During term time Jill Alexander can be seen each Wednesday walking through Dulwich Picture Gallery inviting visitors to a concert in Christ’s Chapel and each week she gets a new group of interested supporters. The concerts are free, which surprises many. Each concert is just half an hour; enough to create a moment of stillness and reflection.
The musicians are all students from the local Foundation schools: Dulwich College under music director Richard Mayo, James Allen School for Girls led by its music director Peter Gritton and finally Alleyns under Chris Dearmer. Each school gets usually two or three slots per term and Jill has no idea what the school is going to perform at each concert until half an hour before the doors open to the Chapel. “Usually the school selects an ensemble who might just need some extra practice or they might have played their chosen repertoire recently at another concert.”
“We never have a sell-out performance,” says Jill with a laugh, “because we do not sell tickets. Yet we have on average an audience of fifty or sixty, more if it is an orchestra playing, as many proud parents want to attend. “The audience is very appreciative and enjoy hearing the young students playing, even the youngest ones of 11 or 12, who might not yet achieved perfect musicianship. Some of them we have seen during the years as they progress and that is very special, too.”
For the students it is a wonderful opportunity to learn to play in front of an audience and also to interact with one, “Some are so shy when they hear the applause that I have to tell them to take a bow.”
The music directors of the schools decide the programme for their concerts but on the 50th concert all schools played together as part of the celebration and this will happen again on the 9th November for the 100th concert. “This time we will hear the Brandenburg Concerto conducted by Richard Mayo followed by Grieg’s Holberg Suite with Peter Gritton holding the baton and finally Chris Dearmer who will lead the combined choirs, What is so special is that they play together, strings come from all three schools and like the choirs they do share their practice.”
The concerts were dreamt up by Dr Joe Spence, Headmaster of Dulwich College, and Jill Alexander, who was then the Chairman of the Friends of Dulwich College and she wanted something special to celebrate the Gallery’s bicentenary. The first concert was held in October 2011 and the series is now in its sixth season. “We organise 16 concerts a year, eight each autumn and spring and our first performance in January is always a jazz concert and that is very popular and so is the Dulwich Chapel Choir Concert held in February, people put these dates in their diaries,” says Jill. Now these concerts have brought the schools together and become a fixture in the community.
The lunch-time concerts take place each Wednesday during term time in Christ’s Chapel at 1.30 and finishes at 2.00. There is no charge, “but if people have enjoyed the concert they may want to give a donation and any money given goes straight to the Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery to further the work of the Gallery.”
The 100th Celebration Concert
9 November 1.30-2.00pm and then on 16, 23 and finally 30 November