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Old print showing St Mary's as it was in the early 19th century

Hail St Mary’s!

St Mary-in-the-Castle has succeeded in completing the formalities for establishing its new management structure as a charitable trust and company limited by guarantee under the supervision of an  independent board of trustees. The trustees designate have been meeting for the last six months to plan how they will run the venue. Last week Charity Commission approval was obtained, writes Chris Cormack.

This confirmation of status will enable St Mary’s to start applying for various grants and get itself recognised on the arts touring circuit following a long-term plan instead of managing from day to day.  Zoe Ashdown remains as the manager for the venue and continues to be paid by Buckswood School. Buckswood are continuing to support the venue until the trustees can get it up and fully running as an independent self-funding venue.

The baptistry - an array of smaller rooms available to rent.

Works are currently in hand to refurbish the café roof and restore the frontage to its original design. These are funded by Hastings Borough Council and English Heritage. Unfortunately as some areas get stripped back, new technical problems are discovered that are tending, if anything, to postpone the completion date. Despite the frontage looking like a building site, St Mary’s is very much OPEN for business. Zoe is exploring ways of making use of the main entrance doors at the top, an altogether more imposing way of entering the building.

Keen to carry out her remit to throw open St Mary’s to the community, Zoe wants to remind everyone that the main hall and many smaller rooms in the complex are available to community groups  to rent on an hourly basis at very modest rates.  There is also a scheme to allot one day of the week (probably Wednesdays) to throw open St Mary’s for schools’ use, free of charge.

Zoe is thrilled at the expert hands-on assistance that she gets from the trustees, for example Keith Leech in promoting the venue, local musician Marcus Weekes in piano tuning and grand piano moving logistics! Councillor Judy Rogers, the council representative, is also performing much valuable work in co-ordinating the trustees.

Sophie Pullen and Iuno Connolly.

There is already an exciting programme of events in prospect, starting with the soprano duo The English Roses on Sunday 21 July at 3pm. Iuno Connolly and Sussex-born Sophie Pullen will perform a summer concert of classical English songs, from Purcell and Dowland to Ireland and Britten, as well as favourite opera duets and arias, with renowned local pianist Nancy Cooley.  The young sopranos, who are currently studying at Birmingham Conservatoire, will sing a programme featuring seductive sisters, star-crossed lovers and many popular pieces including the Flower Duet, Mozart’s Sull’aria, Offenbach’s Barcarolle, O Mio Babbino Caro and Juliette’s Waltz Song. Join us for a thrilling afternoon of singing!  For a taster see their video with clips from their debut London recital and visit the website.

On 27 July we will be treated to a unique concert of classical Indian composition with the Bansuri Flute and Tabala. According to Gerry Farrell of  Songlines, Deepak Ram  displays  a “technical mastery reminiscent of his famous teacher’s … mysterious and haunting.  And he’s likely to become a central figure in a new generation of Indian musicians.”

On 3  August the Spooky Men’s Chorale come to entertain us from Australia.  If you’ve never seen these guys, try and get to it.  If you click on the sneaky-preview link, and then click ‘watch’ at the top,  you’ll get a better idea of their work.  Great fun!

Composers' Festival 2012.

On 6/7 September The Hastings International Composers’ Festival comes back for a second triumphant year.  This year we have Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck, BAFTA winner Andrew Cruikshank and Howard Blake, composer of The Snowman, among a host of  contemporary melodic music that should reach your heart!  It will also be a chance to see Hastings’ newly formed orchestra, the Hastings Sinfonia, play in public for the first time, together with the Osaka Concert Orchestra.

Barefoot Opera - "remixing the raw materials of opera."

And we welcome back Jenny Miller’s graduate students from her summer school; Barefoot Opera is putting on two Purcell operas for the price of one, Faery Queen and Dido and Aeneas, on 12 September at 7.30pm.  We always expect a very high standard from Jenny’s operas at St Mary-in-the-Castle.

Rock fans are well catered for with Rolling Stoned (26 July), Absolute Bowie (2 August) Fleetwood Bac (13 September), Afrikaba (28 September), Atomic Blondie (18 October), T Rextasy (9 November), Jive Talkin’ (29 November) and Soul Xpress (14 December). Later in the year there are already bookings for the Brigade of Gurkhas Band, Show of Hands, Ralph McTell, Steeleye Span, Emily Barker  and Herbie Flower’s 75th birthday. On the film side St Mary’s is also hosting the Trash Cannes and some Ingrid Pitt Queen of Horror Festival events.

Keith Leech says the trustees are keen to work with and hear from the community as to what events they would like to see happen. I think we can safely say that St Mary-in-the-Castle is already the premier music venue of Hastings, can’t we!?

Posted 14:24 Wednesday, Jul 10, 2013 In: Music & Sound

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