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  • Miles Hedley

LONDON INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF EARLY MUSIC at Blackheath Halls and St Michael & All Angels

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

After a year performing miracles in cyberspace, the annual wonder that is the London International Festival of Early Music returns to Blackheath in the flesh. And what a live programme it promises.

Some of the planet’s finest artists will hot-foot it to south-east London to play recitals at St Michael & All Angels church between 10 and 13 November. All the concerts will be filmed for arts TV channel Marquee and many will feature works written for 17th century royal rivals Charles II of England and Louis XIV of France.

Meanwhile, nearby Blackheath Halls will be filled with the sights and sounds of citterns and gitterns, shawms and sackbuts, curtals and crumhorns and any number of other fabulous music-makers as part of the world’s biggest exhibition of early instruments.

As is always the case, it’s hard to pick out festival highlights - simply because there are so many riches on offer. But the world premiere of a piece by superstar composer Errollyn Wallen (top) surely qualifies.

Wallen, who also teaches at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich and performs around the world, wrote Angel Waters for viola da gamba virtuoso Liam Byrne and theorbo maestro Jonas Nordberg, who will be unveiling it at the opening concert on the Wednesday evening.

As well as Angel Waters, which was commissioned by LIFEM, their recital will also include a programme of French music and is due to feature a guest appearance by acclaimed soprano Lucy Crowe.

Byrne is in action again the following day at noon, this time playing the lyra viol. Later on, Crowe is due to join harpsichordist Laurence Cummings and world-famous lutenist Elizabeth Kenny (above) for a recital of music once played in English royal chapels.

On Friday afternoon the focus moves down the road to St Margaret’s church in Lee Terrace where the annual SRP/Moeck solo recorder competition will be judged by an international panel made up of Anna Stegmann, Jan van Hoecke and Emily White.

Speaking of competitions, the joint winners of last year’s search for the festival’s best young ensemble will both be giving recitals at St Michael & All Angels. Ensemble Pro Victoria and their artistic director Toby Ward perform on the Friday at 7.30 and Ensemble Hesperi play the following evening. In between, Festival Evensong makes its LIFEM debut under the aegis of renowned countertenor Andrew Watts on Saturday afternoon.

And as if all that isn’t enough, throughout the festival there will be makers’ demonstrations as well as performance platforms for youngsters from schools and colleges to showcase their talents. Phew!

LIFEM’s range and ambition makes it truly one of the cultural highlights of the year, not just in Blackheath, nor even in Britain, but anywhere. Full details and tickets are available at

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