Proms for the community


Do you have fond memories of the Kenwood open-air concerts? That long-term institution - which appears now to have met its demise - certainly gave me and thousands of others countless hours of pleasure. Listening to classical music in the summer sunshine with a picnic by the lake was hard to match.

If you yearn for that now-lost experience, fear not. There is something similar, but less well-known, up the road in Hampstead Garden Suburb, which is alive and kicking.

Proms at St Jude's is itself now a mini-institution. Set up by local resident Susie Gregson in 1993, Proms (as it likes to be known to its friends) is a nine-day music and literary festival in June that comes quite close to the Kenwood experience. There are first-class classical concerts, jazz, chamber music, a bit of opera, choral works and a rousing Last Night modelled on the Albert Hall version. These days, there's also a Literary Weekend that holds its own against Jewish Book Week, albeit on a smaller scale. And there are a whole series of "Heritage Walks", guided by knowledgeable experts, taking you on an architectural, historical or horticultural tour of Hampstead, Golders Green and the East End.

The weather's the same. On some days it can be glorious, and you can picnic on the Central Square lawn listening to the music being transmitted outside. On others, you'll be glad you paid for your ticket to keep you under shelter - but there's still Pimm's and ice cream available whatever the elements.

Proms is quite special in its own right. For a start, there's a tremendous sense of community. Stephen Grabiner, a long-standing Proms supporter, says: ''Proms is the glue that binds Hampstead Garden Suburb together.'' At the heart of this is the fact that all the funds raised by Proms go to charity.

One pound in four is donated to the North London Hospice, supporting people with life-limiting conditions in Barnet, Enfield and Haringey. And three pounds in four supports Toynbee Hall. This East End social centre, which came into its own supporting Jewish and other immigrants in the early 20th century, continues as a place to increase social cohesion for its multicultural population. Proms chose it as one of its good causes because of the historic link: Dame Henrietta Barnett, who founded the Suburb, was also a co-creator of Toynbee Hall about 125 years ago.

Many of the audience come year after year. There's an official Friends scheme, whose members support the Festival philanthropically and also enjoy priority ticket booking and other benefits.

An important part of the Proms ethos is to make music available to all, young and old, whatever their means. We run lunchtime concerts every day, which are free of charge. Two, at weekends, are specially for children, and one is set aside for primary school groups. For many of these young visitors, Proms provides their first introduction to live classical music. At other lunchtime concerts, we host visits from local care homes. Many of the performers at lunchtime are up-and-coming musicians at the Royal Colleges, for whom Proms provides an important platform to reach a wider audience.

Virtually all those who make Proms happen are volunteers, most of whom live locally. We work year-round in a whole series of committees to create the Festival. Sometimes I think we must be gluttons for punishment, but it is great fun, and especially rewarding when you see the smiling faces of the audiences and the orchestras when the show hits the road. This year the Festival runs from June 20-28.

The LitFest is held during the day on the first weekend. Some of the best-selling authors appearing include the Guardian's maths-blogger and curator-in-residence at the Science Museum Alex Bellos; former Moscow investment banker Bill Browder, discussing his book Red Notice - How I Became Putin's Number 1 Enemy; and one-time Labour cabinet minister Alan Johnson, in conversation about his memoir, Please Mr Postman.

Among the concerts, we're delighted to host the London première of Wonderland, a musical tribute on the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's adventures by Lewis Carroll. Twelve successful composers from the fields of chamber music to film to rock have each donated a short piece for violin and piano. Scripted by Louis de Bernières, the show will be narrated by the wonderful Maureen Lipman. It's suitable for adults and children aged 8 or over, and starts at a child-friendly 7pm on Sunday June 21. As a special treat, free ice cream is on offer to ticket-holders under 18 who whisper "White Rabbit" to the sellers!

For those looking for a Kenwood-style experience, the concert by the Melos Sinfonia at 7.45pm on Thursday, June 25 is likely to be a perfect choice. This London-based orchestra, under the energetic leadership of Oliver Zeffman, will be playing favourites, including Debussy's Prélude à l'après-Midi d'un Faune and Schubert's Unfinished Symphony.

The concerts take place at the church of St Jude-on-the-Hill on Central Square in leafy Hampstead Garden Suburb. This magnificent building is renowned for its acoustics and is considered to be one of Edwin Lutyens's finest creations. The LitFest is held in The Henrietta Barnett School, two minutes' walk away from the church. Founded in 1911, it is a Lutyens-designed Grade II* listed building.

Find out more at or call 020 3322 8123. The writer is a Trustee of Proms at St Jude's.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive