Posted By on April 15, 2010

Shortly after we moved into the old church we were approached with a request to host a Bach harpsichord recital here. The acoustics are excellent and we have plenty of space. The event was attended by sixty-one people, and on the whole was a success. Immediately afterwards a local choir asked to do a concert here – this was attended by seventy. I thought to check with the local Council – did I need any special licences or anything? They asked me how many events I would be having each year, and how many people might attend. I answered a maximum of four concerts, and I optimistically supposed a hundred in the audience. The Council said I could go ahead without formality. I never thought to ask for written confirmation.

the Hermitage Trio

Boris Garlitsky, Alexander Zemtsov and Leonid Gorokhov – the Hermitage Trio

The concerts quickly grew in number, scope and popularity. From the original two per year we now have four every summer. Many wonderful ensembles have performed here – the Kopelman and the Szymanowski Quartets, the Hermitage Trio and the Vale Quartet. The space is terrific for solo recitals too, and the complete Bach Sonatas for unaccompanied cello, performed in candlelight by Leonid Gorokhov, went down a storm. These days the concerts invariably sell out – and that means more than the hundred I forsaw.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of our first concert, meaning we’ve had twenty-seven concerts so far. But it all nearly went wrong because of a change in attitude by the council.

The Kopelman Quartet

Mikhail Kopelman, Boris Kuschnir, Igor Sulyga and Mikhail Milman – the Kopelman Quartet

Six days before the Kopelman Quartet were due to perform their second concert here (in 2005) I received a phone call from the Council’s new “licensing enforcement officer”, informing me that I was guilty of hosting illegal raves. He told me that he would not prosecute on this occasion, but that I must immediately apply for a Public Entertainment Licence before the next event. It’s not expensive – £100 per year – but one of the conditions demanded was a recent electrical inspection safety certificate. They sent their approved contractor round, and the conversation went something like this:

“Well, where is it?”
“Where’s what?”
“The equipment. The amplifiers and loudspeakers.”

Of course I explained that the concerts were unamplified, but he told me that he was unable to provide a certificate for equipment that didn’t exist. So I phoned the licensing enforcement officer and explained. He flatly refused to believe that there was no electrical apparatus. “How can you possibly have a music event without loudspeakers?” he said, and that’s an exact quote. He demanded the certificate and threatened me with a police injunction unless I provided it.

What to do? I couldn’t possibly cancel the quartet – it had sold out, of course. Mikhail Kopelman, Boris Kuschnir, Igor Sulyga and Mikhail Milman are internationally famous, plus they are friends, plus I couldn’t let the audience down. I asked the contractor, and he suggested buying the minimum equipment, so he could then certify that it was safe. Several hundred pounds later, I had special contact-breaker power points installed – they have never been used, of course.

These days I run a private music club, thus avoiding the necessity for a public entertainment licence. I am strictly forbidden to advertise the events, but I have more than enough club members who are informed beforehand to ensure that the concerts are always full. Anybody who wants to attend wonderful chamber music concerts must let me know that they wish to be a member of The Rode Chamber Music Club. You won’t see the concerts advertised anywhere, but I’ll let you know at the beginning of the season what’s on.

the Szymanowski Quartet
Andrey Bielow, Grzegorz Kotow, Vladimir Mykitka and Marcin Sieniawski – the Szymanowski Quartet

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