St Jude's Proms hits the highest notes for charity

PUBLISHED: 13:36 30 May 2008 | UPDATED: 15:07 07 September 2010

With the Proms in its 16th year, one of the organisers Thomas Radice explains the origins and aims of this well-loved summer series The Proms at St Jude s –one of London s top music festivals – is now in its 16th year. One thing that makes the festival p

With the Proms in its 16th year, one of the organisers Thomas Radice explains the origins and aims of this well-loved summer series

The Proms at St Jude's -one of London's top music festivals - is now in its

16th year.

One thing that makes the festival particularly special is the beautiful interior of the Grade I-listed church of St Jude-on-the-Hill in Hampstead Garden Suburb, where the concerts take place.

Considered to be one of Sir Edwin Lutyens' finest creations and noted for its fine acoustics, St Jude's is one of only two 20th century buildings to feature in Simon Jenkins's England's Thousand Best Churches.

The Proms idea first came from Susie Gregson when, early in 1993, her American cousin, a professional singer, offered to give a recital to raise money for the St Jude's Organ Appeal and the North London Hospice.

The chairman and committee of the NW support group of the hospice and members of St Jude's reacted enthusiastically.

And, with the help of the then director of music at St Jude's, they worked up a week of music - which they called Proms at St Jude's.

Encouraged by its success, the organisers decided to repeat what was to become an annual festival.

Unlike the typical music festival, which aims at best to break even, the Proms' raison d'etre has always been to raise significant sums for charity.

Both the organisation and the beneficiaries of the Proms have varied over the years.

But since 2002, the proceeds have been divided 75 per cent/

25 per cent between Toynbee Hall and the hospice.

In that year, £20,000 was distributed. By 2007, the surplus had risen to £68,000.

Some regular features of the festival became established quite early on.

We have included a jazz concert in 10 seasons to date, including four by Humphrey Lyttelton and his band.

We open the week with an orchestral concert and conclude it with an Albert Hall-style Last Night - offering a 'serious' first half and high jinks after the interval.

Around this framework, we construct a balanced programme of evening concerts. These may include choral and operatic music; solo singers, pianists and other instrumentalists; chamber music; and the occasional surprise.

Performers include both artists of international reputation and rising stars. The free lunchtime concerts provide a platform for promising young musicians.

Apart from a professional concert manager and a front-of-house manager - both employed for Proms week - and some bought-in services, such as sound and lighting, the festival is run entirely by volunteers.

Programme planning is essentially a collaborative effort.

A small sub-committee of the Proms committee meets regularly throughout the year to exchange ideas about repertoire and musicians. They then submit proposals to the main committee for approval within the budget set for the year.

All are local residents and actively involved in music, professionally or otherwise.

This year's committee includes Yvonne Baker, responsible for Proms artists' contracts and a Wigmore Hall habituee, David Crossley, a dentist, amateur pianist, erstwhile chorister and baroque enthusiast, and Susie Gregson, a founding trustee of the Proms.

There is also Carol Kemp, formerly on the staff of musicians' agents Askonas Holt, David Littaur, a retired conductor, who worked with the New Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra and Philomusica of London, myself (Thomas Radice), a retired senior civil servant, programme note writer, joint chair of Hendon Music Society and an amateur pianist and clarinettist, and Helen Roose, a cello and double bass player, an associate of the Royal Manchester College of Music (now RNCM) and a retired peripatetic teacher for Barnet schools.

The programme emerges from a mixture of serendipity, brainstorming and personal knowledge.

Although we are approached by numerous musicians and their agents, our policy is not to engage relative newcomers - even if they have already had airings on radio or in the concert hall - without first hearing them live.

The "demo CD" is not always a reliable guide to what we hear in the flesh.

But we make the first approach to famous "names" ourselves, using personal contacts wherever possible.

We are already planning the programme for 2009 and thinking ahead to 2010.

We are particularly pleased with this year's programme.

Advance ticket sales are going well and we expect to have a full house for the opening night, the opera evening, the "two Johns" guitar concert, jazz with Stacey Kent, the Welsh male voice choir and the last night.

The one thing we cannot predict is the English summer weather!

To book tickets for the Proms at St Jude's, call 020-8458 1582 or log on to the website at www.proms@stjudes.org.uk for full programme details.


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