Musical magic for everyone at the Dartington estate

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The Independent Culture

The story goes that the Dartington estate near Totnes gathers an atmosphere of unmatchable mysticism from south Devon's ancient spiritual sites and ley lines. So far, so New Age. But at Dartington's famous International Summer School of Music (DISS) the magic seems real: it's impossible not to be caught up in it.

The medieval Dartington Hall was bought as a ruin by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst in 1925, restored and transformed into an experimental school inspired by the philosophies of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore (a clip of whose beard is apparently preserved in the archive). Here, DISS quickly became a magnet for musicians of all ages and levels; and over the decades luminaries mingling with students, enthusiasts and teachers for tea or organic home-pressed cider have included Igor Stravinsky, Imogen Holst, Benjamin Britten and Peter Maxwell Davies.

The unique spirit of the summer school is all about mix, not glitz. Big names are there, among them the pianist Stephen Kovacevich, the soprano Emma Kirkby and the composer Betsy Jolas, but while an advanced student can come to work intensively with a particular professor, anybody of any level can sing, listen and play chamber music.

And everybody makes new friends. As each listener is also a maker of music in his or her own right, at the performances everyone feels involved.