I’m playing a concert in a library. Belsize Community Library to be precise, housed in a small local building tucked away in a residential London street between Belsize Park and Swiss Cottage.
(It’s on Friday 8 March, 7.30pm. Details under ‘Events’.)
I suppose I should say that this venture is part of some artistic project bringing together the world of music and letters, whereby the music of Mozart and Beethoven, as performed by us, would inject the fusty old world of books with a new emotional urgency. While at the same time, the kindly, groaning shelves of knowledge would lend a wisdom and… [and so on, fill in as appropriate to the funding application in question]
As it happens, I do think the performance of music can, maybe even should, illuminate a space and that, inevitably, the context of a performance has a bearing on it both for performers and audience. It’s just that BCL is not that kind of library, all aggressively quiet studiousness. (When I went to size it up as a possible venue, I worried for a moment that it might be too noisy for a concert, before I remembered that the children’s play area wouldn’t be in full voice at the same time.) And it’s just that that interrelationship shouldn’t be forced or contrived.
No, it’s more that the library – it’s one of those characteristic red brick, 1930s (?) , slightly déco suburban buildings – has a nice little semi-circular bay that’ll just nicely accommodate a string trio with an audience around. Indeed, with enough of the latter – hint! – you might even forget you’re in a library at all.
And that’s the other thing. For one reason or another, but mostly for one reason, libraries have become totems, brandished by one group of people against the blinkered marauding of another. In the case of BCL, the running of the library was handed to a local young people’s charity, the Winch, ensuring that its closure was only temporary. But to ensure its re-opening is not also temporary, the Winch needs to find commercial uses for the space. Not that my musician colleagues and I really count as commercial, you understand, but you can see how it all begins to add up.
One final point. The exhortation used to be to think globally and act locally, meaning that we should consider the wider impact of our individual actions. While that still stands, the corollary is that ignoring the local can also have consequences on a larger scale. For musicians, this means we shouldn’t just chase the big time but , if we have any respect for what we do, we should also remember to look closer to home.