the Trafalgar Square church in 1958. The church was always open to itinerant musicians and the quality of its concerts, mostly for tourists, was consistently high.

No longer. As we reported, the church has decided to stage performances only with its own musicians. There’s no room at the inn for new ideas or external initiatives. The church of St Martin-in-the-Fields has consigned itself to musical oblivion.


  • “Its own musicians”? Does that mean just the church choir and organist? Or will they be booking freelancers as and when?

  • Sophia says:

    Really disgusting thing to do to the struggling musicians and at this scary time!! I worked at St Martin-in-the-fields there are some lovely people there true christians, but there are a few rotten apples in the bowl spoiling the lot. Their reputation for all things shady precedes them, just take a look at the same damage at St Sepulchre’s & their strange involvement. The devils need to be exorcised out of St M’s, so many of us worked for the church and concerts and homeless shelter together in harmony, felt like it was almost a 2nd home until the nasties entered to case the joint & the rot started.

  • Markus says:

    The church has been playing on repeat the same 10 works for the last 5 years intended only to a audience made of tourist. So it doesn’t really matter who performs it.

    • Hugo says:

      The dedicated independent freelance ensembles & promoters who after 3 tough decades of building the non-subsidised concerts series from the ground up at St Martin-in-the-fields, taking on all risk themselves and the church only the profits, had been doing more high risk recherché music programmes eg. Verdi Requiem; Beethoven; Martín Mass; Mendelssohn; Handel’s ‘Theodora’; Piazzola & abstruse Bach Cantatas to name a few. Those who know music production know about the high risk, detailed prep. & large costs involved in putting on these kinds of concerts. About 7 years ago the new organist now somehow director of music joined St Martin-in-the-fields putting on concerts but it appears that the external promoters have ended up having to subsidise the in-house concerts series for years. The resulting impact – the church & charities etc. are all negatively affected, the independent ensembles targeted & squeezed more & more, larger & larger fees and hire charges etc. demanded until the promoters were forced and even told to run lower risk music programmes to make the church more money as their main objective, which obviously meant they had to sadly sacrifice the more difficult & varied creative music programmes they seemed to have loved being able to offer audiences.

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    You can get a taste of their own musicians, as they did Choral Evensong live last Wednesday on Radio 3. (A change to the advertised service, which would have been a recording from Hereford Cathedral from 2015). It’s the first of four live services from St Martin-in-the-Fields each Wednesday at 4pm (BST). Link to BBC Sounds below.


  • Jack says:

    It was a good run. Time marches on.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    “The church of St Martin-in-the-Fields has consigned itself to musical oblivion.”
    A very dystopian thought, Norman. Why don’t we just wait to see what happens?

    • Elementary Economics says:

      A church or synagogue or mosque is merely a business shrouded in the cloak of “religion”.

      No paying customers = no business.

  • John wills says:

    What a disappointment. One of my favourite memories of London was comming out of the National Gallery and surprise, surprise there was St Martins just across the road. Ocer l went and took a seat just in time for a young lady to walk to the piano, open it and sit down and play Schumanns Kinderszenen.

  • Leo says:

    I remember rare pieces, fantastic music programmes & superb performances at St Martin-In-The-Fields by the delightful variety of freelance ensembles. Some of the student lunchtime pieces were as described on the tin. Our group gave an in-house concert a try a while ago, the so-called conducting bringing to mind the poor old tin-man sans his can of oil in Oz I’m afraid. Being a local & long time regular of St Martin’s as both a parishioner & music lover, it was the variety of the place which was so attractive. This terrible betrayal of the long-serving freelancers is distasteful indeed and from a christian institution, shameful.

  • Tony says:

    As a Londoner who would occasionally be on the steps I’m going to miss that ‘openness’ of musicians handing me flyers, actually getting me into the church. Now, It’s more about me being kept away. Bad day.

  • Geoffrey Simon says:

    Incredibly sad and, unfortunately, as misguided as so many things done in the name of Christianity.