London International Festival of Early Music Celebrates its 50th Anniversary

Tuesday 7th November 2023

London’s early music jamboree returns for its 50th edition, taking place in Blackheath venues from 8 – 11 November 2023

The 50th London International Festival of Early Music (LIFEM) will take place in Blackheath venues from 8 – 11 November 2023, and boasts a specially commissioned world premiere by Roxanna Panufnik from British harpsichordist Jane Chapman, a recital from Dutch recordist Erik Bosgraaf with Poland’s Wrocław Baroque Orchestra, a recital from British organist William Whitehead, plus concerts from Switzerland’s Ensemble Pampinea andthe Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble.

A dazzling exhibition of instruments, demonstrations, workshops and competitions will, as usual, be at the heart of the annual celebration where, “makers of crumhorns, lutes, viols, sackbuts, shawms and all manner of early instruments rub shoulders with top instrumentalists, singers, composers and conservatoire students in a celebration of musical exploration and performance” (The Observer).

This year’s Gala Concert by harpsichord virtuoso Jane Chapman (pictured above) on 9 November, features a world premiere by composer Roxanna Panufnik, inspired by William Byrd, the ‘Father of British Music’ whose 400th anniversary is celebrated this year. Using his arrangement of John Dowland’s ‘Pavana Lachrymae’ as a starting point, the recital will also include works by Bach, Rameau, Handel, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Louis Couperin, Froberger, Frescobaldi, Royer and Purcell.

There’s more Byrd on 10 November when, in a first for the festival, organist William Whitehead performs two of the composer’s ever-inventive sets of Pavans and Galliards, alongside works by his younger contemporary John Lugge, who composed the earliest known double voluntaries (works requiring two manuals on the organ). Whitehead takes on the onetime Organist of Exeter Cathedral’s most exuberant voluntary.

Closing out the Festival on 11 November, LIFEM welcomes Poland’s renowned Wrocław Baroque Orchestra accompanying Dutch soloist Erik Bosgraaf, widely considered one of the world’s leading and most adventurous recorder players. Their closing night concert is a festive homage to Vivaldi. In addition to the well-known Four Seasons in their own version for multiple recorders and orchestra, the evening will include a concerto for the smallest member of the recorder family, the ‘flautino’, and two concertos for strings.

Switzerland’s Ensemble Pampinea, winner of the LIFEM Young Ensemble Competition in 2022, returns on 8 November with “Fortuna, will you spare us?”, showcasing the repertoire of the Ars Nova and Ars Subtilior, and involving the audience in an interactive experience where they decide the structure of the concert.

On 10 November the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Experience Ensemble will perform a programme centred around Haydn’s symphonies. Directed by Margaret Faultless, OAE Experience is a year-long scheme featuring players who have already completed or are finishing their studies, working alongside OAE musicians.

Three finalists will compete in the biennial The Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Reorder Competition on 10 November. This year’s judges are Erik Bosgraaf, Annabel Knight and Adrian Chandler.

A full range of Workshops and Talks will be announced in due course. Already scheduled for 11 November is Early Music by Female Composers – a recorder playing session with Sarah Jeffrey, exploring music by composers from the Renaissance and Baroque, from the polyphonic music of convents to secular love songs.

Performers’ Platforms, providing groups of young players with opportunities to showcase their talents to the early music community will again be a feature in 2023. Details to be announced soon.

Festival Evensong returns on 11 November, this year featuring the Choir of All Saints, Fulham, regarded as one of the best of its type in the country performing a wide range of music including South America baroque works, South African choral dances, and commissions from contemporary composers as well as popular cathedral-style repertoire.

Tickets for live performances can be found here St. Michael & All Angels. They offer a range of ticket types including festival passes and individual concert tickets.

The London International Festival of Early Music (LIFEM) welcomes audiences and visitors to Blackheath venues each November, and is one of the largest and most inclusive early music festivals in the world. The festival began in 1973 and was first hosted at the Royal College of Music. The event moved to the Royal Horticultural Halls, and Greenwich, before finally finding its home at Blackheath Halls, in London’s oldest surviving purpose-built cultural venue.