City-of-London-FestivalThe City of London Festival kicked off last Sunday and runs for the next month in what is being billed as an “extravaganza of music, dance, art, film, poetry, family and participation events” in the Square Mile. Among the highlights of this year’s festival – the 51st – is a series of musical performances at St Paul’s Cathedral and a range of other locations including livery halls, churches and Mansion House – home of the Lord Mayor of London – as well as walks and talks including a two-day conference this Friday and Saturday, Worlds in Collision, which will explore questions surrounding the healing power of music in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorders resulting from conflict. There’s also a range of free events such as a family day on Hampstead Heath celebrating Northern Irish culture and heritage and artistic installations such as that by artist Konstantin Dimopoulos which this week saw the trees of Festival Gardens near St Paul’s turn bright blue. Trees around Devonshire Square are also expected to be ‘coloured’ and both sites will form part of a ‘Tree Trail’ in the square mile which is aimed at revealing the ‘secret stories’ of some of the city’s trees and the locations they inhabit. The festival, which runs until 26th July, will be reflecting on a number of significant historical landmark anniversaries taking place this year, including the 400-year relationship between the City of London and the Northern Irish community of Derry-Londonderry, the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht and the 100th anniversary of the birth of composer Benjamin Britten. For more information and a full programme of events, see www.colf.org. PICTURE: London Symphony Orchestra at St Paul’s Cathedral, © City of London Festival/Robert Piwko

The next month represents the last chance to visit Kew Gardens’ historic Temperate House – the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse – for five years. The Grade I-listed building is about to undergo a five year restoration project, funded by a £14.7 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is home to Kew’s rarest plant, the South African cycad Encephalartos woodii while other rarities include the St Helena ebony (Trochetiopsis ebenus). The Temperate House will close on 4th August and won’t reopen until May 2018. For more, see www.kew.org.

On Now: Vermeer and Music: The Art of Love and Leisure. Opened yesterday, this landmark exhibition at the National Gallery explores the motif of music in Dutch painting, in particular in the works of Johannes Vermeer and his contemporaries. Displayed alongside actual examples of 17th century virginals, guitars, lutes and other instruments, visitors will be able to see for themselves how accurate the painters were and discover why they may have taken artistic liberties. At the centre of the exhibition are three works by Vermeer – A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman seated at a Virginal (both of which form part of the gallery’s collection) and The Guitar Player (on loan from Kenwood House). A fourth Vermeer, The Music Lesson, has been loaned from the Queen. Other artists featured in the exhibition include Gerard ter Borch, Gabriel Metsu, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch and Godfried Schalcken. Live musicians from the Academy of Ancient Music will be playing at the gallery three days each week. Runs until 8th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Westminster-Abbey3Sunday marks 60 years since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and Westminster Abbey – site of that event – is celebrating with a series of events. These include a special 60th Anniversary of the Coronation Service on Tuesday (4th June) to be attended by the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh and members of the royal family as well as a public lecture to be given by the Bishop of London Richard Chartres on Friday night (7th June – booking is essential), a concert performed by the abbey choir (13th June), and a new exhibition in the chapter house featuring archive images of the 1953 coronation ceremony and of preparations which took place at the abbey. Meanwhile the Coronation Chair, used in most coronations since the 14th century and having just undergone conservation work, is the subject of a new display in St George’s Chapel, and two new commemorative stained glass windows have been installed in King Henry VII’s Lady Chapel – the first commissioned by the abbey for more than a decade, they have been designed by artist Hughie O’Donoghue. For more on the abbey’s celebrations, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

Composer Benjamin Britten is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Poetry in Sound: The Music of Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) looks at the poetic and literary influences on the work of the man often described as the greatest English composer since Purcell. In particular it examines his collaboration with WH Auden and the interplay of his work with authors such as William Blake, Wilfred Owen, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Shakespeare. As well as composition manuscripts, the exhibition features photographs, concert programmes and unpublished recordings of his music. There are a range of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. An admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk.

The Keats House 2013 Festival is underway this week with activities ranging from poetry readings to felt-making demonstrations, free family workshops and musical performances. The programme of events runs until 2nd June, all under this year’s theme of ‘Health is My Expected Heaven’: The Body and The Imagination. Poet John Keats lived at the house in Hampstead, not far from Hampstead Heath, from 1818 to 1820 and it is the setting for some of his most acclaimed poetry including Ode to a Nightingale. It was this house that he left to travel to Rome where he died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. For more on the festival programme, follow this link.

On Now: Silver Service – Fine dining in Roman Britain. This free exhibition at the British Museum recreates the experience of dining late in the Roman era and uses the Mildenhall Great Dish, Britain’s finest late Roman silver dining service, as an example of the type of large platter on which food for sharing would have been presented. The exhibition, which runs until 4th August, is free (keep an eye out for our upcoming Treasures of London on the Mildenhall Great Dish). For more information, see www.britishmuseum.org.