After 11 years of Sunday morning concerts, the Hackney Proms have drawn to a close.
Instead of focusing on world-renowned performers and high-profile venues, the Hackney Proms – run by a team of volunteers – aimed to provide family-friendly concerts where grandparents could pass the baton of classical music appreciation to their grandchildren.
“The organisers successfully encouraged a lot of young people into classical music through the Proms’ Sunday morning performances,” says Ilana Cravitz, the lead violinist in the London Klezmer Quartet.
“They created a musical community where music lovers and listeners could integrate with the musicians themselves. But classical music exists in a different world. A self-exclusionary world.”
The final concert took place last Sunday in Stoke Newington Town Hall. The founder of the Hackney Proms, Paul Julian, says it was the exclusive and alienating nature of classical music that he wanted to break down.
“The Proms finale concert only just about covered itself financially,” he explains. “We’ve been losing £4,000 a year despite having a regular donor who gives us £1,000 a year. Yet we still couldn’t make it.”
Staff silently battled to keep its financial books in order to save locals paying lots of money for concert tickets.
“A lot of orchestras eat hand-to-mouth. It’s expensive putting on shows and paying for talented musicians,” says Pete Long, spokesman for the Association of British Orchestras. “But I don’t think it’s a harbinger of doom. Another orchestra will have the freedom to emerge.”
Even as his project comes to a close, Paul does feel positive about Hackney’s music scene and the work of the Hackney Music Service, which encourages children to have an interest in music: “When we launched the organisation, regular classical concerts were not a thing in Hackney,” he says. “Now, Hackney’s music scene has changed immensely.
“Thanks to the Hackney Music Service, there are numerous youth orchestras for children who can play the same works as the internationally renowned orchestras that performed for the proms. It’s amazing to see.”
But he didn’t look completely happy. In fact, he had tears in his eyes.
“It’s horrible to think that no one has volunteered to take over. We really pushed ourselves to make it work, but we’re getting a bit old and past it,” says Paul.
The final concert attracted a mostly young audience. As the quartet performed, toddlers and teenagers sat on the floor close to the group in complete silence, enthralled by their trademark complex passage-sequences in every piece.
Susi Evans, who plays the clarinet in the quartet, believes music has a vital role to play in the development of children:
“It’s a fallacy that children cannot focus. Music speaks to children through different feelings and emotions in ways words never could. But for some reason, the classical music industry neglects its youth.”
Featured image credit: Paul Julian