Oliver Gerrish - a Bonsall countertenor with a passion for architecture
PUBLISHED: 16:32 28 April 2014
Inspired by Matlock Bath’s Grand Pavilion, countertenor and architectural historian Oli Gerrish has organised a fund-raising concert
Seeing pictures of the Grand Pavilion in Matlock Bath in its heyday has inspired a Derbyshire singer to stage a fund-raising concert that will help bring the historic building back to life.
Oli Gerrish has a lifelong passion for both music and architecture, so it’s only natural that in May he will be staging a concert that will help preserve the historic Pavilion, built in 1910 and rescued by the community who now run it as a charity.
Oli, whose family home is in Bonsall, will be presenting a Night At The Opera, featuring not only his talents but those of rising soprano star Meeta Raval, a finalist at Cardiff Singer of the World.
He says: ‘I knew a bit about the plight of the building and what it was like in its glory days. I have always been fascinated by it since I went clubbing there a couple of times when it was a nightspot.
‘Having a formal concert in a building which is still semi-derelict will highlight the plight of buildings like this and show how amazing it could be if it was brought back to its best. The Pavilion will also help Matlock Bath by getting more people into the B&Bs, the pubs and restaurants. Music has a huge power to generate interest.’
The idea for the concert was forged while Oli and Meeta were helping another fund-raising drive.
‘For the last three years I have been raising money for a project in our village restoring the old field barns,’ Oli says. ‘We have been putting on concerts to coincide with Open Gardens in Bonsall. Last year the concert featured Meeta, who was born in Staffordshire. She’s a great friend of mine and we decided to form this little opera company, whose main ethos is to try to protect historic buildings. The Pavilion is on the up now but has been in a dreadful state for a number of years and seemed the perfect place to perform our first concert.’
Oli, aged 32, is an architectural historian as well as a countertenor, helping run the Georgian Group in London and acting as a trustee of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, which will benefit from the proceeds of A Night At The Opera along with The Grand Pavilion.
Oli says: ‘So the idea was to bring fine music to Derbyshire to aid these two causes.’
The aptly named New Georgian Opera Company will not only feature Oli and Meeta but also a soprano, countertenor, tenor, pianist and director.
‘It seemed a good name as there will one day be a new Georgian era and maybe Prince George will be a music lover and can be our patron! I also write quite regularly on Georgian architecture,’ says Oli.
The concert will offer a mix of great opera favourites from the likes of Verdi, Puccini and Mozart as well as a few songs from shows like ‘West Side Story’.
‘We are trying to make classical music accessible,’ says Oli. ‘Most of my friends only dip their toe into classical music but if you make it fun and combine it with a glass of wine or two, it’s a good evening, not starchy but elegant.
‘Everyone is really keen on getting the Pavilion back in good fettle again. I hope they get the grants they need and that this helps raise awareness of what still needs to be done to the building.’
A Night At The Opera is on Saturday 3rd May at the Grand Pavilion in Matlock Bath.
Tickets are £20 in advance, £15 for Friends of the Grand Pavilion. They are available from the Mining Museum at the Grand Pavilion, call 01629 583834 and Matlock Music Shop, on Dale Road, call 01629 760670. Go to www.thegrandpavilion.co.uk
Oli Gerrish spent much of his childhood growing up in Staffordshire, before his parents bought an old house in Bonsall and began restoring it.
His parents are both artists and although they appreciate music have never been musicians themselves.
‘So I’m not really from a musical family but they have always encouraged me,’ says Oli.
‘I discovered I could sing in tune when I was around three and was made to perform ‘Away in a Manger’. I was always quite bad at sport at school so singing was something that I could do.
‘I went to Harrow School when I was 13 and apart from architecture wasn’t massively academic. So I joined the chamber choir there and one of the professional singers said I should have lessons. So what was my hobby eventually became the focus of my career.’
Oli won a choral scholarship to Lichfield Cathedral in 2000 and went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. While studying there he was alto soloist at the Paris Conservatoire in the world premiere of Michel Petrossian’s ‘Epiphaneia’.
He regularly performs with Capella Nova and La Nuova Musica and has also toured Spain with The Amaryllis Consort. Oli made his operatic debut with Ensemble Serse in November 2009, singing the lead role of Artabano in Hasse’s ‘Artaserse’.
‘It’s very difficult being a musician as you are quite badly paid and it can be quite mercenary at times,’ he says.
That’s one of the reasons that Oli has always been proactive about his career.
He has organised the Chelsea Concerts series in London for the last four years.
He says: ‘We have raised £35,000 for charity as well as making sure all the musicians have been paid. Before each concert we are rushing around moving chairs, getting the best deals on the food, moving instruments around. But you have to do it as there are so many overheads.’
Running his own agency for musicians was a natural step.
He says: ‘I started that because a lot of my musician friends didn’t like the way they were sometimes treated and people looking to put on events were sometimes quite scared of approaching musicians. So I thought I could be the man in the middle trying to smooth over the gaps, building bridges in a way and getting more work for people.’
The other major string to Oli’s bow is architecture. He is a trustee of the charity The Georgian Group, which helps protect buildings and monuments from the era, and is founder and chairman of The Young Georgians, it’s offshoot for under 35s.
He has organised more than 100 trips around the country, many of them to Derbyshire to places like Chatsworth House, Renishaw Hall and Cromford Mill.
He has already done a bit of TV work talking about his passion for architecture and is looking to explore this side of his career.
‘I have been interested since I was really tiny,’ he says. ‘When I was little we used to go around London looking at all these amazing terraces built by John Nash. They were like palaces, extraordinary. My parents always used to say ‘just look at buildings and take in the detail’. It’s one of the few things I really understand so it’s a great passion and I now write a blog about it.
‘It’s why I love being on the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust. You get to know about every type of building, not just grand ones but the small ones that are often most at risk.
‘Derbyshire is an extremely rich county for architecture. It has all its great country houses and also this amazing industrial architecture. We haven’t got a major, huge cathedral like Lichfield or Lincoln but we do have lots of wonderful small churches. We have an enormous heritage not helped by a lot of the buildings being inaccessible. You can see that with the Bonsall Field Barns project, where people have been gradually taking the stones and roofs off but we are now trying to protect them.
‘But I do honestly think that in this country we are caring about heritage, you only have to see all the restoration programmes on TV. Sometimes it’s easier to let something fall down and build again but that’s terrifying. It makes more sense to look after what we have got.’
Find out more about Oli at www.newgeorgianopera.co.uk
Oli’s favourite Derbyshire
5 favourite buildings: St James’s Church Bonsall (amazingly decorated Mediaeval spire); The Fishing Pavilion, Cromford Bridge (17th century with Latin inscription); Tissington Hall; Chapel of St John the Baptist, Matlock Bath (by Sir Guy Dawber); All Saint’s Church, Youlgreave (wonderful Burne-Jones window and alabaster miniature tomb)
Town: Matlock Bath
Pub: The Barley Mow, Bonsall
Shop: The Rutland Arms Antique Centre, Bakewell
Walk: from Winster to Robin Hood’s Stride, or Horsedale, Bonsall
Restaurant: The Balti, Matlock Bath or Hassop Hall
Visitor attraction: Chatsworth
Beauty spot: Looking over Haddon Hall and over to Bakewell from Stanton-in-the-Peak or the 360 degree view from Masson Hill
Singer: Britney Spears (very bad, I know!) or countertenor James Bowman