The Elements of a Festival

What are the elements that make a successful festival? With the second Southwell Music Festival (27-31 August) now less than two weeks away I like to think we have several of the most important ingredients in place.

First we are blessed in our wonderful location – not only the town of Southwell itself but in the main performance spaces at its heart – our great mediaeval Minster, Cardinal Wolsey’s intimate State Chamber and the delightful Georgian Theatre at the Old Theatre Deli.

Then an Artistic Director needs fine performers, and I am grateful to around 80 brilliant colleagues for agreeing to spend the Bank Holiday weekend in Nottinghamshire. They come together as the Southwell Festival Sinfonia and Southwell Festival Voices for our main work – Mendelssohn’s Elijah – on Saturday 29th but, in a variety of combinations, also take part in no less than 13 other events over the five days of the Festival.

We are also indebted to an outstanding quartet of Elijah soloists – led by bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams singing the title part, with soprano Sarah Tynan, mezzo Madeleine Shaw and tenor Nick Pritchard.

To get the event off the ground we have needed financial and in-kind support and the organising team greatly appreciates the generosity of well over 200 individuals and organisations. The Festival is organised by volunteers, and volunteer support is vital to its success: as Geoffrey Bond – our very generous Festival Sponsor for 2015 – acknowledges, community support is vital.

Nathaniel Boyd with a wonky Minster!After that of course we need audiences, and the response at the box office has been very encouraging: only a few tickets remain available for Elijah, for our two late night concerts in the Minster and for the Conversation with Dame Felicity Lott (29th August, 4.30pm). The box office at the Cathedral Shop: 01636 812933.

However the most important element in a successful music festival is the music itself and this year it is more elemental than usual: inspired by the fire, flood, earthquake and whirlwind which dominate the epic drama of Elijah our Festival programme presents the elements in a variety of guises.

The power and beauty of water is celebrated in our late night sequence of poetry and music Voices on Water (Thursday 27th, 10pm) including the seascape of Richard Rodney Bennett’s Sea Change, the snowbound solitude of Poulenc’s Un soir de neige and Eric Whitacre’s journey to the eye of a storm in Cloudburst.

Picking up the theme, Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell suggested a work he has long wanted to perform – Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross (Friday 28th, 10pm) which concludes with an amazing depiction of an earthquake executed with Papa Haydn’s customary dramatic genius. Water also dominates our Schubertiade – and not only in the Trout Quintet.

One of most elemental works in the orchestral repertoire has to be Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and though the orchestral version is currently beyond this Festival’s compass I was thrilled when our two wonderful ‘house’ pianists James Baillieu and Libby Burgess agreed to take centre stage for a rare performance of the composer’s own arrangement for four hands at one piano.

The inclusion of The Rite of Spring in our Brave Horizons programme (Sunday 30th, 7.30pm) and the availability of the necessary instrumentalists led to a mini-Stravinsky theme: that programme also includes the Octet, and I’m particularly looking forward to a rare chance to present Stravinsky’s Mass in a liturgical context at the Festival Eucharist on Sunday 30th August at 10.30am.

However despite all these preparations there is one element which contributes greatly to a successful festival but remains stubbornly beyond the control of this particular Artistic Director – namely the weather.

Come rain or shine we hope to see you soon.

Marcus Farnsworth
Artistic Director