A lively crowd gathered in the library at Conway Hall to hear the first concert in 200 years of music by 'composer and radical' Eliza Flower. The provoker of this occasion was Frances Lynch, of Electric Voice Theatre and Minerva Scientifica; ably assisted by versatile tenor, Laurence Panter. Even BBC New Generation thinker Oskar Jensen (adding historical detail along the way) had been pressed into singing, and a fine job he did. You could imagine yourself in a politically engaged London living room in the mid 19th century. It was an immensely absorbing evening.
Eliza Flower grew up in a radical household, her dissenter parents having met in Newgate Prison. The family were involved in South Place Chapel, the predecessor of Conway Hall, and an important centre of free thinking. Its congregation first disputed (in 1787) the doctrine of eternal hell, then the Trinity, and eventually became Humanists. I previously have only visited this historical institution on occasional Sunday evenings to hear its immensely long-running string quartet series. It was suggested that Eliza's energy may have lit that musical flame so many years ago. Meanwhile, associates of the South Place Ethical Society proved to be on the right side of history in many other matters, including the repeal of the corn laws, the status of marriage and divorce, slavery and women's suffrage.
On the evening of our Conway Hall visit, I was struck by the number of young people attending both our event, and whatever was happening in the larger hall downstairs. The big attraction of this venue, it seemes to me, is its focus on thinking and principled discussion/argument, and that's what the youth are drawn to. As for Eliza's music, I found it really enjoyable; an amalgam of Schubert and Mendelssohn (in fact both Mendelssohns, Fanny being included in this recital) with interesting lyrics. It was no chore to listen to two hours' Flower, amongst good company.