News 12 June 2023

News Story


And what an awakening! Three mighty orchestral concerts in scarcely a month to launch Croydon’s year as ‘borough of culture’. No musical lollipops. No lark ascending. No enigma variations. But Saint-Saens, Mahler and Sibelius. That this diet was a triumph is reflected in the audience response: shouts for more, and standing ovations for both the Kensington and Estonian National symphony orchestras. Not experienced in the Fairfield Hall perhaps since Dave Brubeck’s farewell concert a generation ago. The Estonians had given us Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. The audience loved it, and demanded – and got – an encore from pianist Barry Douglas. Again, a response rarely ever witnessed here. Barry hails from Northern Ireland. At age 26, he won the Gold Medal at the 1986 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow.

With over a hundred musicians to call on, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra had to be on stage well before starting time! There was scarcely enough room. Mahler’s Third opens with a powerful test for the orchestra’s brass. The symphony ends with a great choral adagio, the upper part of the concert platform filling with Croydon Philharmonia Choir’s women’s voices, Riddledown Collegiate School Boy’s Voice Group,, Royal Russell School Concert Choir, and Wilson’s School Junior Choir. A truly amazing evening – amateur musicians all.

An impressive rebirth to be sure for this great concert hall. But an enormous challenge too. The coming months will test whether people in sufficient numbers will forgo the South Bank and the West End – a mere 25 minutes away. October will see the Ukraine National Orchestra on the platform, with again a challenging programme, including a symphony by Ukraine’s leading composer. For political as much as for musical reasons it would be great to see a capacity audience.

It’s nearly eight years since work to refurbish Fairfield began. When completion seemed in sight, Covid came along. Reopening seemed forever delayed – the building was ‘dark’ for what seemed an eternity. And the cost seemed astronomic, till you begin to look at what was involved – the heating and water systems; air conditioning completely changed; removal of earlier lighting ‘improvements’ to reinstate the original; wholesale redecoration; even improvements to the hall’s superb acoustic to assist closed rehearsal time; not to mention all the work on the Ashcroft Theatre, The Cube, and the many practice rooms.

Much else is planned for the present year, in the Concert Hall, Theatre, and for the Yamaha School. Perhaps the last word should go to the London Mozart Players, Croydon’s resident orchestra, made effectively homeless for the best part of a decade. They gave the opening concert for this year as the London Borough of Culture. The organ which had remained unloved for so long burst into life on 20 April in Saint-Saens’ organ symphony. There was even opportunity as it was being played for the organist Anna Lapwood to show film of how a biggish pipe organ works. And for good measure, throughout this summer, among everything else, there will be a series of recitals by leading visiting organists.