Preview: Dartington International Summer School, Dartington Hall, Totnes
It's finally back to school for Maxwell Davies
Thursday 31 July 2008
Celebrating its first 60 years, Dartington International Summer School is swinging into action with a notable coup: Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, will be its resident composition tutor, whereon hangs a tale. He originally came as a student in the Fifties, and returned as a performer in the Seventies with the ensembles he led; he then became William Glock's successor as director, but left after an acrimonious tenure, swearing he wouldn't set foot in the place for five years.
His successor, Gavin Henderson, takes up the story: "We've always been good friends, so when the five years were up I asked him back, but he said he wasn't ready, and went on saying so. After a 25-year gap, with all the people he fell out with having moved on, he's finally returning in triumph."
They're celebrating with a retrospective of all the works Maxwell Davies has premiered at Dartington.
This annual jamboree, which offers a huge range of top-class musical events open to the public, is unique. Nowhere do amateurs and professionals mingle on such equal terms as in this bosky Devon manor, which rich Americans Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought in the Twenties, and to which they welcomed artists from all over Europe.
Everyone who is anyone in British music has either studied here, or taught here, or both. Harrison Birtwistle and Richard Rodney Bennett were in the same class as Maxwell Davies; Jacqueline du Pré was the table-tennis ace of her year; and Simon Rattle and Thomas Adès cut their teeth here. There's always some new star waiting in the wings.
This year's highlights include Apparitions, a big participatory work by Stephen Montague. "It's a nocturnal work about hauntings," says Henderson. "Dartington is regarded as spooky, and this will take place in several venues, and come together for its resolution at 2am."
Meanwhile, the routine stuff will go on – everything from viol consorts to gamelan to swing bands – right round the clock.
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