Pioneering Finsbury orchestral education centre celebrates 10th birthday with festival

Young musicians at LSO St Luke's Pic: Kevin Sands

Young musicians at LSO St Luke's Pic: Kevin Sands - Credit: Archant

A ground-breaking orchestral education centre that helps children play with world greats celebrates its 10th birthday this week.

Hugh Masekela at LSO St Luke's

Hugh Masekela at LSO St Luke's - Credit: Archant

London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) St Luke’s, in Central Street, Finsbury, also home to the singing Halifax TV adverts, was set up a decade ago to help the orchestra’s innovative teaching programme reach more people.

Now a festival of 17 events over 12 days has been organised to celebrate the anniversary – including a series of lunchtime concerts to be broadcast live on Radio 3.

It all kicks off on Thursday, when the LSO On Track Olympic Orchestra reprise their opening ceremony performance, originally watched by one billion people worldwide.

Karen Cardy, director of LSO St Luke’s, said: “They played Elgar’s Nimrod during the water section of the ceremony.

“They are all children from the Olympic boroughs in east London and really talented – it’s special to have them re-doing this performance.

“It’s also great to have Radio 3 involved. They were one of the first to come through our doors and see our potential.”

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Other events include innovative orchestra Aurora, a jazz performance from Dhafer Youssef and a community choir set up by TV singing tutor Gareth Malone.

“He really is brilliant,“ said Ms Cardy. “He can teach anyone to sing. The choir is made up of people who live or work within half a mile of LSO St Luke’s, so it really is toddlers and grandparents.”

Another highlight is collaboration between youngsters from nearby estates, who use LSO equipment to record songs, and Mobo-nominee Ayanna Witter-Jonhson – also a product of LSO St Luke’s.

Ms Cardy said: “It’s great to see them working together. Teenage boys who make real street music and this jazz singing, cello playing supremely talented young lady leading them. Someone they can aspire to be like.”

Finally, on April 1, there is a family fun day for people who live in the area to find out what the fuss is about.

“St Luke’s church dates from the 1750s and it has been part of the community for centuries,” said Ms Cardy.

“People tell us their parents got married here or they used to play in the graveyard. It was completely derelict when we took it over – they took the roof off in the 1950s and it had just been open sky. It looked like a bomb had gone off. But it’s a Hawksmoor building so it’s pretty sturdy.”

LSO St Luke’s was created when the LSO’s educational programme needed a permanent home. Ms Cardy said: “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have the LSO rehearsing upstairs. And people who are performing with them at the Barbican often come and do things with us.

“Lang Lang, who is probably the most famous concert pianist in the world, came here and played along with about 100 children on their keyboards.”