Community Events Interviews

The Islington Festival of Art and Music starts today

The fourth annual Islington Festival of Art and Music kicks off today, Friday 5th of July at St Mary’s Church, Upper Street.

By Elmo Meath Baker

A flyer promoting the festival with the words 'From the Homeland. Celebrating Roots. 5-20 July 2024'

The Festival will bring an impressive roster of world-class musicians to nine venues across the borough for fifteen performances. We can look forward to an eclectic showcase of Classical, Jazz and other art music that defies categorisation.

I caught up with Joana Ly, Artistic Director and co-founder of the Festival, to talk about the history and identity of the Festival, and what we have to look forward to this year.

It all started during the pandemic, Joana tells me. Eager to start playing again, her string quartet undertook to arrange a series of garden concerts. Distributing flyers door to door they were surprised by the positive reception of willing hosts and concert-goers alike, equally keen to experience live music again. The project was gratefully-received and the seed was sown.

The paired-down and community-minded attitude has stayed with the Festival. For Joana, “the reception of people really missing music changed my perspective”, confiding in me that “before the pandemic, I didn’t think much about the audience…they were just there.”

Remembering the garden concerts she found that “it was nice to be in a place that was informal and just friendly.” Buoyed by this experience, Joana and conductor Martin André expanded to partner with venues across the borough, keeping the spirit of the pandemic concerts going in the Islington Festival of Music and Art. “We wanted to bring music to places that don’t normally have it”, Joana tells me, adding “it is still an experiment.”

The unconventional choice of venues has been a hallmark of the Festival, and this year is no exception: the nine venues include Little Angel Puppet Theatre, The Green pub in Clerkenwell, and the Angel Central piazza.

“We wanted to be as open as possible,” Joana tells me, deciding from the beginning to program great quality classical music alongside Jazz, Folk, and other forms of art. This year’s novelty is a contemporary dance class with a live string quartet, on Saturday the 7th.

Taking classes herself, Joana was frustrated with the recorded orchestral cuts used. The theme this year is From the Homeland, looking at how composers have responded to their roots, whether they have emigrated from their homeland and remember it nostalgically, or they have taken direct inspiration from folk melodies. Bookending the Festival are two programmes of Czech music, a longstanding passion of Joana’s.

I for one am looking forward to Coffee with Haydn at The Green on the morning of the 13th, the genre-bending Postcards from Home at the Little Angel Puppet Theatre later that evening, and of course I won’t miss out on the terrifying programme of Dmitry Kalashnikov at Christ Church Highbury on the 18th.

Book now. Under-25s go free.

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