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June 26, 2012

City of London Festival Brings Music to Squares and Streets

By Spear's

As I wandered towards Paternoster Square in the warm evening, I could hear, just above the noise of the evening commute getting underway, strains of a piece of Rachmaninoff piano music and I know and love

The City of London festival started in grand style yesterday with a blazing performance of Berlioz’s magnificent Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral. The London Symphony Orchestra, led by Sir Colin Davis, filled the space with the more thunderous passages of this enormous work, so much so that you could feel your chair shaking; but at other moments, such as in the exquisite Sanctus, they almost seemed to whisper the music.

It was a breathtaking performance in a beautiful space, and as the capacity audience flowed out afterwards into the warm night, there was a sense that the festival had well and truly begun.

However, signs that the fiftieth Festival had started were to be found before the LSO burst into life at St Paul’s. As I wandered towards Paternoster Square in the warm evening, I could hear, just above the noise of the evening commute getting underway, strains of a piece of Rachmaninoff piano music I know and love.

I walked into the square to find a City worker totally absorbed in playing a brightly coloured upright piano; it is one of fifty such ‘golden’ pianos that have been dotted around the Square Mile for the duration of the festival. They are already proving popular – for at least one important reason: hearing and playing great music in the open air, in a space one usually associates with the stress of commuting, is a strange and moving experience.

I sat and listened to the pianist for a few minutes, enjoying the memories that the Rachmaninoff – a piece I learnt years ago – was bringing back. After he’d finished, I approached the piano and thanked him for playing. We chatted about the music, and were joined by a tourist who was curious about what the spray-painted piano was doing sitting in the middle of a sombre City square. He expressed surprise that no-one tried to steal it. After a few minutes, it was concert time and I headed towards the cathedral, turning around to see the pianist again engrossed in his playing – jazz this time – oblivious to his surroundings.

The random encounter at the golden piano made me realise another reason they are so popular: they bring people together. It is pretty safe to say I would not have had a chat with a complete stranger about a piece of music we both love had it not been for that cheerfully coloured upright in Paternoster Sq. As I left the Berlioz concert, I made a promise to myself to dust off my Rachmaninoff and head back to the piano, perhaps late at night when no one is around, and just get lost in music for a while. 

Read more by Mark Nayler

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