Monday 5 October 2020
CHURCH OF THE ‘EVER OPEN DOOR’ EVICTS LONG-TERM MUSICAL PARTNERS
St Martin-in-the-Fields, the iconic royal parish church in Trafalgar Square, has expelled all
of its long-standing independent musical ensembles based at the church, excluding them
from any meaningful role there in the future.
The move threatens the survival of several independent ensembles and will cause further
hardship for the hundreds of freelance musicians they employ, at a time when the entire
music and entertainment sector is facing devastation.
In the early 1990s, the ensembles played a crucial role in creating a commercially and
artistically successful concert series at the church. They sustained it over a period of almost
30 years, through numerous crises, including riots in Trafalgar Square and 9/11.
As well as bringing joy to hundreds of thousands of locals, visitors and tourists with their
candlelight concerts, the ensembles have generated millions of pounds through hire fees
and ticket sales to enable the church’s charitable work.
At the outset of the COVID-19 lock-down, the ensembles contacted St Martin’s several times
to pledge help to rebuild the series. There was no response. Then on 7 July, the church’s
Director of Music, Dr Andrew Earis, informed them by email that once musical activities
were able to resume, a new programme involving ‘in-house ensembles’ and ‘new
partnerships’ would be implemented. For the ensembles, despite their long-standing
relationship, the only hope offered was that ‘there may still be some opportunities for the
hiring of St Martin’s in the future’. One brief meeting was allowed on 29 July to discuss this,
after which the church refused any further dialogue. It also dismissed appeals that 58
concert contracts covering the period March - August this year might be reinstated once
After several articles appeared in the press, the Reverend Dr Sam Wells appeared on BBC
Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ programme to defend what he called "the reputation of St Martin's as a
whole". Asked if he regretted the treatment of the ensembles, he said "If that conversation
could have begun in a better way, I apologise". He was, however, adamant that the Church’s
plans would not change.
Peter G Dyson, Musical Director of The Belmont Ensemble said: "After nearly 30 years
performing over 800 concerts with my ensemble at St Martin's, this is the most devastating
news at the worst possible time. Freelance musicians and orchestras are on their knees and
to kick them when they are down during a global pandemic is appalling and insensitive
behaviour. We have worked tirelessly hand-in-hand with St. Martin's to create a
commercially and artistically successful concert series. We offered to help them rebuild, but
they have not even had the common decency to respond. I implore them to reconsider,
otherwise this will sound the death-knell for many independent orchestras".