Live music is cautiously making its comeback, in many ways and in unexpected places. Bidden to a concert at the Fidelio restaurant on busy Clerkenwell Road, I ask for the rationale from its founder Rafaello Morales. This genial young Italian has followed an unusual trajectory, training first as a classical pianist, then doing a PhD in physics, then working for five years as a risk manager for a bank, then training as a conductor with dreams of creating a symphony orchestra (which now exists, although it can’t currently perform), and finally conceiving and creating the elegant space in which we are now talking.
“This is an attempt to bring classical music to a younger generation who may not yet have a taste for it,” he explains. “I wanted to harness the social aspect of music, to create a social space where music can happen.” They opened last summer, and have evolved a game plan which allows them to operate during this strange semi-lockdown period. They are open five nights per week, with the same programme (and the same menu) running through the week, and with 25 guests spaced safely apart: selling out every night, they are managing to break even. Cafes with music – usually jazz – are nothing new; the difference is that here the concert comes first, and the meal afterwards. And the excellent acoustic – thanks to thorough sound-proofing against the busy road directly outside –means that we might as well be in a purpose-built hall.
The audience on this occasion looks pretty familiar: educated, middle class, the sort of people you might find in the Wigmore. How does Morales square this with his ambitions for social outreach? These are early days, he replies, and word needs to get around. And although the whole package – concert plus a three-course meal – costs £100 per head, ten percent of the seats are available for under-30s at £10.
But the point is this: the music is absolutely top-drawer. On my night it’s the stellar violinist Alina Ibragimova – still touring despite the constraints of the virus – with pianist Samson Tsoy. Their performance of Janacek’s Violin Sonata comes bursting with bucolic vigour, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel has immaculate poise, and Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata – preceded by a reading from the Heiligenstadt Testament – alternates between delicately inflected grace and hurtling force. The final movement of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time makes an arrestingly grave encore.
Tonight, and for the rest of this week, the fine Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov is playing Chopin. Thereafter the programme will include pianists Louis Schwitzgebel and Charles Owen. All these people would in normal times be playing at the South Bank or the Wigmore.