Monday, 21 July 2008

An die musik

Flouting Pittville Park Regulations (al fresco drinking is proscribed) after the final Pump Room morning concert last Saturday, we threw a Schubert impromptu Kir Boot party.

There could be more such jollity at the Cheltenham Music Festival: I gather there is at festivals such as Buxton and even the dear old Three Choirs. It might help to swell our audiences, which - judging from the dozen events I attended - were poor this year considering the quality of the performance: a very thin house in the Town Hall, for instance, for the sublime Sarah Connolly. And the Town Hall was not exactly jam-packed - as it should have been - for Taraf de Haidouks on Saturday night. (It was good to see our MP Martin Horwood there and his two young children, sitting on the floor tapping their feet.)

The modest turnout can't just be the recession. Where - at the classical music concerts - is the dark- and fair- (as opposed to the white-, the grey- and the no-)haired generation, which throngs the Albert Hall during the Proms season? Is it just Cheltenham, or is it the way we promote the Festival - with rather expensive seats?

Some Festivals ago, the Summerfield Trust gave a grant to enable best Town Hall seats to go to quite a number of children from local schools for a performance (Richard Hickox conducting) ending up with a long Rachmaninov symphony: I recall a gloriously noisy reception in the Drawing-room. It was not an unqualified success - the children had been insufficiently prepared, and it wasn’t the right piece to submit them to. However the principle is right: make them kings/queens for the day, and let the usual audience have a back seat.

Had the marketing for Sarah Connolly been different, with 300 tickets at £5, we could have had a full house, and more income overall at the box office. Our Cheltenham Festivals have become too institutionalized - too much rigid thinking about marketing and sponsorship; and too much visual emphasis on the catering facilities, fine tea-tasting etc. OK, we can't do it without sponsorship, but does the front cover of the Festival programme brochure have to be so dominated by their names? Where does it tell us anything at all about THE MUSIC we are hearing? Isn't music what this Festival is supposed to be about?

Robin Kindersley reflected that, apart from the Connolly evening, every concert he attended contained work by Schubert, and Schubert's music was indeed the central joy of this year's Festival. However, you wouldn't know this from reading Festival Director Meurig Bowen's curious introduction to the brochure - not a mention of Franz Schubert there in his 650-odd words!

In particular - on the three last days - we had performances of the three great Schubert song cycles, with superlative singing by Allan Clayton, Florian Boesch and (an unrecognisable) Mark Padmore, as well as playing by the accompanists Paul Lewis and Roger Vignoles. My neighbour on Saturday for Winterreise had been present at the very first Cheltenham Festival over 60 years ago (and most since), but couldn't recall such fine musicianship. Even for these three events there were some empty seats: Cheltenham's Schubertiad deserved better publicity - and international acclaim.

[I have blogged already on the Festival - here, here and here, in case you are interested.]

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