It was always going to be an impossible act to follow; for many years Master Stanley Burnton had been the Inn’s Master of Music. The end of his tenure coincided with the pandemic lockdowns and so I offered to delay the start of my period of office until his final year’s amazing programme had been performed. Over the years the Inn has seen well-established stars of the classical music scene: the Jerusalem, Heath and Navarra Quartets (to name but a few), the Southbank Sinfonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and many more well-known soloists. To continue the legacy would have risked simply providing a pale echo of the past.
Instead, this year’s theme has been to support young and emerging talent. The pandemic lockdowns robbed two years’ conservatoire graduates of opportunities to perform and to appear in public. Music is not like some other art forms where the artistry sits on a page or hangs on a wall in order to be fully appreciated; it requires performance to bring the notes off the page and into aural reality. This year’s Music Nights support some incredible talent. The season started with a performance by the Ukrainian pianist Vitaly Pisarenko. Whilst still a student he won first prize at the 8th International Franz Liszt Piano Competition, and third prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Vitaly recently graduated from the Royal College of Music and, at the end of September 2021 he was invited to return as an Assistant Professor in piano. He played a programme of dances culminating in the rarely heard La Valse by Maurice Ravel. One of the reasons it is seldom heard is because it is so fiendishly difficult. Vitaly’s playing was breath-taking. Whilst our hired Steinway piano took an epic pounding through the performance, that is what it was built for, and the resonant low notes hummed while the extensive glissandi were executed flawlessly. The audience in the Hall was left in stunned silence before breaking into sustained applause.
Our next performance was a programme entitled Viennese Passions. This was a performance of songs by Schubert, Korngold, Schoenberg and Wolf by the brilliant mezzo-soprano Lila Chrisp, accompanied by Hamish Brown. Lila recently graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music. She was a member of the Garsington Opera Alvarez Young Artist programme in 2022 and a previous winner of the AESS Courtney Kenny prize for English song and poetry. Hamish Brown, Lila’s accompanist, is accomplished in his own right: he was a prize winner in the Copenhagen Lied-Duo competition, the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the Wigmore Hall Song Competition, the Mozart Singing Competition, and the Somerset Song Prize. Whilst the programme was be more forgiving to the piano, it was nonetheless exciting, and an easy listen as Spring moved into Summer.
Before describing the final two Music Night performances this year, it is perhaps worth reflecting for a moment on the reason behind Music Nights. We live in a time of personal austerity. The rising cost of living affects everyone. Why, we might ask, does the Inn support artists, non-lawyers, to play for us after dinner? I think the answer has several strands. Picking just two, first, looking inwardly towards the Inn’s membership. One of the principal aims of the Inn is to encourage collegiality, camaraderie, and support each other. One way to do that is to come together in person. When I was a student, dining in the Inn was an adventure: soups were described merely by colour since the taste was a variable feast; dessert was a throwback to what I imagine boarding school dinners might have been like for a generation before. Things have moved on a little culinarily, but we have some way yet to go before the Inn becomes a dining destination. In the meantime, a lecture, a debate, or a musical experience from talented musicians provides an excellent impetus for us to come together and enjoy a drink; to see how everyone is; to talk about cases, colleagues, and challenges. A short but glorious recital can be a form of escapism from the worries of the world and is something which we can experience together. Secondly, at a time when music is no longer habitually taught in state schools, it is beholden on institutions like ours, I think, to support the arts, to encourage and nurture excellence, and to provide a forum for music to thrive. The Temple Music Foundation has an incredible programme of music and uses the Temple Church and the Inns as performance spaces, but an in-house recital for members gives artists another opportunity to perform to a musically astute and appreciative audience.
This year we have been incredibly lucky to receive significant financial support from a memorial held for my friend and colleague, the late Master Simon Kverndal. Simon was a commercial silk at Quadrant Chambers who supported the Inn, loved food, wine, sport and music. He was hugely interested in other people and in nurturing talent. Sophie Kverndal raised substantial funds both for Help Musicians, a charity supporting musicians, and for the Inn’s Music Nights. The generous donation has paid for the overwhelming majority of the costs of this year’s Music Nights, and we are incredibly grateful.
The summer recital brought something quite different to Middle Temple Hall: Connaught Brass. They are one of the Worshipful Company of Musicians’ sponsored young artists – a scheme which supports early-career musicians – and they made their Wigmore Hall debut this year. The group won first prize in the Philip Jones International Brass Ensemble Competition and the Royal Overseas League Mixed Ensemble Competition. They performed a programme of music from the Renaissance to date, passing through Fauré and Gershwin along the way.
The Music Night season ends on Monday 20 November 2023 with a performance by Trio Bohémo, a piano trio from the Czech Republic. They have won second prize at the Gianni Bergamo Award in Lugano and were selected to join the Le Dimore del Quartetto network, which later awarded their prize for the ensemble of the year. They went on to win first prize at the International Filippo Nicosia Award in Italy, first prize and the audience prize at the International Johannes Brahms Competition in Austria, and another first prize at the International Parkshouse award in London. The list of their first prizes continues, but perhaps it is enough to mention their selection for the Britten Pears Young Artist programme in 2022-23 and their recitals at the Wigmore Hall. We have an amazing, virtuosic concert from the young trio, details of which are on the Events page of the website at www.middletemple.co.uk/events
If the Music Nights are to achieve their aims, then they do require your attendance. I can promise you an evening of exceptional music-making which should delight and entertain. Bring your guests and enjoy an hour’s performance from some of the most promising and talented artists of a generation. In the future you will be able to boast, ‘I heard them in Middle Temple when they were just starting out!’ Come and spot a star of the future, support these young artists, and meet with fellow music lovers and the musically curious in the Inn. You will be very welcome.
Master Robert-Jan Temmink was elected as a Bencher in 2013 when he was 17 years’ Call. He practices from Quadrant Chambers in commercial and chancery litigation and international arbitration where he appears as counsel and sits as an arbitrator. For twenty years, Robert was one of the professional lay clerks in the Temple Church. He is now chair of the Temple Music Trust, chair of the King’s Singers Foundation, and chair of governors at St Paul’s Cathedral School. Robert is married to Dr Caroline Gill, a broadcaster and academic studies professor at the Royal College of Music.