I was over the moon when I managed to secure tickets to see the London Bridge Trio perform at Conway Hall – partly, of course, in anticipation of beautiful music, but also because I have walked past Conway Hall numerous times but never yet found a reason to explore this bastion of free speech.
Conway Hall describes itself as “the place for those who dare to dream of a better world”. Stirring words – and ones which are backed up by the venue’s history: opened in 1929, it was named in honour of Moncure Daniel Conway: anti-slavery advocate, outspoken supporter of free thought and biographer of Thomas Paine.
An evocative setting, then, for one of Britain’s leading chamber ensembles. With their name chosen to reflect an admiration for English music of the early 20th century, the London Bridge Trio comprises violinist David Adams, cellist Kate Gould and pianist Daniel Tong. Tonight, they performed work by three 19th century composers: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Trio in C Minor Op. 1/3, Fanny Mendelssohn’s Trio in D Minor Op. 11 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Trio in C Minor Op. 66. I was looking forward to all three, but in particular to Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio, which was written as a birthday present for her sister and with which I am less familiar.
Conway Hall is used for lectures, classes, performances, community and social events. A hub for free speech and independent thought, suffragettes, political radicals, scientists, philosophers and artists have all spoken or performed here.
I’ve no idea whether Ludvig van Beethoven would have been impressed by any of the above; it strikes me that he had quite enough to occupy him with being a child prodigy, having an alcoholic father and going deaf at the age of 28. But there’s no doubt that Conway Hall made a fine setting for his first piano trios, the simplicity of the Hall contrasting nicely with the music’s moments of dramas and its tempestuous final movement.
However talented Fanny Mendelssohn may have been – and her pianist mother trained with a student of JS Bach – being a woman in the 19th century left her at a disadvantage. She was destined for marriage – yet managed to compose over 460 pieces of music, having married an artist who was supportive of her talent. My goodness, her Piano Trio is dramatic; I was transfixed by its beauty, made all the more poignant by its composer’s untimely death.
Early deaths ran in the Mendelssohn family; Felix died just six months after Fanny, from a stroke –what Fanny, their parents and their grandfather Moses died from. Yet he was luckier in many ways than Beethoven, having parents who nurtured rather than bullied him. This particular Piano Trio was written in 1845 and dedicated to the composer Louis Spohr; I loved all its different elements, which include a Baroque jig and a Lutheran chorale – but in particular its slow movement: “Song without words”.
This will not be my last visit to Conway Hall, of that I am certain. I’m already looking forward to exploring its ‘Feminism in Camden in the 1970s and 80s’ exhibition and finding out how the arts (and especially theatre, my abiding passion) contributed to the local feminist scene.
As for the London Bridge Trio, I remain in awe of the joy and verve with which they perform music that is evidently very dear to their hearts: “heart-touchingly eloquent” is how the Sunday Times described them, and I can’t think of a better accolade.