Caroline Molloy: Concerts’ Manager at St. Martin’s-in-the-field

November 2019

 

Interested in knowing more about how the tradition and history of a place, as well as its acoustic are influencing artistic decisions in terms of programming, I met with Caroline Molloy, concerts’ manager at St. Martin’s-in-the-field. I met with her at the mythical church, on a busy Friday in London. 

 

St. Martin’s-in-the-field always had a very long-established musical connection. For the music side of it, it is known by most people for the formation of the Academy. Although they are no longer based on the site of St. Martin’s church, they do share a name. “It is kind of those fables’ names, isn’t it?” smiles Caroline. “When the opportunity rose that there is a vacancy there, you got nothing to lose, you have to go for it. So, I went for it. I am a violinist, no professionally but as an amateur, and St. Martin’s-in-the-field is just one of those names you hear on the recordings and that is synonymous with a musical excellency.”

 

Caroline realised in her early twenties that arts administration was the career path she wanted to take. Unfortunately, at the time she was not in a position to pursue it and ended-up working in a completely different industry for few years. “Working in a different field had other benefits because I learned things that are now very useful to me, like financial management, people management, project management,” says Caroline. 

 

It was only in her mid-twenties that the stars aligned in her life and that she was able to consider taking an unpaid internship in arts administration. She was offered a six-month internship. By another stroke of luck their marketing manager left six weeks later. “Because I had previous management experience and some of the skills they needed, they offered me that job. I was just actually really lucky. Then I went from being their marketing manager to their concerts’ manager. In the end, I worked for them for about two and a half year. After what the concerts managing role became available here at St. Martin’s, I applied for it and I got it. I have been here for six years.”

 

There was a church on St. Martin’s site since 900, but the actual construction was built in 1726. “Which is smack bang in the middle of the baroque period and which is why so much of the programming we do is from that period, Vivaldi, Bach, early Mozart, Handel. It just works really well in that space,” says Caroline. 

 

Going back to the heritage of the building, there are rumours about St. Martin’s that both Handel and Mozart have said to be playing the organ there. “I am not entirely sure how much I believe that. I think it would be unlikely for Handel to have played here, just because of the way he was at the time, he was very busy. Mozart in the other hand could have. When he was touring London in the earlier 1770s, he stayed just up St. Martin’s lane. He actually wrote a very short motet for the choir of this church. Even if he might not have played the organ, I think it is quite likely that he came to St. Martin’s, which is really nice, really exciting to think of now.”

 

The church itself, in terms of acoustic, its design and the period it dates from, works very well for that middle baroque period. Another reason St. Martin’s tends to programme a lot of works from that period is because of the physical dimensions of the church. The space allowed for the musical performance – the church’s sanctuary – is not very spacious. “We cannot display a huge romantic orchestra in there. That limits our repertoire slightly, by the number of musicians we are able to fit in.”

 

Another parameter to consider when programming is the acoustic of the space. “We can do a lot of chamber music and it doesn’t need to be amplified, naturally the sound just fills the space. But we cannot really programme bigger repertoire, it’s too much for that space. We did do a reduced orchestra version of the Verdi requiem few years ago, but it was just deafening, it was so loud, the sounds bounced off everything. Verdi’s requiem was written for La Scala, we are not La Scala.”

 

Last but not least, the financial aspect has to be taking into account when programming. Because St. Martin’s doesn’t receive any public or arts funding, everything they perform there has to pay for itself. They are a charity and need to make money in order to keep the church open for another year, therefore they don’t have that much flexibility.

 

St. Martin’s is essentially a hall for hire. They do work with a number of artists who perform there regularly. As business, those artists pay a higher fee and a commission on the ticket sales and what they want to perform is basically up to them. Traditionally, halls for hire have very little to say in the programming apart from programme clashing – not having two times the same work performed the same week. “Luckily, I have a lot a good relationship with a lot of those promoters so I can influence the repertoire to a certain degree. I know certain groups would perform a certain work very well, it would suit them and their artistic vision. Similarly, if they have something, they really want to perform they can talk to me.” 

 

The area where the concerts’ manager has the most flexibility is the church own concerts series: “Sound of St. Martin’s.” “There, we are our own promoter if you like, we have a lot more artistic freedom. We have been able to present a more unusual repertoire. Alongside of that, it means that we have got a lot of scope for commissions – there are a number of works that have been commissioned for St. Martin’s over the years. In St. Martin’s, I do have a really nice balance between some say and the more traditional works that I know will please everybody.”