Spitalfields Festival this year coincided with London’s first week of snow for a while, followed by ice rain and slush. As a result of which it seemed particularly unappealing to leave my cosy hearth to do anything, especially after returning from a weather-cursed attempt to travel to Glasgow by train. An immersive event called Schumann Street, involving trips up and down the old Spitalfields streets, in and out of the Georgian houses, seemed particularly unpropitious.
But in fact, the motto on my coat of arms would say ‘It’s (nearly) always worth going out to hear live music’. Because it was somehow a particular pleasure in the dark and cold to enter these beautiful old houses with their warmly lit drawing rooms in each of which, one or two people out of a fantastic range of musical artists were comfortably ensconced, performing their own versions, some quite far-fetched, of songs from Schumann’s cycle Dichterliebe (one of the first concept albums, curator André de Ridder explained helpfully.)
Amidst many unusual ways of singing Schumann, what most impressed me were the people who had managed to get their fingers round his fiendish piano accompaniments, on inconvenient instruments such as banjo, harp, oud, gamba and all gradations of guitar. And what I’ll take away from this charming event above all is a new appreciation of the true intimacy that songs can possess – in small rooms with a few listeners very close by, able to converse or just exchange a friendly smile in musical form.