Nevill Holt Festival to incorporate non-opera lineup for the first time

Annual Leicestershire cultural event will now host a multi-genre musical roster, as well as conversations with leading novelists, historians, broadcasters and artists

Nicole Vassell
Thursday 11 April 2024 11:42 BST
Austentatious, Elizabeth Day and Alexis Ffrench will all appear at the inaugral Nevill Holt Festival in 2024
Austentatious, Elizabeth Day and Alexis Ffrench will all appear at the inaugral Nevill Holt Festival in 2024 (Bread and Butter PR / Joe Magowan)

This summer, Leicestershire’s Nevill Holt Estate will break with its opera-based traditions and open its doors to a range of events, activities and creative projects across arts and culture.

After 20 years of the Grade I listed building playing host to an annual celebration of opera, event organisers have now developed the Nevill Holt Festival, bringing more than 150 musicians, visual artists, speakers and entertainers together on a multi-arts schedule.

Formerly known as the Neville Hunt Opera, the festival will run from 1 to 26 June with a programme that covers classical, jazz and contemporary music, visual art, comedy, podcasts and literature.

James Hunt, chair of the Festival Board, told The Independent about the decision to expand the event’s reach, with a lot of the reasoning being linked to the desire to bring more culture to more people.

“Having had opera on the estate for 20 years, [festival founder] David Ross recognised that there’s an appetite and an audience for it,” Hunt explained. “However, it’s quite limited – it’s probably often the same kind of audience. It won’t surprise you to hear, but that opera-focused audience is getting older, so it was always his ambition to have a far broader offering to reach a bigger, more diverse audience.”

As the former director of Sky Arts, Hunt joined the Nevill Holt board in 2020 with decades’ worth of experience in bringing culture to the masses.

Britten Sinfonia will perform Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Nevill Holt Festival (Bread and Butter PR)

There will be one major opera opening this year’s event – Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a new production by Melly Still, conducted by Finnegan Downie Dear and created in partnership with Britten Sinfonia.

Elsewhere on the concert lineup is classical soul musician Alexis Ffrench, as well as Imogen Cooper & Sarah Connolly, and Jeneba Kanneh-Mason. The jazz and contemporary music strand will include a performance from Jalen Ngonda and a two-day festival residency from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Orchestra.

The expansion of the Nevill Holt event comes at a difficult time for arts initiatives across the country, with venues outside of London particularly suffering. In March, for example, Birmingham City Council announced plans to slash all of its funding to arts and culture organisations over the next two years.

In January, broadcaster and Labour peer Melvyn Bragg championed the contribution of arts to society in the House of Lords – an action welcomed by Hunt.

Classical-soul pioneer Alexis Ffrench will perform at the Nevill Holt Festival (Nevill Holt Festival)

“In terms of business, the cultural sector brings in hundreds of billions of pounds a year to this country,” Hunt explained. “It shouldn’t be ignored, but often it is because it’s not seen as necessary; it’s seen as a luxury, a cherry on the cake. And I’m not sure that that’s right.

“I think that we’re all better people for engaging with culture,” he continued. I don’t go to the theatre as often as I probably should – but, when you do go, you can come out thinking the world’s a better place.

“You feel energised. I think we underestimate the power of art and the power of culture. And I think that getting kids exposed to that as much as possible is the key.”

Elizabeth Day will record a live episode of her How to Fail podcast at the Nevill Holt Festival (Joe Magowan)

As a result, the Nevill Holt Festival educational initiative will provide creative opportunities for more than 2000 young participants from across the Leicestershire region.

Onstage versions of podcasts will include Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail; Richard Coles, Cat Jarman and Charles Spencer’s Rabbit Hole Detectives, Jonathan Agnew’s An Audience with Aggers and Rachel Johnson and Plum Sykes’s Difficult Women.

For comedy, festivalgoers can look forward to sets from the likes of Jason Byrne, Austentatious and Mark Watson, while literature lovers can enjoy appearances from Michael Morpurgo, Alice Roberts, Emma Dabiri, Jenny Kleeman, Anthony Quinn, Mary Wellesley and more.

Longform improv comedy troupe Austenatious are on the Nevill Holt Festival lineup (Austenatious / Bread and Butter PR)

Visitors can also enjoy outstanding pieces of modern British sculpture, which feature throughout the gardens, including works by Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Allen Jones, Marc Quinn, Conrad Shawcross and Sean Henry.

“It’s not just the performances, and it’s not just the works of artists,” Hunt explains. “You can immerse yourself for a whole afternoon in this beautiful, stunning location, this Grade I listed estate in this amazing rebuilt prize-winning theatre. It all adds to that five-star experience.

“Hopefully, this will become the first stage in making the Nevill Holt festival a destination for all culture lovers throughout Britain.”

The Nevill Holt Festival runs from 1 to 26 June. Tickets can be purchased from

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