Limelight (classical club night at the 100 Club)

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Limelight is a classical club night that takes place at the 100 Club, in Soho, London. The night aims to broaden the appeal of classical music by presenting artists in an intimate, "rock & roll" environment, undermining conventional notions that classical music needs to be heard in a formal concert hall to be enjoyed.[1]

Unlike at traditional concerts, artists are encouraged to speak to the audience about their music choices and stay for a drink and chat at the bar afterwards. The 100 Club was chosen for the night because of its rich history, with many of the biggest names in jazz and rock having played there since it opened in 1942, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, the Sex Pistols and the Rolling Stones. However, the club has never before hosted classical music.[2]


Limelight was founded in July 2009 by two young women in the classical music industry: Emily Freeman and Milly Olykan. Speaking to Muso magazine in October 2009, Olykan said: "I don't go to many classical concerts, and when I do I think of it as a difficult environment. People are stuck rigidly in rows miles from the performers, and you need so much prior knowledge even to understand the programme. The artists never chat to the audience, and the whole thing is very intimidating and impersonal.

"When I talked to Emily, who has worked with many classical acts, she said several artists had already shown an interest in working in smaller venues, so I thought there was an opportunity there. It was like merging two worlds in one."[3]

Several Brit and Emmy award winners have appeared at Limelight so far, with some returning for repeat appearances. Artists have included Leif Ove Andsnes, Natasha Paremski, Joanna MacGregor, Nicola Benedetti, Jack Liebeck, Daniel Hope, Charlie Siem, Natalie Clein and Matthew Barley.

In December 2010, Times columnist Giles Coren attended a night and said afterwards: "Limelight avoids the tedium of a restaurant, the horror of a ‘gig’ and the pole-up-your-arse stiffness of most classical venues, and provides something genuinely original, fun and really rather classy."[4]

Limelight has featured in several magazines and newspapers since it started, including the Guardian Guide, Financial Times, Evening Standard, Metro, Muso magazine, Classical Music magazine, Classic FM magazine, Time Out and Music Teacher magazine. The night has been supported by Classic FM, with presenter Nick Bailey one of its most dedicated attendees. BBC Radio 3's In Tune programme has also run a feature on the night, along with Robert Elms' BBC London show.

In March 2010, the Jacaranda Ensemble - five young principals of the Brandenburg Symphony - drove over 1,000 miles from Germany, with a didgeridoo, percussion kit and two 10ft alpenhorns, to perform at the night.

In July 2010, Limelight changed its regular format to host "Limelight Presents New Artists", a competition to find the next wave of classical talent. Dozens of youngsters from music schools across the country applied, and the four winners performed at the 100 Club to over 100 peers, music industry professionals and members of the public.

Limelight testimonials from artists and critics[edit]

  • BBC Music Magazine editor Oliver Condy: “Limelight's idea of presenting classical music in a jazz club setting has proved an inspired one, showing that you don't need the austerity of a concert hall for brilliant music making and rapt audiences.”
  • Times journalist Giles Coren: "Limelight avoids the tedium of a restaurant, the horror of a ‘gig’ and the pole-up-your-arse stiffness of most classical venues, and provides something genuinely original, fun and really rather classy."
  • Classic FM presenter Nick Bailey: "Limelight is the perfect venue to enjoy classical music in an unstuffy and informal atmosphere, and a chance to catch some big names at affordable prices."
  • Richard Shayler, Muso magazine critic: “On visiting a club like this I would usually expect a night of beer and pretending that I’m comfortable with the mood lighting and a sweaty experience on the dance floor. However, upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully laid out stage boasting an authentic harpsichord and Fazioli baby grand, café tables with matching candles, chairs surrounding the stage and an atmosphere brimming with anticipation.”
  • Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes: “I loved it. It is wonderful that places like this exist in London, but more places are needed. Such an intimate environment is perfect for the music, and is not so different from how people listened to Chopin in Paris in the 1830s – and with a similar amount of alcohol, probably.”
  • Violinist Nicola Benedetti: "I loved the atmosphere and the connection with the audience. To me, it wasn't about making music fun, it was about providing depth of performance in a space that doesn't necessarily expect it."
  • Pianist Joanna MacGregor: “I loved it. This venue is wonderful for me, with its air of history and jazz history. I have been looking at all the pictures and marvelling at the company I’m keeping. And what an ideal crowd – so appreciative and interesting.”
  • Trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth: “Doing this kind of thing is a wonderful way of hearing classical music in a different atmosphere and gives it something different. It is very intimate and I feel that people are more open to responding instinctively. As an artist you can really feel the connection.”
  • Clarinettist Julian Bliss: “I love the informality of it – it’s a completely different dynamic. It’s a nice, intimate atmosphere where you can sit down and have a chat and a few drinks, and it’s an incredible place to play. I kept reading on the walls and mirrors about all the people who played here, which was amazing.”
  • Pianist James Rhodes: "It stripped away all the boundaries of classical music. It showed that classical music doesn’t have to be staid; it doesn’t have to be like a 17th Century watercolour. Music is music."
  • Violinist Charlie Siem: "There was a really nice atmosphere, really relaxed. When you play concerts in a big symphony hall, there is a much more serious attitude. Everyone has to be quiet, pay their respects. It reminded me of the jazz clubs in New York, like Norwood in West Village."
  • Pianist Rosey Chan: "It was fantastic. It'll be the talk of the town."


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