Classical musical festivals: an unsung movement

Britain leads the way with classical festivals, says Meurig Bowen, so why do rock events grab all the headlines?

Outing oneself as the director of a music festival – but then having to explain it's not one of those festivals, not a Glastonbury or Latitude – is akin, I suspect, to declaring oneself as a lingerie model... but for a thermal underwear catalogue. The glamour factor, in both cases, is quickly re-assessed.

Classical music festivals, in fact, are so apparently unglamorous that they fly well under the radar of "Top 100 Festivals" surveys, which, a quick scan reveals, are really only about that "other" kind of festival.

It can't be the numbers attending each kind of festival that justifies such an imbalance. Per square mile, the UK probably has more classical music festivals than anywhere else in the world. From Orkney and East Neuk to St Endellion, Dartington and King's Lynn, this island's co-ordinates sparkle with out-of-the-way jewels of music-making. Of course, the numbers attending each of them are modest compared with the Readings and Isle of Wights; but add all of the few thousands together, and you have a total of many hundreds of thousands whose festival-going habits get marginalised or ignored.

It's quite possible, then, to see this country's music festival scene as unhealthily schizoid. Outdoors and indoors. Amplified and Unamplified. Commercial and Funded. Pop and Highbrow. Young and Old. Adored by the media, and not.

In reality, it isn't as black and white as that. At a festival like mine in Cheltenham this year there will be music outdoors, music that needs a PA, and a strong sense that it is not off-puttingly highbrow or merely for the bus-pass generation. It can work the other way, too, for artistic planners like me. Alongside the many classical musicians taking advantage of our fine architectural heritage locally, we can bring musicians used to stacks of PA into beautiful acoustic spaces: this year, for example, prog-rock guitarist Robert Fripp performs in Gustav Holst's childhood church, and Norwegian jazz saxophone legend Jan Garbarek will revel in Gloucester Cathedral's five-second reverberation time when he performs there with the Hilliard Ensemble.

There are numerous fresh developments, too, on both sides of this divide which indicate that the barriers are being lowered. Conductor and TV presenter Charles Hazlewood put on an outdoor classical music festival, Play the Field, on his Somerset farm last August. With plans to make it residential next summer – ie, a camping festival – he will be looking closely at how Serenata, a new festival on Dorset's Jurassic coast, and the first to bring the camping, all-in-one-ticket model to classical music, plays out in late August this year.

It isn't just fresh thinking on the classical side of things. There was the headline-grabbing appearance of ENO with some Wagner at Glastonbury a few years ago. And more boutique outdoor festivals such as the Big Chill and Latitude are making some classical forays too – whether classical DJ sets from Gabriel Prokofiev or a new Will Tuckett work from the Royal Opera House.

A new generation of classical musicians is switched-on and savvy about all this. But let us remember that there's quite a lot of people out there – performers and audience – who don't want it any other way than what they've been used to for decades.

So, let's celebrate for one, quiet, un-cool moment, all those music festivals around the land that are really un-cool. Let's hear it for that less-than-fashionable audience member, the back-desk violinists with expanding waistlines and dandruff, the string quartet that arrives for their "gig" in an M-reg Vauxhall. Let's bear in mind the possibility that, for classical musicians focused more on the pre-eminence of the music than considerations of style, there's nothing cooler than not trying to be cool.



Meurig Bowen is director of HSBC Cheltenham Music Festival, 2-17 July ( Cheltenhamfestivals.com/music)

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star