Next weekend...

... go classical in the park

Should the England cricket selectors resign? When is midsummer day? Can the price of strawberries at Wimbledon be justified? Questions like these let us know that spring is behind us, and perhaps we should now add to them: are open-air concerts musical travesties or worthy examples of how a little imagination can bring "high art" to the "masses"? Never before has the mass picnic with a classical music soundtrack been so popular, as music promoters seek to make a killing in the wake of the "Three Tenors phenomenon". And next Saturday the season really begins when Britain's longest-running and most famous series of such concerts, at Kenwood Lakeside in Hampstead, north London, kicks off with the Philharmonia orchestra playing "First Night Favourites".

the case for the prosecution

To its fans Kenwood is, as one critic wrote last year, "London's answer to Glyndebourne, set among the Glyndebourne-going classes but without the need to dress up". Nonsense, say detractors of al fresco music. Even if you forget for a minute the jumbo jets stacking overhead to land at Heathrow, the acoustics at Kenwood are poor. What, for example, is a purist meant to make of an amplification system that compensates for quiet patches in the music by pumping up the volume whether the conductor likes it or not? You might as well put a compact disc on and give the musicians a night off. Anyway (the scoffers continue), the choice of music - a sugary diet of popular classics, so-called "lollipops" like the Four Seasons (31 August), the Water Music (20 July) or John Williams' suite for Star Wars (6 July) - does little to extend the public's conception of what classical music has to offer. And if that weren't enough, the traffic's a nightmare: more Volvos than the centre of Stockholm at rush hour.

the case for the defence

For each critic of the Kenwood approach to classical music, however, you're likely to find two who value it, not least for the wide cross-section of the public that it attracts. ("It's not as lah-di-dah as you might think," says Josephine Black, an advertising saleswoman who attends Kenwood each year with friends. "You even get the odd Glastonbury type who looks like they've walked into the wrong gig.") Where once most of us might have cowered in the shadow of the big house, now we can all be aristocrats for the evening. Besides, year after year, concert-goers vote with their feet. "When we sell out a concert," says Christine Gray of English Heritage, which arranges concerts at Kenwood and a host of other stately venues around the country, "that's more people than the Albert Hall, Festival Hall and Barbican Hall hold put together." Kenwood alone attracted more than 100,000 people to its 15 concerts last year.

no such thing as a free concert?

In fact, so popular are the Kenwood concerts that you'll usually find a sizeable crowd of picnickers gathered on neighbouring Hampstead Heath, where one can hear the music drifting through the border shrubs for free. (It should be noted, however, that English Heritage insist that audibility and visibility is much worse out there, and that this year they're doing their darnedest to make it even harder for liggers.) Still, as every music- loving local knows, the musicians have to rehearse - for a free preview, simply take a post-prandial stroll around the grounds on the afternoon of the performance.

kenwood dos and don'ts

Do get there early: gates open at 5.30pm and the arena is filling up by 6.30pm. Do book: tickets sell out for both the 2,000 deckchairs and the 6,000 seats on the grass. Do bring a blanket (some huddle in sleeping- bags) and a picnic (unless you're willing to pay over the odds for a pre- packed "Tuck Box"). Don't bring your own chair: they are not allowed. Tickets cost pounds 8.50-pounds 13.50 from Ticket Master (0171-413 1443) or from English Heritage (0171-973 3295). Kenwood House is at Hampstead Lane, London NW3. Saturday's concert begins at 7.30pm, and a free bus service between East Finchley station and Kenwood will be provided from 5.00-7.50pm.

beyond kenwood

Performing Arts - a rather flashy company, all fireworks and lasers - has two performances next weekend. On Saturday night, Grimsthorpe Castle, Bourne, plays host to a selection of "Midsummer Classics", while on Sunday evening at Erddig near Wrexham, there's a chance to hear "The Four Seasons by Candlelight", as well as some other old warhorses like the Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and Pachelbel's Canon. Details and tickets for both events on 01625 573477. Also on Saturday: the English String Orchestra is playing at Priory Park, Grange Road, Malvern (7.30pm), and there's also a 7.30pm concert at Castle Hall, Hertford (box-office: 01992 583390, after 7pm).

details

English Heritage's programme at nine sites this summer includes touring seasons from both Travelling Opera and Opera Box. Full details can be found in their "Music in Summer" leaflet (0171-973 3427). The National Trust also has an increasing number of outdoor music events, at which non-members are welcome. For details send an SAE to National Trust, PO Box 399, Bromley Kent BR1 3XL.

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