Watch exclusive Classic FM Sessions filmed at the National Portrait Gallery

9 July 2020, 10:08 | Updated: 9 July 2020, 11:55

National Portrait Gallery Sessions | Classic FM

By Rosie Pentreath

Watch sessions from brilliant musicians, including violinist Jennifer Pike and rising star guitarist Alexandra Whittingham – most of them performing out of isolation for the very first time since lockdown.

On Monday 22 June 2020, Classic FM was granted access to the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) in London.

Violinist Jennifer Pike, guitarist Alexandra Whittingham, cellist Ashok Klouda and guitarist Andrey Lebedev played exclusive live sessions, most of them performing outside their homes for the very first time since coronavirus lockdown started in March – watch the sessions in full above.

Pike performed The Lark Ascending – a piece she has got coming out on her new recording this month – overlooked by a portrait of its composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, and guitarist Alexandra Whittingham chose a work by Romantic composer Catharina Pratten, who also has portraits in the gallery. Whittingham has just been signed with Delphian Records.

Read more: Watch exclusive Classic FM Live Music Month Sessions featuring MILOŠ >

Jennifer Pike performs at the National Portrait Gallery for exclusive sessions
Jennifer Pike performs at the National Portrait Gallery for exclusive sessions. Picture: Classic FM

Music at National Portrait Gallery and National Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery is due to close in July 2020 for major refurbishment, so our performers and their sessions said goodbye to the gallery spaces with the most beautiful music, before they re-open to the public once again in 2023.

NPG, which aims to feature portraits of the people who have truly made – and are making – British history, houses many paintings and sculptures of fine musicians and music influencers past and present, including Sir Gerald Kelly’s formidable portrait of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Kenneth Green’s well-known painting of Benjamin Britten and his parter in life and work, Peter Pears, and a sculpture of great conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham, among countless others.

Its neighbour gallery, the National Gallery, also has a history of music filling its spaces. During the Second World War – from October 1939 to April 1946 – pianist Myra Hess hosted daily public concerts at the National Gallery to boost morale.

And now, after three months of silence in public spaces due to the coronavirus pandemic, NPG has helped us let live music commence once again…

Guitarist Alexandra Whittingham performed a ‘Forgotten’ by 19th century composer, Catharina Pratten
Guitarist Alexandra Whittingham performed a ‘Forgotten’ by 19th century composer, Catharina Pratten. Picture: Classic FM

Alexandra Whittingham, guitar

‘Forgotten’ by Catharina Pratten

Guitarist Alexandra Whittingham performs ‘Forgotten’ by 19th-century composer, Catharina Pratten (watch below).

Catharina Pratten – also known as Madame Sidney Pratten – was an influential guitar virtuoso and teacher, who has two portraits hanging in the NPG. Her contribution to music – and especially to guitar music – was significant: as well as writing pieces, she was considered London’s most prominent guitar teacher by the age of 20, even teaching Queen Victoria’s daughter Louise, Princess of Wales.

While we’re taking a moment to celebrate a brilliant woman composer and teacher, we’re also delighted to note that Whittingham performed her session overlooked by a portrait of suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst.

Alexandra Whittingham performs 'Forgotten' by Catharina Pratten

Jennifer Pike, violin

‘Sarabande’ from Partita in D minor by J.S. Bach
The Lark Ascending
by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Pike performs a stunning bit of accompanied Bach, and then uses the empty gallery to let Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending really soar in an unaccompanied version (watch below).

Jennifer Pike’s Elgar is out on 31 July 2020 on Chandos.

Jennifer Pike performs ‘Sarabande’ from Partita in D Minor by Bach

Jennifer Pike performs The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Willams

Andrey Lebedev, guitar

‘Lamentos do morro’ by Garôto

Lebedev performed a summery number by Brazilian guitarist-composer, Garôto. Garôto – AKA ‘The Kid’, real name Anibal Augusto Sardinha – was born in São Paulo in 1915 and has had a big influence on classical and acoustic guitar playing.

Andrey Lebedev performs ‘Lamentos do morro’ by Garôto

Ashok Klouda, cello

Cello Suite No. 5, III. ‘Courante’ by J.S. Bach
Suite for Solo Cello, VI. Finale by Natalie Klouda

Klouda performed in the Victorian Galleries. His programme of unaccompanied Bach – and composer Natalie Klouda’s contemporary response to Bach – resonated through the stunning space before the evening came glancing around the shadows.

Ashok Klouda performs Cello Suite No. 5, III. ‘Courante’ by Bach

Ashok Klouda performs Suite for Solo Cello, VI. 'Finale' by Natalie Klouda

With special thanks to the National Portrait Gallery. Visit www.npg.org.uk to find out more.