LIFEM | 13-16 November 2024

Filming concerts during a pandemic

We kept a record of the comings and goings of the filming days to document our experiences of running a festival during a global pandemic. We endeavor to recreate the atmosphere of the live concerts as we strive to make LIFEM: Digital one of the world’s most innovative festivals of early music.

Filming Day 1, Wednesday 21 October 2020

Having moved the festival to a digital platform and shifted our events to their virtual versions, we are relieved and delighted to finally walk through the doors of St Michael & All Angels church. We are kindly let into the church by their brilliant administrator Marion, as the heavens open up outside.
Firstly, we make sure the green room is ready and the COVID signage has been put up. It’s temperature guns at the door, face masks, hand sanitisers, and social distancing for the duration. The film crew arrive, it’s our regular sound engineer Jonas and a talented team of videographers and lighting specialists. In come four cameras and a lot of audio and lighting equipment.

At 8am (yes that all happened before 8am), our photographer, Anna McCarthy arrives and immediately begins buzzing brilliantly around the church to capture the film crew set-up. Anna’s superb photographs throughout the two days capture the mood of traditional early music concerts, the red carpet of the chancel the perfect backdrop for the performers in her action shots. At the same time, the edgy social-distancing photos of the film crew and LIFEM team encapsulate the essence of this year’s digital festival.

Calling the shots is festival director Chris Butler, who ensures everything is filmed to a high-standard. We welcome the wonderful harpsichord tuner, who miraculously works around the hubbub of the crew’s set-up, to tune the harpsichord upon which Mahan Esfahani will play. Enter our first performer of the day, world-renowned harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani. With Mahan’s performance the first in line to be filmed, rehearsals take place, as well as sound and visual checks, just to ensure it’s all perfect.


By 3.30pm, Mahan’s performance is in the can. What a first performance to kick off with. If you want to watch this concert (and we recommend you do) it will be available to watch until 31st December.

Harpsichord exit. Recorder enter.

2019 SRP/Moeck International Solo Recorder Competition winner Tabea Debus and accomplished accordion player Samuele Telari arrive and quickly change into fabulously coordinating attire for the afternoon filming.
LIFEM’s artistic director, Gill Graham, commences a short ‘In Conversation’ with Tabea and Mahan and it’s quickly into rehearsal then straight to filming Tabea’s concert.


The team clears up after Day 1, then back to the hotel for an early night (Tier 2 restrictions!), ready for an early start tomorrow…

Filming Day 2, Thursday 22 October 2020

On our second day of filming, the sun makes an appearance, bringing its own challenges for our lighting guy. We begin early with our first performance of the day from Young Ensemble Competition finalist, MokkaBarock. Due to travel restrictions, the performers couldn’t attend the live filming, so in the spirit of embracing the digital festival, our judges gather around the computer (2 meters apart) to judge their wonderful live-streamed recital from Salzburg.
We move swiftly onto filming our other finalists, Ensemble Pro Victoria, a harmonious vocal ensemble of seven, founded at The University of Cambridge, and Ensemble Hesperi, a dynamic instrumental ensemble based in London with a particular interest in promoting undiscovered Scottish Baroque repertoire.


After the three finalists’ performances, the judges disappear to deliberate and present the winning ensembles with their prizes. We kept the winner a secret until the competition broadcast on Sunday 8th November for a real Sunday afternoon delight! This year first place went to both Ensemble Hesperi and Ensemble Pro Victoria, very different and talented ensembles who we can’t wait to welcome to our festival in 2021. Catch up on this concert until the end of December.


We break for lunch, a quick peruse of Blackheath’s independent shops and bakeries for some of us, others are not so lucky, including assistant producer Alfie, who works from dawn till dusk.

Thursday afternoon brings the spotlighted event of this year’s festival as Fretwork arrives to give the world premiere performance of The Tudor Pull, by John Paul Jones. Watch the concert again.

Gill hosts a short interview with the founder of Fretwork, Richard Boothby (and later, a zoom interview with the composer, John Paul Jones). For a unique insight into John Paul Jones's early music composing and Fretwork's performance, catch up on their ‘In Conversation’.

The church is emptier now as the young ensembles have dispersed. There are just twelve people in the audience (the LIFEM team and film crew) and the sound of Fretwork’s viols cascade through every corner of the church.

The concert slightly overruns but festival producer, Ann Barkway, makes sure everything is recorded and runs smoothly. A quick drink to celebrate, a big team effort to clear up, and we’re out of there, four filmed concerts better off!