16 December 2020
Kettle’s Yard Music Associate Deborah Carnwath tells us more about the 50th anniversary of music at Kettle’s Yard
We can’t let this strange year slip away without reminding you of the 50th anniversary that passes with it. On Tuesday 5th May 1970 Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim played the grand inaugural concert for the newly finished ‘extension’ at Kettle’s Yard, in front of The Prince of Wales. Our heir was but 21 then and about to sit his finals here at the University. This was ‘his first official public function in Cambridge’ said the Cambridge Evening News, which reminds us that Jim Ede had extraordinary pulling power. (The paper went on to remark that the Prince had ‘abandoned his corduroys’ for a suit.) The visit was timed to the minute, a surviving confidential document from our archive telling us that he would arrive at 7pm, perform the opening at 7.10pm, look round at 7.20pm, have a drink at 7.30pm and sit down at 7.55pm for an 8pm start. Du Pré and Barenboim played Beethoven followed by Franck, and all was over by 9.10pm. It’s amusing to note that, according to the newspaper report, Prince Charles said in his speech that ‘there was nothing more important for a concert than the surroundings’. We know what he meant, especially at Kettle’s Yard, but it helps to have a couple of ace musicians as well.
Music at Kettle’s Yard has a long and illustrious history, its roots nurtured by both the Edes. While Helen was more the musician, regularly setting herself at fiendish piano works, Jim also acknowledged the importance of music as an art form. Our archivist Frieda Midgley unearthed a quote dating back to his early life, talking about music at the Barnes Foundation (A Visit to America, 1931): ‘All the afternoon we studied forms of modern expression – Stravinski, his traditions, his personal expression and Matisse as a parallel. We surrounded them with Mozart and Gluck, with Giorgione, Cezanne and Renoir – we saw quite clearly how all was ordered in their apparent disorder. This combination of music and painting is so right and so helpful, like alternating cheese with wine; but how surprised the public would be in our English Galleries if the lecturer suddenly turned on a jazz band or a Beethoven Quartet.’ In the minutes of a meeting of the Kettle’s Yard committee in 1969, Jim endorsed the importance of music here, making clear his desire that there should be ‘at least three really good concerts each year’ ‘in this particularly personal setting’. Another endorsement came, in 1970, from his purchase of the Steinway piano for the extension. Exacting as ever, Jim insisted that the piano he chose should have a matt black finish, not the shiny chestnut on offer. This is the piano which still graces our concerts, and in its spare time generously supports Naum Gabo’s Linear construction in Space No. 1.
Fifty years on, we had planned to celebrate the anniversary with a summer Gala concert by another star cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, known worldwide after his performance at the royal wedding in 2018. Imagine it, we thought, sipping champagne amongst friends in the courtyard as the sun goes down, lit up by a stellar performance of Sheku and his sister Isata in our wonderful concert space. Instead we found ourselves emerging from lockdown, trying to rebuild our confidence about being near anyone and a long way from celebrating anything. The 1970s extension, so perfect for our usual intimate musical soirées, cannot encompass social distancing for a viable audience.
But there is hope. Sheku has been booked for a Gala performance on 1 July 2022 when we will celebrate our 50+2 anniversary instead: whether suit, sundowners or galoshes, it will be memorable. Meanwhile we are developing a short season of Kettle’s Yard Away concerts for spring and early summer 2021 (news coming soon) to be held nearby, and safely. And as we leave our 50th year of music we are celebrating this unique part of Kettle’s Yard’s heritage by creating a professional film of a performance by the Maxwell Quartet at Kettle’s Yard, which will be a lasting testament to our special alchemy of art and music. You can donate to support the creation of this film here.
After that 1970 concert, Jacqueline du Pré wrote in her letter to Jim Ede that to play in such ‘a beautiful place, where Art is a very treasured thing’ was uplifting, and that the ‘lovely acoustics’ made her spirits soar. Our loyal audiences over the years would add that it’s a joy to listen as well.