As with so many cultural events in the current pandemic reality, ‘Summer in the Square’ festival is somewhat a product of circumstances. In a better, COVID-free world, Southbank Sinfonia would be performing in Tuscany at the annual festival in the town of Anghiari. A little disappointed about their canceled trip to Italy—who wouldn’t be—Sinfonia was nonetheless thrilled to be back to performing for a live, in-person audience. Members of the fellowship have aimed to ‘bring a slice of Italy’ to London, and they greatly succeeded.
‘Summer in the Square’ was hosted by St John’s Smith Square in Westminster, on the weekend of the 23rd to the 25th of July. During those three days, the Square saw four concerts, spanning through musical history from Beethoven to Ravel.
We attended the third concert in the festival lineup, graciously titled ‘Classical Jubilation.’ During their performance the orchestra performed four pieces: Mendelssohn’s ‘Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ Nielsen’s ‘Clarinet Concerto,’ and Mozart’s ‘Flute Concerto No. 2 in D Major’ and ‘Symphony No. 32 in G Major.’ All of the performances were conducted by David Cornhill, momentous and captivating since the first note. We seemed to be in agreement with other spectators that the soloists stole the show. Catherine Hare on flute and Guillermo Ramasasa Mortimer on clarinet took to their parts with confidence and charisma, and both were awarded standing ovations.
Everything about the ‘Summer in the Square’ experience was entirely charming. Located in a quiet corner in Westminster, with a lovely cafe-like establishment at the front, the festival’s setting tied neatly to the light-hearted serenity of the music. In the sun-bathed white walls of the concert hall, originally an 18th-century church, rebuilt after the Second World War and regarded as one of the finest works of English Baroque architecture, the sound seemed to travel with the beams of light—airy, warm, and uplifting. It constituted a deserving background for Southbank Sinfonia’s musicians. The festival offered an immersive experience for both the local community centred around St John’s Smith Square festival tradition and music lovers all around London alike.
As one of the fellowship members pointed out during his beguiling address to the audience, live music has been back for a few weeks now. It still feels surreal, almost otherworldly, to finally be a part of it again. ‘Summer in the Square,’ my very first contact with live music for far too long, left me feeling fresh and hopeful. It is still uncertain whether the festival will come back next year, but, while we genuinely wish for the Southbank Sinfonia to go back to their regular, crisis-free schedule, we certainly wouldn’t mind seeing them in St John’s Smith Square again.
edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor