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Orchestra, opera and Shakespeare with Belsize Baroque

PUBLISHED: 12:00 30 September 2016

Belsize Baroque.  Picture: ANTANAS MARTINKUS

Belsize Baroque. Picture: ANTANAS MARTINKUS


If you didn’t know it already, this part of London has its own, home-grown baroque band, founded in 2002 by a music-loving lawyer called Susan Cooksley

If you didn’t know it already, this part of London has its own, home-grown baroque band, founded in 2002 by a music-loving lawyer called Susan Cooksley who has since abandoned the business of supervising high-value City transactions and surrendered her life to music full-time.

“The band started”, she explains, “with a few friends rehearsing at my flat in Belsize Park, which is why we hit on the name Belsize Baroque. It’s nicely alliterative. And it references the fact that during the 18th Century Belsize Park was a pleasure garden – not unlike the one south of the river at Vauxhall – where there would have been music. The kind of music that Belsize Baroque plays today, on period instruments and at period pitch, which is about a semitone lower than modern pitch”.

Anybody interested in what that means to the resulting sound should take note of two concerts Belsize Baroque has coming up at its local church, St Peter’s Belsize Square.

On October 2 there’s a straightforward orchestral programme with works by Bach, Telemann and Boyce. And on October 8 there’s a link-up with the newly formed Belsize Opera for a programme of music by Purcell (conducted by Louis Mander), and words by Shakespeare (supplied by actor Theo Devaney and friends).

Both dates are part of the St Peter’s Arts Festival, and feature young musicians in receipt of bursaries from Belsize Baroque under a scheme to give players fresh from college the chance of a public platform.

And if it’s indeed the case that the music in these programmes could have been heard in the Belsize pleasure garden three hundred years ago, it will probably get a more civilised reception this time round.

The Belsize garden was a place, as Susan Cooksley says, “where high and low life met face-on. And it became so low-life that the local residents eventually had it closed down on the grounds that it attracted lewd and rough behaviour. By the end, things got so bad that you were advised to hire escorts on your way back to central London, to fight off highwaymen and robbers”.

By comparison the 268 bus, which stops right outside St Peter’s, is a paradigm of safety, charm and comfort.

Oct 2 starts early, at 6.30. Oct 8 starts 7.30. Tickets on the door.

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