10 days ago was (sorry to remind you of this) Hallowe’en. For the occasion, Abney Park Cemetery Trust (curators of the massive graveyard-cum-park in Stoke Newington) had hired my new affiliation the Winter Quartet to provide a suitably themed performance in the chapel onsite.
Atmospheric, this certainly was. It’s dark by late afternoon in an English October, of course, and so it was absolutely pitch black for an evening concert. Like the cemetery itself, the tombstones on the walk from the main gate to the chapel tend towards the grandiose, overshadowing the torchlit pedestrian. The chapel was built in Victorian Gothic style, but gains a power of unsettling its architects could never have bestowed from having fallen into fairly comprehensive disrepair in the late 20th century and ‘stabilised’, in archaeological terms, rather than significantly restored. So the walls are standing and the roof is whole (though I’m quite glad we didn’t have to test whether it was waterproof), but the windows are covered only with wire grilles, the floor is gravel and the interior is a mix of remaining blank plaster and uncovered brick – punctuated here and there by graffiti tags, themselves now ageing. Cosy, it was not. Lighting came only from a handful of battery lanterns which created superb shadows, projecting upwards from the floor; heating there was none whatsoever, which probably didn’t aid our playing (thankfully it wasn’t as cold for the performance as for the run-through the previous night, when our Spanish first violinist complained her fingertips were numb about a quarter of the way through!).
Into these foreboding surroundings we brought a programme ranging from the silly (the Addams Family theme, ‘Thriller’), through the melancholic (Chopin’s Marche Funèbre, Leonard Cohen’s or rather Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’) to the occasionally downright hair-raising (‘Night on a Bare Mountain’ and a highly accomplished arrangement of Radiohead’s ‘Paranoid Android’ that repaid the rehearsal time it took us to learn it by getting the best applause of the evening). The audience, fortified by blankets and mulled wine, seemed to enjoy themselves and we’ve been asked back to provide something seasonally shifted in the spring (perhaps in daylight?).
Not your usual string quartet job, compared to either ‘real’ chamber music in recital or decorative background froth at wedding receptions. Here’s hoping we’re opening up a market niche for alt-strings … offers considered!