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.


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.

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




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

Full details of the 2018 Festival programme at

imageStewart Collins is Artistic Director of Petworth Festival


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)

Music at Paxton Festival

14 – 23 July 2017

“Intimate festival presenting the finest international chamber music in a stunning backdrop of works from the National Galleries collection.”

  • Mahan Esfahani plays the Goldberg Variations
  • Promenade concert taking in main reception rooms
  • Carducci Quartet play Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro with young Scottish musicians
  • Cello Masterclass with Pieter Wispelwey
  • Sunday morning concerts
  • Continuing this year: two FREE ‘Music at Paxton…Plus’ concerts

Music at Paxton, a summer festival of top class international chamber music, takes place in Paxton House on the banks of the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders from 14 – 23 July 2017. The daily concerts offer an intimate, friendly and relaxed experience and take place in Paxton House’s splendid Picture Gallery. With its large, domed roof-light that lets in the summer sun, and walls hung high with paintings from the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection, it is an idyllic setting for chamber music.

The string quartet features prominently and the festival welcomes three this year: the Elias Quartet (Saturday 22 July, 7.30pm) who make their Paxton debut with two pillars of the chamber music repertoire Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’ and Schumann’s Piano Quintet; the Carducci Quartet (Saturday 15 July, 7.30pm) with a programme of Shostakovich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, and Ravel’s gloriously sunny Introduction and Allegro; and the Quatuor Zaïde from Paris, (Tuesday 18 July, 7.30pm) who open with the glittering sonorities of Debussy, followed by Schubert’s towering G major Quartet.

Harpsichord virtuoso Mahan Esfahani returns to Music at Paxton with two recitals this year. Renowned for his championing of the instrument, from the Baroque to the 20th century, Mahan Esfahani’s morning concert features music by Rameau, Martinů, and Swiss composer Pieter Mieg (Sunday 16 July, 11.30am). He returns that evening (Sunday 16 July, 6pm) to perform J S Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

No stranger to Music at Paxton, pianist Steven Osborne (Friday 14 July, 7.30pm) performs his critically acclaimed interpretations of Rachmaninov’s virtuosic tonal studies Études Tableaux Op 33 and Études Tableaux Op 39 alongside Debussy and Brahms.

Following his visit last year, the renowned cellist Pieter Wispelwey returns to complete the set of Suites for Solo Cello by J S Bach (Sunday 23 July, 6pm), with a public masterclass immediately beforehand (Sunday 23 July, 1.30pm).

On Thursday 20 July at 7.30pm, Baroque violinist Bojan Cicic brings his star-studded Illyria Consort (Bojan Cicic violin and viola d’amore, Susanne Heinrich viola da gamba, David Miller theorbo and baroque guitar, and Steven Devine harpsichord) for a feast of Baroque music in this celebration of Handel and his London contemporaries including Handel, Carbonelli, Ariosti and Corbetta. Former BBC New Generation artist, soprano Ruby Hughes makes her debut at the Festival, performing Schubert, Schumann and Mahler, with pianist Joseph Middleton (Friday 21 July, 7.30pm).

Presenting musicians earlier in their careers and integrating them into the programme remains of key importance to Music at Paxton. The Festival proudly continues its relationship with Live Music Now Scotland and this year sees the return of many of their alumni, some sharing the stage with leading international artists, in addition to those currently under their wing. Featured artists in this year’s Festival are Sirocco Winds, Emma Wilkins (alumni), and Calum Robertson, Marco Ramelli and Aonach Mòr (current).  New this year will be the Promenade Concert, taking in some of Paxton House’s reception rooms and featuring music from Emma Wilkins (flute), Esther Swift (harp) and Calum Robertson (clarinet) (Saturday 15 July, 4pm).

Aonach Mòr combines the talents of Claire Hastings, Grant McFarlane and Ron Jappy to create an exciting blend of songs and tunes (Sunday 16 July, 3.30 pm) featuring accordion, fiddle and guitar. Sirocco Winds, a brilliant young ensemble of current Masters students and graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, perform Ligeti, Berio, Barber, Schifrin, Gershwin and Piazzolla (Wednesday 19 July, 7.30pm).

Young Milan born guitarist and composer Marco Ramelli performs works from Spain and South America (Saturday 22 July, 4pm) in the intimate surroundings of the Dining Room at Paxton House and Benjamin Frith brings a lyrical programme of Scarlatti, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Stanford, designed for a relaxing hour on a Sunday morning (Sunday 23 July, 11.30am).

Once again, in conjunction with Live Music Now Scotland and Paxton House, the extremely successful free one-hour taster concerts ‘Music at Paxton…Plus’ return to the festival. On Sunday 14 May at 2.30pm, guitarist Marco Ramelli performs works by Tarrega, Albéniz and Paganin and Calum Robertson (clarinet) and Juliette Philogene (piano) join forces on Sunday 4 June at 2.30pm for a programme of Jean Françaix, George Gershwin and Edward Gregson.

Helen Jamieson, Artistic Director for Music at Paxton, said: “This year’s festival is more ambitious than ever and we will be using every available space – from the marquee to the magnificent Dining Room – and every minute of these wonderful musicians’ time to provide the best and most varied event possible. There will be music from Bach to Beamish and from Scottish Traditional to Philip Glass. New this year is a cello masterclass by the renowned Pieter Wispelwey, a Promenade concert, for which Paxton House will open its main reception rooms to our musicians and audiences and two Sunday morning concerts for the early risers.”

Music at Paxton offers Sunday morning keyboard recitals, varied afternoon events including folk music in the marquee, two intimate recitals in the Dining Room, and a musical tour exploring some of the principal reception rooms of the 18th century neo-Palladian mansion.

(source: press release)


10-12 June 2016
St Mary’s Twickenham
A new weekend festival of chamber music in a beautiful setting by the river Thames in Twickenham

The festival, which takes place over three days, features performances by international artists including baritone Roderick Williams (who will also premiere a new work), Julian Milford, Alisdair Beatson, Thomas Carroll, Emily and Daniel Pailthorpe, and the London Conchord Ensemble, with special guests Simon Callow and James Redwood.

The opening concert showcases soloists from London Conchord Ensemble playing well-loved pieces by J S Bach, musical master of the Baroque. Featuring the Oboe d’amore Concerto and Flute Suite, with its famous dancing ‘Badinerie’, the programme culminates in the eternally popular Double Violin Concerto. All concerts take place in St Mary’s church, Twickenham, an elegant eighteenth-century church with views to the river.

For more information and tickets, please visit the Conchord Festival Website