Guest post by Amy Boyes

Especially loved in Canada, the music festival has been a fixture in our communities for decades. These are not the raucous music festivals held on lawns with big stages and four hundred portapotties that most people associate with the term “music festival.” These local competitions are hosted for the educational benefit of young performers.

Amy Boyes has adjudicated music festivals from as far east as Prince Edward Island and as far west as Manitoba. She teaches piano and theory in Ottawa, Canada.

In this guest post, Amy reflects on the sights, sounds and smells of rural Canadian music festivals while confronting out-dated practices. Both a love letter and criticism of competitive music festivals, Amy explores the history and transformative power of the music festival on developing musicians.   


“Your destination is on your right,” my phone chirps. And what a destination this old Anglican church is. Two thousand square feet of nave, chancel and vestry, capped with a turret and a bell tower, supported by buttresses in an otherwise residential neighbourhood cast long shadows over the street.

I shut off my phone’s GPS, step out of the car and look around. The morning air is fresh. Birds sing and runoff trickles from a grungy snow pile on the curb, down the street to the storm sewer. I step across an uneven concrete walk and, at the top of three steps, push open the church’s heavy wood door. Carved with a cross, the door hangs from decorative iron hinges. Despite my efforts to dull the effects of its automatic stopper, the door bangs shut.

“Good morning!” I cheerfully call to the volunteer at the admission table.

Music festivals are impossible to run without volunteers. Often seniors, these volunteers are reliable and dedicated. Unafraid of ice or cold weather, they do their bit. This particular volunteer looks nearly ninety, with paper-thin skin and a cardinal on her mauve sweater. I step around her table, heading to the main area where I expect to find the festival coordinator.

“Excuse me, Miss!” The volunteer waves a program at me frantically. “There’s an admission fee.”

I stop. “I’m sorry. I should have introduced myself. I’m Amy Boyes, the adjudicator.”

“But you look too young to be an adjudicator!”

I smile and wonder how old I’ll be before my baby face has enough wrinkles to imply experience. What about the lines around my eyes? Don’t they scream “over thirty?” And if I look too young to do the job now, how many prime, productive years will I have before I look too old?

I step into the sanctuary, across thin red carpet to a desk wedged between the narrow wooden pews favoured by generations long gone. Creaky and uncomfortable though they be, pews give a certain grandeur, a reverential aura.

I find the festival coordinator and introduce myself in a low voice. We chat softly because the church is quiet. Dead quiet. As the two of us work out the details of marking, assessment sheets, certificates, and provincial recommendations, we use pianissimo voices, careful not disturb, not to give away secrets. My job is to be objective. I will listen, write comments, and give feedback. I will do my best to inspire, teach and encourage. I will be a guest teacher, of sorts.

But there’s another duty I’m not so fond of, that of judge and juror.


I sometimes wonder if by adjudicating I’m encouraging an outdated cultural attitude. The practice of identifying and rewarding young musicians is dangerously subjective. If I were to hear a class on two consecutive days, I might mark it differently. It’s just one performance, a tiny glimpse into a much larger picture. After all, I don’t know if the student began playing six months ago or has been playing for six years. I don’t know if the student has the making of something marvellous or will stop practicing forever two weeks from now.

I’m making a judgement that may be disregarded by the student or taken to heart for years to come. I can make them want to practice or I can make them never want to play again. I always hope they listen to my more constructive words, my kindest encouragements. But I never know.


Only a few people sit in the pews, just the four or five performers in the first class, flanked by parents and grandparents. But the tall ceilings and old wood act as an echo chamber for whispers and dropped books. Nerves are evident. Young performers are anxious about playing. The festival coordinator is anxious about the organization. I’m anxious the dreadful coffee I drank at the Days Inn at breakfast is going to finish my stomach.

The church is three degrees too cold, so coats are left on. Crinkly, polyester taffeta ski jackets; wool, slightly sweaty, pea coats; flannel plaid button-ups, with a few dog hairs clinging, in from the country—the coats remain. It’s only the first week of April after all, and it doesn’t matter if the festival is held in Moncton, Kingston, Boissevain, Moose Jaw, Red Deer, or Penticton, the church will be cold.

The church has a smell too, an elixir of dust, mould, old wood, and two week-past Good Friday dinner. Every church smells the same—United, Anglican, Presbyterian. Old church smell has ecumenical leanings.

I sit at the desk and begin signing certificates. As I scrawl, Amy Boyes, Amy Boyes, Amy Boyes, on one certificate after another, I imagine the back of my head being inspected. Do we like this adjudicator? I imagine people thinking. Perhaps last year’s adjudicator didn’t have much to say or too much to say. I picture them wondering if I’ll be amusing or if I’ll drone on and on about sonata form and compound metres.

At nine o’clock, the festival coordinator greets the assembled in a loud but welcoming voice. The festival coordinator is “thrilled” to introduce me. She may have had a sinking feeling at the sight of me, but she wears excitement well, like a good makeup job—brightening the eyes, widening the smile. She reads my biography, forging through degrees, institutions, associations and organizations like she practiced, which she may well have. During this recitation, I write cheerful comments on assessment sheets for performances yet to come: “Thanks so much for playing today!” or “What an enjoyable performance!” I write to distract myself from the banality of my biography and nagging self-doubt. Is that really all I’ve accomplished? What a thin biography. Never performed in Europe. Or the States. Didn’t study abroad either, for that matter.

The festival coordinator introduces Carl, an elderly gentleman sitting in the front row. Carl will announce the classes and performers. And so he does.

With a voice so profound in its depths that Sam Elliot’s would seem flippant in comparison, Carl recites the first class’s name and number, always a cryptic code filled with Ps and Ks. It’s a class of Baroque pieces. Grade 4.

“Olivia Reedman will now play ‘Rigadoon in A minor’ by Babell,” announces Carl.

Olivia knocks a hymn book off the pew rack as she makes her way from the very back of the sanctuary to the grand piano at the front of the room. She wears a sleeveless fuchsia frock with gold sequins, perhaps a recent Easter treat. On her feet, she wears bright green Sorel boots. Maybe her Sunday School shoes were forgotten at home in the early morning rush.

Olivia approaches the big and black piano with bold, gold letters, “Y A M A H A,” slowly, even reverentially. She mounts the bench and may find it too close to the keys for she looks at her little toes, jammed into the carpet, with panic in her eyes. The bench is heavy which seems to discourage her from moving it. Moving it might make noise and she’s likely terrified of that. Olivia lifts her hands onto the keys with a tentative gesture like she’s only just been given these hands and they are a bit new to her. With an E to A4 pickup, Olivia’s right hand begins with her left hand following two beats later.

BRIGHT! SHINY! LOUD! The sound seems to shock Olivia, for her head whips up and her eyes pop wide. Notes ping from the Yamaha then pong against the wood panelling in the back of the hall. The second phrase is to be played more quietly than the first, but Olivia plays the second phrase exactly like the first. It’s a stream of loudness, spirting from the open piano, spraying up into the open rafters, showering down on us.

Then new things happen. Repeated notes. Forte. More forte! The notes echo from the back wall like shots in the night. Olivia appears to panic. She speeds up. Then she must notice the hammers drilling up and down inside the grand piano, for she stares at the mechanism as she plays—up, down, hammer here, hammer there. Perhaps she’s never seen inside a grand piano before for she seems mesmerized. She’s making this huge, black beast work! All by memory! All with her own hands!

Suddenly, everything stops. And that’s it. The piece has ended.

Olivia slides off the bench looking slightly stunned. She faces the smattering of applause throughout the church, quickly dips her head in lieu of a bow, and then scampers back to her pew.

I applaud, then return to the assessment I’m writing, my pencil scratching in the now silent church. The performance was lovely, I quickly write. You have beautiful stage manners. Now, could you try to make a bigger difference in the volume between phrase one and phrase two? The two phrases are an echo of each other… a parallel construction with a slight twist on the second cadence. The ear needs contrasting dynamics. Could you also try to shape the loud, repeating notes in the second section? Again, an enjoyable performance. Good choice of tempo but aim for steadier playing. Nice memory work.

I nod at Carl, who has been steadily watching me. I’m ready for the next performer.


The first music festival in Canada took place in Edmonton, Alberta, in May 1908. Over two days, musicians from Edmonton and throughout the province competed at the MacDougall Methodist Church. The final evening’s mass choir concert saw over two thousand people packed into the charmingly-named Thistle Rink. Eager volunteers had decorated the walls with bunting and bear skins, of all things.

Undoubtedly it was a mixed event, staged long before the era of television and YouTube. A sample of Handel, for example, was followed by a rousing rendition of “Annie Laurie.” Mendelssohn; by “I Sing to Thee Songs of Araby.” Regardless, Alberta’s thirst for culture was evident and contagious. Following the successful 1908 event, music festivals sprung up across Canada. Alongside grain elevators and oil wells, lumber mills and fishing shacks, communities only boasting two struggling churches, a school, a post office and a grocery store mounted music festivals. These events were good for the students, and they were good for the town.

However, Canada’s oft-capricious weather often conspires against culture. In the dead of winter in Manitoba where I grew up, someone must blow snow out of the laneway, hope the municipality plowed the highway, start the four-wheel-drive truck, bundle everyone up and head to town in a howling blizzard. Whether it be for music lessons, coffee house performances, choir practices, band rehearsals, or music festivals, every trip to town is an investment. Every action is deliberate.

It is this deliberateness, however, that drove volunteers in Edmonton in 1908 to turn a curling rink into a concert hall and hang bear skins on the walls. It is what keeps music festivals alive today.


After all five students play, Carl asks them to come up to the front pew. They are more relaxed now, chatting and smiling at each other. They sit in the same order as they performed which is a god-send for me. I can never keep performers straight unless they’re in order.

Olivia Reedman. Emily Foster. Cayden Johnson. Xiao Chen, and Olivia Boyd. I review their names in the program as I walk to the front of the room.

“Well, what a treat it is to be with you all this morning!” I begin. I speak in the general direction of the performers in the front row, but with a loud enough voice to carry to the rest of the audience. None of the performers return my smile. They look wary, suspicious even.

This segment of the festival is generally my favourite part. I talk with the kids, asking questions about themselves and the pieces they play. I talk about key signatures, harmonic scales, leading tones. I work slowly—they are still quite young, after all, out of their comfort zones and likely feeling a bit stressed. I have to gain their confidence before they’ll respond.

“So what key this piece is in?” I ask, assuming the title of the piece, “Rigadoon in A minor” has illuminated them already.

I get blank stares, so I turn the score around and lower it to their eye level.

“Do you see a key signature?” I ask, pivoting the book slightly so everyone can see.

After a moment of excruciating silence, Emily says, “There isn’t any.”

“Very good, Emily!” I congratulate. “So what scales or keys only use the white notes?”

“C?” says the boy named Cayden with noticeable doubt in his voice.

“Absolutely!” I respond. “C major only has white keys.” I walk over to the piano and play a C major scale. “It sounds rather cheerful, doesn’t it?” I play it again and all the performers in the front row politely nod. “Now, let me play its sad cousin, A minor. It uses all the same notes as C major, but it begins on an A.”

I play the A minor scale in natural form and suddenly Olivia R. pumps her hand up into the air.

“I know now! I forgot before!”

“Go ahead, Olivia,” I say.

“Rigadoon is in A minor and it uses a G# because it’s in harmonic form which means you raise the 7th note of the scale!”

Most of the heads bob up and down enthusiastically. This was common knowledge after all. Everybody knows this stuff, I’m sure. We had to dig for it.

I push further. The G# disappears in the middle section as the piece modulates to the relative major, C major. Suddenly, the piece is lighter, brighter. Forte is marked as the tonality is uplifted, cheerful even. This section could be played more brightly.

I walk them through all the dynamic markings on the score, demonstrating a variety of sounds on the piano as I go. I ask for a volunteer and Olivia R. returns to the bench. I give her some suggestions for dynamic changes and phrase shaping. She makes an attempt and although the results are not wildly better than her initial performance, at least she’s worked with a new teacher and a different perspective, even for a few minutes. She smiles when she’s finished. Perhaps she enjoyed herself.

I’m already running two minutes behind schedule as I tack on a few words about the importance of a steady tempo and consistent articulation. Then I finish with my least favourite part—announcing a winner.

The practice of marking is subjective and outdated, a surviving feature from an era where all effort was quantified and marks were printed in the local newspaper. In reality, I know Olivia R.’s missed dynamics are no worse a sin than Cayden’s rushed tempo or Emily’s tiny memory slip, or Olivia B.’s detached legato line. All these errors are typical for a young performer. Anyone of these students, with consistent practice and good teaching, has the capability of becoming a solid, dependable performer. The concept of a winner at this stage is absurd. However, Xiao’s performance was as close to perfection as one hears at the elementary level. It was steady and clean, with well-shaped phrases and crisp, lively tempo. She probably practices twice as much as everyone else in the room and should be rewarded for her effort. She deserves a first place ribbon and the applause that comes with it. There’s nothing subjective about that.

I take a big breath and call out the results. Third place for Olivia Reedman. Second place for Cayden Johnson. First place for Xiao Chen.

There is enthusiastic applause from the audience and a mixture of expressions from the students. Elation. Disappointment. Typical reactions in competitions.

I hand out certificates and ribbons, congratulating and confusing names and books as I often do. We shake each other’s cold hands and I wish them a good day at school. They thank me and that’s it. One class down. A full week’s to go.


I return to the adjudicator’s table and signal the start of the next class. However, there’s a slight problem, I’m told. The first student is running late; their country road flooded this morning with spring runoff. They’re taking a circuitous route into town so that the student will perform at the end of the class.

No problem, I say, then smile. I picture myself, twenty-five years ago, being driven into a minuscule prairie town from a hog farm in rural Manitoba. Parka zippered over an Easter dress. Sunday school shoes under my arm. Bulky Sorels on my feet. Humming my little piece under my breath.

And so it continues.


profile_photoAmy Boyes is a private music teacher in Ottawa, Canada. Her time is split between teaching, examining, adjudicating, and writing. Her work has been featured in the American Music Teacher Magazine, the Piano Magazine (Formerly Clavier Companion), the Canadian Music Teacher Magazine, No Dead Guys Blog, Melanie Spanswick Blog, The Columbia Journal and The Humber Literary Review. Amy holds a Bachelor of Music from Brandon University, Master of Music from the University of Alberta and diplomas in piano performance and teaching from the Royal Conservatory and Trinity College, London. 

amyboyes-pianostudio.com

 

Mitsuko Uchida, piano

Schubert – C Major Sonata, D. 840

Schubert – G Major Sonata, D. 894


Like almost every other festival this year, Petworth’s annual summer music festival, which normally takes place in July, fell victim to the restrictions imposed in response the coronavirus pandemic, but rather than cancel this year’s festival altogether, its organisers sensibly moved the music festival to the autumn and combined it with the literary festival. The events are all online, though some are live, with audience, to create “a real ‘Petworth’ feel about them” (Stewart Collins, Artistic Director) and, as always, there’s a fantastic line up of performers and guests, including Sheku and Isata Kanneh Mason, The London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley, and Mitsuko Uchida. Petworth Festival always attracts an impressive roster of performers and amply confirms that there is very high quality music-making to be found outside of the capital.

We’re all pretty used to watching concerts via livestream and videocasts now; superior technology allows such broadcasts to be presented with high-quality sound and visuals, which undoubtedly enhances the experience. It’s impossible to entirely recreate being in a concert hall, but one of the advantages of livestream is that you can choose when the view the concert: watch it live or at your own convenience, perhaps in the middle of the afternoon, as I did with this particular concert. With my laptop connected to the tv in the living room and a cup of tea in hand, I settled down to enjoy Mitsuko Uchida playing two sonatas by Franz Schubert.

I’ve only ever seen Uchida performing in the vast space of the Royal Festival Hall, yet every time she has managed to shrink the space, drawing us into her personal, musical world to create the atmosphere of a salon concert. This is particularly true when she plays Schubert, a composer who despite writing large-scale works, is a master of the introspective, and, as I have written on this blog, a composer for these corona times.

Uchida is very alert to Schubert’s idiosyncrasies, his chiaruscuro and elusive, shifting moods, and I always feel that she is very at home with this music. She creates the most remarkably sense of intimacy through hushed pianissimos, tapered sonorities and a sensitivity to Schubert’s “psychological dynamics” – where a fortissimo, for example, is tempered by a certain restraint and emotion is implied rather than made explicit in sound. She highlights details or moments of significance with a touch of rubato here, a little more pressing forward there, and these feel spontaneous, of the moment, never contrived (of course the ability to do this so effortlessly comes from a long association with the music and a deep knowledge of it).

Uchida also seems to subscribe to Andras Schiff’s assertion that one must “follow” Schubert, allowing the expansiveness of this music to unfold gradually. Her melodies have a warm cantabile, her dynamics subtly shaded, often revealing dark, mysterious layers beneath.

In the D894, described by Robert Schumann as “most perfect in form and conception”, she created a timeless serenity in the opening movement, opting for a relaxed moderato (rather than Richter’s famously ‘meditative’ slowness) to allow the narrative to flow naturally into the dramatic grandeur of the development. What followed was a second movement with a contrasting rhythmic vigour in the more passionate passages, a tender, folksy lullaby in the third movement, and an elegant, supple finale replete with pastoral charm.

122117455_4474452515958519_7672388628339138679_oSchubert isn’t a showy composer, and nor is Uchida a showy performer. For this concert, she was dressed soberly in a dark fluid trouser suit, but there was a glint of showiness in her footwear – the most elegant silver shoes which lent a roccoco flair. Of course, the superb camera work allowed one to enjoy such details: to get up close and personal with the performer as the camera lighted on her  hands and face, revealing myriad expressions, often unconscious, and which perhaps offered a glimpse to the personality beyond the notes.


Petworth Festival continues until 1 November – more information

Photo credits

Decca/Justin Pumfrey

Petworth Festival

This site is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours to research, write, and maintain. If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider making a donation to support the continuance of this site

Make A Donation

Conductor and festival director Tom Hammond thinks we should all bother with music. In this guest post, he explains why and previews this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music.

marchteal

I’m writing this less than two weeks before the opening of the 2019 Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM), with the sweaty brow of the accidental concert promoter desperately hoping to see more tickets flying off the shelves.

We’ve programmed some fabulous music and musicians in this our fourth year: Fauré, Haydn, Schumann, Ravel, Mozart….with Steven Isserlis, Orchestra of the Swan, Anthony Marwood, Clare Hammond, the Carducci Quartet, to name only a few.

It’s not just classical music traditionally presented (although there’s some of that, and no apologies for it!) with two performances from the effervescent ZRI mashing Brahms with klezmer and gypsy styles plus their need live-to-film performance Adventures with Charlie Chaplin, an amazing jazz trio in a magical venue, and even a guided visit to Haydn’s summer holiday home when he was here in 1791. Plus three Featured Living Composers (Peter Fribbins, Alan Mills, James Francis Brown) and three major outreach projects involving more than 200 young people. Basically shed-loads of stuff, and really good stuff!

Since the Festival began – the initial germ of the idea coming to me back in 2015 – we’ve welcomed around 2,500 people to concerts in Hertford and Hertfordshire, given education and performance opportunities to around 500 younger people (schoolchildren as well as conservatoire level students) and raised something like £150,000 in external funds and Box Office revenue. Raising that sort of money for music is incredibly hard work as anyone who’s ever tried will know, taking hours of your life that could be spent doing vastly more enjoyable things….

The money that we’ve raised has gone directly into the music economy via paying our artists – about £75,000 on musician’s fees alone, and we pay at a decent rate –  plus all the other elements of the musical food chain, including commissions, hire of copyright materials, piano tuners, keyboard hire, sound and lighting equipment, etc., etc. Where that money certainly isn’t going is into my back pocket, nor that of my co-Artistic Director. We’ve also got a very hard-working board of trustees, because we’re now properly formalised as a charity, plus our FOH team who also do it for the love of music.

And why on earth would anyone do this?!

I have asked myself that question many times, not least as so many areas of running a Festival are things for which I’ve had absolutely no training, experience or aptitude and I’m already pretty busy with my main work as a conductor and producer. But, when I read my social media newsfeeds, or see classical music mentioned in the national media, it’s too often report after report about cuts in music education and how music is being marginalised. Or how to make it ‘relevant’. Or how it’s seen as for only posh people…. You don’t need me to go on because it’s jaw-clenchingly boring to do so, and moaning is too easy and the time could be better spent doing something about it.

What I and my colleagues at HFoM are trying to do, albeit in a nascent way which needs constant refinement, is simply put amazing music on in appropriate spaces that heighten the audience experience, plus open out opportunities for young people, and try to buck the above trend. As a colleague of mine once said to me, we are attempting to act as incubators of this amazing art form and when the day finally comes and politicians actually read the gazillions of studies that show how music helps people in so many ways and fund it again, someone can buy us all a pint.

Until then, if anyone fancies coming along and helping us continue beyond this year we have plenty of tickets left to sell. With only two exceptions, you can walk to all our performances in less than twenty minutes from train stations, all of which are well-served in and out of London. It will be light well into the evening, hopefully sunny and warm too. Tickets are not expensive, indeed some events are totally free, many offer £5 seats for anyone in full-time education, and they are in nice places with good pubs, restaurants and countryside nearby.

Hertfordshire Festival of Music runs from Thursday 13 to Sunday 23 June 2019. This year’s principal artist is cellist Steven Isserlis who will be giving masterclasses and performances during the festival. Full programme of events

Tom Hammond is co-Artistic Director of Hertfordshire Festival of Music, and a conductor and record producer.

www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk

Meet the Artist interview with Tom Hammond

22069948_1912056895725052_5514396914646253568_nFor this, its 47th year, Rye Arts Festival has a new director of Classical Music, cellist Alison Moncrieff-Kelly. With this year’s festival just over a month away, I asked Alison to give us a taster of some of the highlights on the programme and to tell us a little more about what goes into organising a festival….

What can we expect from the classical music element in this year’s Rye Arts Festival and what are the events we should be looking out for?

As the incoming classical music Director for the Rye Arts Festival (RAF), I felt that I had to do a bit of research into what had gone before. The Festival has a wonderful pedigree, and the spread of musical interest has been remarkable; but what I did notice was that singers in particular had been less represented than other performers. So I lifted the phone to my close friend Iain Burnside, to brainstorm ideas. I very much admire the work Iain does in curating dramatised performances; and as one of the themes of the Festival is commemoration of the end of the First World War. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to put on ‘A First War Poet of England Am I’, a celebration of the songs and poems of Ivor Gurney. This will bring to the Rye Arts Festival Roderick Williams, along with Iain Burnside, and the actor Philip Franks, who will perform the poems. It’s an incredible privilege to have this combination of talent in our first week.

We also have Dame Emma Kirkby leading a programme of music by Dowland, Campion, Danyel and Ford with her group, Dowland Works. This is a wonderful opportunity to fill St Mary’s Rye with that famous crystalline voice.

I have tried to vary the offer, so there is also a big choral event – The City of London Choir are performing a programme of Elgar, followed by the Duruflé Requiem, Chamber recitals include The Revolutionary Drawing Room, who are performing ‘Music in Time of War’ in Winchelsea Church, and violinist Ani Batikian will perform music ‘From Armenia to Armistice’.

We have two wonderful pianists in the Festival: Danny Driver joins us for a recital that will include Rachmaninov York Bowen and Henriette Bosmans. Then Kenny Broberg, the winner of last year’s Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition, makes a welcome return to the Festival, performing the Mozart G Major piano concerto with the Hastings Philharmonic. This performance marks the beginning of a new relationship between the Rye Arts Festival and the Hastings Philharmonic.

We are also delighted to be consolidating a longstanding relationship with the Worshipful Company of Musicians by promoting two of their young artists in our lunchtime series – guitarist Laura Snowden and Buck Brass Trio.

Alisdair Kitchen and Euphonia Studio are giving the only UK performances of Les Mamelles des Tiresias this year. We are very proud to have Alisdair on board as the Rye Arts Festival in-house opera director – he’s a veritable powerhouse of creative invention!

How did you select the performers/programmes for this year’s RAF?

The idea was to start with the WW1 theme, and work from there. It’s been fascinating to discover how many strands led out of that central theme – so for instance, the Armenian armistice idea was very much Ani’s own inspiration. I love the enthusiasm that all the performers show for the Festival and the WW1 theme – the excitement has been extraordinary.

Can you tell us more about your role as Director of Classical Music?

My role is to create the classical music element of the Festival and to make sure that as many elements of the musical spectrum as possible are represented. I already have plans in place for the next two years, and am looking forward to continuing to broaden the scope of what the Festival offers.

This is your first year as director of classical music for RAF. What have been the challenges and pleasures?

It’s been a steep learning curve in terms of the organisational aspects of the job – an awful lot to put into place for a September Festival  when i was only appointed in October; but the committee has been wonderfully supportive, and I have found the energy and commitment around me incredibly stimulating. That, and the spontaneous enthusiasm from the performers has been really heartening.

What can people expect from the Festival? What kind of audience does it draw and what do you hope people will take away from the Festival?

People can expect a wide-ranging and varied programme, with some younger, emerging talent alongside stars of the classical firmament such as Roderick Williams and Emma Kirkby. The audience comes both from the local area and from London – there are a lot of second home owners in Rye, so the net is cast pretty wide. I hope people take away a sense in which the whole of the Rye area is expanding in cultural terms. It’s really accessible from London, and the town is magical – fabulous history, atmosphere, literary connections.

How do you see the music festival developing under your directorship?

I’d like to develop the mixed-media idiom that we initiate this season with Iain Burnside’s Gurney show. Iain is a fountain of creativity and I want to tap into that! I’m interested in several of his shows – Schwanengesang, which is a composite of the song cycle with dramatic interludes, was a brilliant piece of theatre that I saw him produce at the Guildhall. I also want to build on Emma Kirkby’s first appearance at the Festival: we’re discussing a residency for next year, to combine some workshops as well as performances. Other than that I’m really open to new ideas – definitely want to do move away from the traditional recital mold as the only form. There’s so much potential for other ways of performing.

You are a musician yourself – has this affected your approach to RAF?

Yes – I remember a friend of mine who works in management telling me that he thought he would make a really good manager, because he had been so badly managed so many times in the past, that he really knew what was needed to keep his staff happy. I have experienced some of the best and some of the worst of this challenging profession, and I think I know how to invite people to offer their best ideas, rather than telling them. Time will tell; but I’m a great believer in letting artist’s have their heads – they know far more about it from their vantage point on the stage, intuiting the audience response.

What are you most excited about in this year’s programme? What are your personal highlights?

I’m really challenged to answer this one, because I’m excited about the whole Festival, and not just the musical part: i anticipate getting no sleep for two weeks while I try to attend every single event! It’s a fantastic multi-arts Festival with a staggering range of talent and skill. Ask me again afterwards!


The 47th annual Rye Arts Festivals runs from 15-30 September 2018. For full details and tickets please visit the festival website

 

rye-arts-festival-logo

 

This coming July sees one of the UK’s most stylish ‘small is beautiful’ annual festivals celebrating a ‘significant’ year – the 2018 Petworth festival is the 40th such event. Founded jointly by Lord Egremont and Robert Walker, the well-known composer who hails from the area, and now run by Artistic Director Stewart Collins, the 40th year boasts a programme built to match and salute this milestone. Topping the bill is a stellar list of performers that includes Dame Evelyn Glennie, Stephen Isserlis, The King’s Singers, Ji Liu, Alistair McGowan, Barbara Dickson, Darius Brubeck, Gyles Brandreth, Joe Stilgoe, Paul Merton, ….

An “experienced but never complacent” festival man, Stewart Collins tells me that he “has always sought to balance the various elements of the festival whether celebrating the West Sussex locale through its venues (ten are used this summer); the appeal to and involvement of the local community; and the balance of performing genres.” Following these loose guidelines, the 2018 programme offers three specific strands; firstly events that celebrate the festival’s 40 years, with concerts featuring performers who have particularly made waves at recent festivals and three in particular with former Festival Artistic Directors – Robert Walker (twice) and David Owen-Norris; secondly performances that doff the cap to the massive anniversary that is the conclusion of the First World War; and thirdly a whole series of events featuring young and emerging performers and others specifically aimed at the younger and family audience.

But it is the quality of the audience experience that most excites Stewart Collins about the Petworth event.

Because most of our venues are modest in size, Petworth audiences have an extraordinary opportunity to witness and participate in very high quality events in very intimate surroundings. The performances of the 1918-related theatre piece Between the Crosses in Petworth House’s ancient chapel are just one example, but it is the acoustic of Petworth’s St Mary’s Church that makes so many of the festival’s events “absolutely magical.” Steven Isserlis from a maximum of 50 feet, will be a wonder to behold, just as will be the King’s Singers who stop off in Petworth as part of their own 50th anniversary odyssey, not to mention the concerts lined up featuring baritone Christopher Maltman and the much lauded early music ensemble La Serenissima.

And with other smaller scale events being scheduled for the nearby Champs Hill Music Room, itself one of the most perfect and unique settings for chamber music in the region, the festival is obviously blessed with great options.

Stables - Comedy image_0
A Festival concert in the Stable Yard of Petworth House

The magnificent acoustics of the almost eerily beautiful Stable Yard of Petworth House that the Festival is so privileged to be able to use, will set the tone of this special anniversary year as the festival opens with a performance by the Armonico Consort, combined with the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, featuring Thomas Tallis’ choral masterpieces, Spem in Alium and the 60-part mass by Alessandro Striggio

The 40th Petworth Festival runs from 17th July to 4th August 2018

Festival tickets go on sale to Friends of the Petworth Festival on Friday 13th April. Many events sell out during this priority booking period. To become a Friend of the Festival (minimum donation £25) contact the festival box office on 01798 344 576 or mail info@petworthfestival.org.uk

Full details of the 2018 Festival programme at www.petworthfestival.org.uk

imageStewart Collins is Artistic Director of Petworth Festival

nzso20yevgenysudbin-4416

Haydn Sonata in B Minor HobXVI/32
Beethoven Bagatelles Op.126
Tchaikovsky Nocturnes, Selection from the Seasons
Scriabin Prelude & Nocturne for the left hand Op.9, Sonata No.5, Op.53

Yevgeny Sudbin, piano

Monday 13 November 2017, St John’s Church, Wimbledon

This was my first visit to Wimbledon International Music Festival, though I have been aware of the festival for some years. Now in its ninth year, the two week festival is very well established and offers an impressive roster of international musicians, together with opportunities and support for young and emerging artists. Concerts take place in a number of attractive churches and halls dotted around the hill leading up to Wimbledon village and are very well organised, with friendly helpful staff. This is in no small part due to the efforts of Anthony Wilkinson, festival director, who is, by his own admission, passionate about music and has created “a festival sharing the experience of hearing and meeting world class artists in the company of friendly festival audiences“.

The theme of this year’s festival is capital cities and Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, who hails from St Petersburg, presented a programme featuring composers from two of the greatest European cultural capitals – Vienna and Moscow – represented by Haydn, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Scriabin. Vienna has always had a strong hold over the imagination of Russian composers, artists and performers, and although Tchaikovsky was born in St Petersburg, he spent time in Moscow teaching at the conservatory, which since 1940 has born his name, and where Moscow-born Scriabin studied under Anton Arensky.

Described by the Telegraph as “potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century“, Yevgeny Sudbin possesses that rare talent of being able to move with apparent ease between different composers, eras and genres, yet always delivering pianism of the highest order, rich in expression and musical thought. I have enjoyed fine performances by him at London’s Wigmore and Queen Elizabeth Halls and have been impressed in particular by his performances of music by Scriabin and Scarlatti (Sudbin’s playing of this composer’s miniature sonatas is exquisite – poised, shapely and expressive – and confirms that this music can and should be played on a modern piano).

It is also rare to be at a concert where one is utterly captivated from the first note until the very last has faded to silence, but this was definitely my experience at Sudbin’s Wimbledon recital. He’s a modest presence on stage, restrained in gesture, so that the music can speak for itself. His Haydn was poised and precise, darkly-hued, the first movement paced to allow us to appreciate the composer’s rhetoric and wit and delight in the possibilities of the (then) recently invented pianoforte. The second movement was elegant, lyrical and intimate, while the Presto finale was delivered with an insistent pulsing intensity, replete with fermatas and false cadences to keep the audience guessing.

Beethoven’s Opus 126 Bagatelles were published almost 50 years after Haydn’s B minor sonata, the product of the same period in his compositional life as the Ninth Symphony and the late string quartets. Although a set of six miniatures, these are works of the profoundest emotions and a sense of “otherworldliness”, particularly in the slower works. Sudbin caught the individual character of each Bagatelle with supple phrasing and nuanced dynamics. The final movement, in E flat, was almost Schubertian in its expansiveness and long-spun melodies of its middle section.

More miniatures in the second half, this time by Tchaikovsky. Two Nocturnes and two movements from ‘The Seasons’, all tinged with a heartfelt poignancy and delivered by Sudbin with sensitivity and expression. Scriabin’s Prelude and Nocturne for the left hand offer the pianist technical and expressive challenges – to shape a melodic line with an accompaniment using the left hand alone. This was an impressive performance, graceful and intense. Sudbin launched into the Fifth Sonata with hardly a pause for breath. It opens like the Haydn, with a growling, rumbling figure deep in the bass, but that is where the similarity ends. This work is sensuous, and declamatory. Sudbin capered through it, artfully bringing together all the seemingly disparate elements and abrupt contrasts, from toccata-like scurryings to passages of swooning lyricism, and mercurial changes of rhythm and harmony (some of the more surreal tonalities look forward to Mahler and Schoenberg, who lived in Vienna). The final flourish was delivered with a cool wit and humour.

The Scarlatti encore felt like a palette cleanser after the perfumed excesses of Scriabin, played with an understated elegance and a wonderfully translucent sound, bringing to a lose this absorbing and varied programme.

(artist picture courtesy of the NZSO)