It’s possibly my favourite time of year. The trees are in leaf, the hedgerows in flower, the air is filled with birdsong, the days are stretching out. It’s warm but not too hot. Summer is still to come.
On top of all that, Newbury Spring Festival has started. I’m tempted by various events on their programme this year. Most of the concerts take place in Newbury itself, though St. Martin’s East Woodhay – a lovely rural church I wrote about last year – is hosting Voces8. Sadly for me, it’s already sold out.
So instead I’ve looked at attending some of the shorter lunchtime recitals. I noticed these are being held in the Corn Exchange – the main theatre in the town. Which makes sense, but…I have a problem here. This is a general point, not aimed at Newbury Spring Festival in particular, who put on a fabulous programme and may have any number of constraints on the timing and venues for their concerts. But still, I’d be interested to know if anybody else feels the same way.
The thing is, I adore natural light. I just love it. The surge in its levels during the spring – even on a cloudy day – is a major lift to my mood. I always like to be near windows for ambient light. So the thought of spending an hour of a spring lunchtime – prime solar real estate! – in a windowless, artificially lit hall is genuinely off-putting for me. I’d much rather hear it in a church. On one extreme occasion, when I heard a recital in a very dark hall during the day, the sudden drop in light levels made me incredibly drowsy. In winter, when it’s always darker, I probably wouldn’t mind as much, though I’d still opt for music in a space with windows if I had the choice.
For an evening concert, of course, it’s not an issue. Though that’s not to say that the gloriously drawn-out twilights of this time of year can’t add something special. When I heard a concert at St. Martin’s a few years ago, the fading May light behind the freshly-green Hampshire Downs added real magic to the experience. In the same way, the gradually darkening sky above Shakespeare’s Globe creates a wonderful atmosphere for drama during the summer season.
Of course, the ideal of the hermetically sealed concert hall has its logic – if you let in light, external noise may follow. This is true of London’s beautiful old churches, where I’ve enjoyed many lunchtime recitals that featured the occasional cameo from a nearby police car. In the Globe, aeroplanes are a common interruption, and the actors sometimes ad-lib at their passing over for comic effect.
Nonetheless the fact remains: at the time of year when I’m stocking up on Vitamin D, I don’t want to miss an hour of daylight. Maybe this makes me unusual. But I’d love to let the spring back into spring music.