Free concerts in London ★★☆
Free concerts, performances, plays, and lectures in London
I've said it before: London is odd in that its major museums are free, but its most famous churches (Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's) charge admission.
No worries. Most other churches don't, and there a few particularly worth visiting not only on their own merit but also because they frequently offer free music concerts.
- St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a perfect little 1726 church that hosts a lunchtime series of free concerts at 1pm most days except Wednesdays and weekends. (Before the performance, nip down to the cheap Cafe in the Crypt, where the tables are balanced atop worn tombstones). » more
- London's flamboyantly Victorian Catholic Westminster Cathedral—not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, where all the famous dead blokes are buried—hosts regular free organ recitals, especailly on Sundays at 4:45pm. » more
- The Tuesday lunchtime Mayfair Organ Concerts—free 40-minute organ recitals Tuesdays at 1:10pm—alternates between the 1730 Grosvenor Chapel at 24 South Audley Street (tel. (0)20-7499-1684, www.grosvenorchapel.org.uk) and St. George's Church on St George Street. (While technically free, a £4 donation is kindly requested at the end.)
- The Christopher Wren–designed church of Saint James Piccadilly (www.sjp.org.uk) hosts free, 50-minute lunchtime recitals at 1:10pm most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Usually piano music or small ensembles. (Retiring donation of £3.50 suggested.)
- All Hallows by the Tower (www.allhallowsbythetower.org.uk)—the oldest church in the City of London, established in AD 675—has free 50-minute organ recitals Thursdays at 1:10pm.
There are dozens more venues like those. Programs are listed at www.londonorgan.co.uk, www.organrecitals.com, www.organfocus.com, www.theorganmag.com, www.concert-diary.com, and the insanely detailed (though, sadly, no longer updated) lachlan.bluehaze.com.au.
More free concerts, plays, lectures, workshops, and performances in London
Churches haven't cornered the market on free music in London. The secret to finding gratis entertainment lies in trolling the events calendars at performing arts schools and institutes. The following is merely a sampling of what was on offer in the winter of 2015/16 (so details may have changed).
- The Royal Academy of Music ((0)20-7591-4314, rcm.ac.uk), one of the world's finest conservatories, gives free lunchtime recitals (1:05pm) and evening "rush hour" concerts (6 & 6:30pm) several times a week. The offerings, which range from classical to experimental, are held in performance spaces at the campus and across London. Those concerts do not requre tickets, but the RCM also offers numerous concerts and recitals that are free (or, at most, £5) but require advance ticketing.
- The Guildhall School of Music & Drama ((0)20-7628-2571, gsmd.ac.uk) in the Barbican (City of London) hosts multiple free performances and dirt-cheap theater productions throughout the academic year. On any given night, you might have your choice of a free concert—string ensemble in one hall, jazz trio in another, brass band in a third—or the option to splurge £5–£15 for a double billing of Shakespeare (in October it was "The Tempest" and "Macbeth" back-to-back).
- Morley College ((0)20-7450-1889, morleycollege.ac.uk)—one of England's oldest adult education centers, founded in 1880—holds free Tuesday lunchtime concerts at 1:05pm, plus free lectures and art workshops.
- Lauderdale House ((0)20-8348-8716, lauderdalehouse.co.uk)—an arts and education center in a gorgeous, recently refurbished 16th-century building in Waterlow Park—also offers free lunchtime concerts as well as inexpensive (£7-£12) cabaret, jazz, poetry, and classical performances.
- As if you didn't already have enough to listen to at lunch, the Royal Opera House itself ((0)20-7304-4000, roh.org.uk) also stages free lunchtime recitals most Mondays at 1pm.