It’s on a dismal April morning that I find myself sitting at the desk with hundreds of jobs on the list but with no motivation to do them. I feel much more inspired to write an article that may be of interest to avid arts lovers.
The Southwest used to be unknown as a region of culture. How often did I hear, …’Oh, nothing happens in Devon’ – with particular emphasis on the northern reaches of the county. Two decades ago, this was true and even more so, when the Two Moors Festival began in 2001 when everyone will remember the horrors that arose as a result of the devastation caused by Foot and Mouth. It was this that gave rise to the festival the aim of which was to restore faith in the region, bring people back to the area and to regenerate much lost local business.
Up until then, the culture that was available was, in the main, to be found in the Theatre Royal, Plymouth; Northcott theatre, Exeter (which had to be bailed out by the Arts council), Queen’s Theatre Barnstaple (also and more recently, in fear of closure); Dartington; the then rather jaded museum in Exeter and a sprinkling of art galleries. Choral societies were always in evidence but of varying standard. Many people felt they ‘ought to support’ rather than, ‘Let’s go’.
This isn’t to say that there weren’t a myriad other organisations that existed and successfully, to put on exhibitions, talks and to bring theatre to outlying regions. There were a few extremely good music clubs. Live Music, Now ran a very positive programme of music in retirement homes. Music in schools was not high priority as is still the case today. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra did manage to satisfy those who were hungry for a large-scale concert.
But what a change – and what’s more, the Festival has kick-started a lot of this by bringing music of the highest possible quality to remote villages on Dartmoor and Exmoor. As the network of supporters has widened (now attracting many visitors from overseas), so other arts events have managed to piggy back.
People never believed me when I say it was quite possible to attend an arts event, in any genre, seven days a week. It was often the attitude that was wrong. Now the perception is very different – thanks largely to the Two Moors Festival.
All kinds of arts events have sprung up like mushrooms; festivals such as at Budleigh Salterton are relatively new; Exeter’s museum was redeveloped in 2011 and to such a standard that it won The Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year in 2012. Literary festivals are now proving to be a great success. Concerts in the West (supporting young professionals), brings concerts of high standard to outlying villages. The Beaford Centre’s focus on the visual arts is well known and the attendance at films and visiting theatre companies has never been higher.
Exeter’s Cathedral has always had plenty to offer but the number of choral events as well as high-powered concerts is proving to be so great that it is becoming ever harder to find a date in which to put on a performance.
So where does this leave The Festival? It leaps ahead with success year on year. People know that whatever they attend is going to be of superlative quality. Indeed, as one supporter put it, …’it doesn’t matter whether you recognise the name of the musicians giving the recital, you know it’s going to be good’… Visitors come from all over the country to make a holiday of the event. They may clock up as many as eight concerts within a week. They stay in cosy B&Bs, enjoy cream teas and go for bracing moorland walks.
With one year to go before the Festival’s milestone twentieth anniversary celebration, the pace is hardly likely to slacken.
Let’s hope the surge continues with all the other arts organisations that exist in Devon. All power to its cultural elbow!
Someone told me recently how much he enjoyed my Blogs and went on to say that I should write more. Talk about being flattered!
In any case, this has given me enormous incentive to do one here and now – if only I could post it on the website. I seem to have lost my ‘postman’ which is a bore. Either that, or I am even more computer-illiterate than I thought. Oh dear…
It’s been such a long time since I did do a Blog and there is so much to say, that I really don’t know where to begin. I think it’s a case of sticking a pin in and seeing what comes up.
The most recent thing that has happened is the first round of the Festival’s Young Musicians Competition. Impressive it was too. We had a wonderful mix of instruments (plus their players!) and for the first time in years had only one singer. This is unusual but it’s luck of the draw as you simply don’t know whether there is going to be an influx of flutes (seven, in fact) or the same for piano. There were two percussionists however, as well as a young harpist. I love the first round as the standard is so mixed. On this occasion, this was unusually high, with every competitor giving his or her best; all seemingly pretty relaxed about it. We – the panel, comprising four professional artists, bent over backwards in order to put them at their ease. It might be a comment on someone’s dress or asking what they had for breakfast or some such. Body language says a lot and from the moment a youngster comes through the door, you know whether or not they mean business! However, you do get the odd surprise when a too-cocky-by-half 14 year-old comes prancing in thinking he/she is doing you a favour. I should perhaps add that the complexities of putting the competition together are manifold. The arrangements have to be slick so that dedicated parents who drive miles feel that they can do so with as little hassle as possible. We are lucky in that the organiser of the competition runs it not only smoothly but spends much of the year visiting schools and also music teachers.
So that’s the first thing that has sprung to mind. The second is the stunning recital that took place in John Lewis’s ‘Place to Eat’. A cunning ploy to entice people back to the high street to do their shopping, this recital was part of a series and was given by the pianist, Pavel Kolesnikov (no less), who gave a serious programme of Tchaikovsky and Brahms. With slightly intellectual pieces from both composers this was a challenging musical diet for shoppers but much to my relief, they lapped it up. The John Lewis staff’s organisation was immaculate even to turning off the air-conditioning – only for the generator to kick in thinking everyone in John Lewis was going to run out of oxygen!
The festival’s team whether Trustees, or members of the Campaign Board or the professional staff have been working flat out. The festival is a big beast these days and a force to be reckoned with. Gone are the days when, my late husband, John and I would sit at the kitchen table looking at a simple programme, work out how to make it pay, and do a few press releases. Oh, and the fun bit was going on church crawls to ascertain whether a few of them would make good concert venues. These excursions meant sussing out the pubs as a result of which we could write the Festival’s guide to Michelin star chips. Now however, we have a dedicated and super-efficient Executive, Karen Malim who manages to keep a steady string of emails going throughout the day focusing on a vast array of different issues. We also have a splendid administrator, Sarah Vertigan who tears her hair out trying to keep me in order (I am not good at filing and am constantly losing data, forgetting someone’s programme (is it Schumann or Mozart? And who is playing it?). If Sarah weren’t there to pick up the pieces, I don’t know what I would do.
Our Trustees are steered by Richard Fletcher and what a good egg he is too! He runs a tight ship and is much admired by all those who work alongside him. Stimulating, organised and so generous with his time, he gives his all to the Festival – as does everyone else.
It seems to me that there must be something about the festival that attracts these remarkable people to lend their support. They don’t have to be a trustee. All they do is purely voluntary; their advice is sage as well as valued by everyone – especially me. I know that I am a loose canon and they find me very confusing as well as a problem Artistic Director.
On which note, let’s see if I can find some means of putting this on the screen for everyone to see.
I am writing this over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.
Having been tea lady at my local church’s flower festival, I was so struck by the feeling of community spirit that I simply had to put my thoughts into a Blog.
What has this got to do with the Two Moors Festival? Read on…
There is a wonderful feeling of neighbourliness at the heart of the festival. This is what makes it so special. While many of our audience members travel from far and wide, the major percentage of those who go to concerts are local. With the roots of the festival stemming from Foot and Mouth disease, it is entirely appropriate that most of our followers hail from farms and rural businesses. There are also plenty of semi-retired folk who have given up city life in exchange for peace and quiet not to mention unpolluted air.
Of course our concerts bring people whose performance expectations are high. They take it for granted they will hear interpretations of sonatas, Lieder, unaccompanied Bach not to mention a wide spectrum of chamber music performed at the highest level. But it’s more than that, however. There is a sort of ‘package deal’ whereby they are more than likely to meet their chums having made friends the previous year. They enter the church venues full of smiles. Then they get waylaid by striking up a conversation culminating in a …’let’s carry on in the interval’…
The tone is one of a village atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if a recital starts a few minutes late. There are always stragglers coming in at the last minute. Incidentally, why is it that church doors have catches that either stick or close with a crash. Sometimes a little DW40 would help!
I hear people offering someone a lift home. I see an elderly lady being proffered an arm when negotiating uneven steps. Some might be having a friendly argument as to who should pay for a programme. More to the point, they catch up on news. This isn’t the sort of news you would necessarily hear in other concert situations. This might focus on whether it has been a good lambing season. They could be comparing notes on the varying sums they get paid for milk; could someone recommend a good builder to repair tiles on a roof; was it a bad summer for slugs and didn’t we get a fantastic crop of black currants this year. By the way, they grow like weeds in my garden with the biggest crop ever coming to 51lbs!! They finish by saying …’you must come and stay’ – knowing full well they won’t see each other for another year.
There are also those who want to impress. It amuses me no end to eavesdrop on a discussion of an interpretation of Beethoven’s D major sonata. And of course the balance was all wrong! Wasn’t the performance of Figaro sublime – did you go? And weren’t we lucky to get tickets for the Berlin Phil. at the Proms!
We’ve all done it…
While having a dig at these amusing exchanges, there are the whinges too. It’s useful to hear them as it’s the only way that we, as organisers, can learn.
It’s possible to argue that the cost of a festival’s ticket s is high especially so when sitting on an excruciatingly hard pew. The parking may be tricky in some places and as for loos, they can pose major problems. In the main, people recognise that small rural churches do not have these facilities and accept them without fuss. I shall never forget the wonderful sides-man in one Dartmoor church who on explaining where to find a loo, told us all to go the lamp-post!! What he meant to say was , turn left at the said spot.
Where we can, we offer lunches and teas which are usually provided by ladies within the community. We always endeavour to make sure that each venue makes money out of food sales.
Which brings me back to where I started – flower festival teas. Thinking that I would be doing this as a duty, I had a truly lovely time serving vast slices of cake (I munched the ‘to die for’ chocolate sponge) while chatting to lots of wonderful people. I managed to catch up on gossip and was able to meet lots of new faces. It was fun and I could have stayed longer only my dog needed some exercise. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and all down to the community spirit that took me there. This is what the festival is all about.’
I shall relate yesterday’s as you will only get as far as elevenses if I do today.
A good start because the weather, for the second time this year (now April), is glorious.
8am – having been listening to Petroc Trelawny (I always say Good Morning to him) and brought to my senses by Theresa May’s promise to remove plastic straws from the shelves, I bounce out of bed and hear the wonderful chirrup of the first swallows who have returned, high-speed, from warmer climes. They nest in the log pile and tantalise the cat (who ate my lunch yesterday). Talking of said cat, he solemnly munched his way through the last Hot X Bun; homemade and jolly good. He has a passion for bread of any description and even if it’s frozen, as this was, will make a beeline for it. I was furious and had to make do with toast instead.
Anyway, to return to getting up; I walk Flora who is over 12 years old, selectively deaf and the best-natured German Shepherd Dog you’re ever likely to meet. She sleeps close to my desk – which can be anywhere depending on where the laptop is. She can’t be bothered to bark much these days which is a good thing as it’s very loud and even after all these years still makes me jump. Barry, my wonderful builder turns up to paint more of the house exterior. He is a man in a million and knows more about what’s going on in the world than all the politicians put together. We discuss the pros and cons of Radio 2 v. R 4. We also agree that were we sedentary, the Archers would come to our rescue.
Then to Two Moors Festival stuff. The programme for the brochure is 99% ready to be drafted by the printer. Our Administrator, the super-efficient and jolly, Sarah Vertigan, has been chasing the missing bits of repertoire along with Op Nos. Why can’t musicians give you these? It should be in their contracts – there’s a thought. Also we need press quotes or slogans through which we can enhance the temptation to buy tickets. Things like – ‘the last few bars were a success’ won’t do. We need things like – ‘his passion and innate musicianship came through to the finale leaving the audience spell-bound’. If one can put ‘The Times’ as opposed to ‘Barkham Journal’ so much the better.
Need a break; put the kettle on for coffee for Barry and me, both of us eating our way through chocolate cornflakes and chatting in the sun.
Time to get the hoover out to remove the endless flow of moulting dog hairs. I decide the bedroom needs a once-over so drag the machine upstairs and feel virtuous afterwards for having the enthusiasm for doing some polishing as well. A mindless occupation one might think but in my case, I am contemplating a commission for harp, voice and cello based on some poems written by war-damaged soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. This project has great potential not least because the poems are incredibly moving. There is a charity involved called ‘Style for Soldiers’ which was set up by Emma Willis. She has fostered many soldiers over the years and improved their sense of well-being by making them bespoke shirts from her exclusive shop in Jermyn Street.
Back to my diary…
Emails going back/forth to Sarah V. She now needs more press quotes and more op.nos. Also, who and what is going to fill the last empty slot which is an hour’s concert on the morning of the 19th October. I have been wracking my brains on this for some while but nothing creative has sprung to mind. Until I get an email out of the blue from a very talented oboist called Peter Facer. He was/is a friend of my daughter who was also an oboe player. They both went to the Purcell School. Peter went on to Cambridge where he got a double first – how sickening is that! Caroline is now a very good and bouncy primary school teacher. Anyway, Peter got in touch to say he was back from Australia and if ever I wanted an ‘upmarket’ oboist, he was just the man! Well, what timing… Knowing what a super musician he is, I got straight back to him asking if he were free on the day of the gap. And he is; now to decide on what he will play. With any luck his programme will include the glorious Schumann Romances.
On to the next bit.. All the above has taken longer than I thought. It’s compounded by the fact that all internet connection here is dodgy because I live four miles from the nearest village and the only access to any form of 21st century technology is via a satellite dish on the strawberry patch in the vegetable garden. Damn – I forgot to water the tomato plants… Must remember.
This weekend sees the auditions of the Festival’s Young Musicians Competition. I need to clarify the timings from the competition’s administrator (another Sarah, just to confuse things). The standard is phenomenally high to the extent that some of the winners are finalists of the BBC’s YMs. Also, the fact that we attract entries from as far as Bath, Bournemouth and Truro gives an indication on the level involved. Oh, I should say that the competition is regional.
It’s now lunchtime and I decide to take it outside armed with my Joanna Trollope novel. It’s fun and I make it last while I scoff lots of very nutty Cheddar cheese and the same with new Parmesan along with bread, fruit and chocolate. If that isn’t enough, I make myself some coffee with double cream floating on the top. I am drafting emails to various companies in order to beg for top class auction Lots. We have a glitzy auction on the 8th Sept. Two tickets for an LSO concert, paintings, caviar hamper, dinner for two at Gidleigh Park are a good start. Let me know if you can provide a trip in a hot air balloon…
The afternoon is to be faced. I need to draft some letters about some concerts and by hand too. What I plan to say needs to ‘sit there’ for a bit before I send as I must make sure that what I want to say is put across in the way I want. Am now working on a workshop possibility with a fabulous guitarist, Andrey Lebedev, for a small organisation called Young Musicians Support. It provides impoverished youngsters the means to have lessons and lends them instruments.
I am also setting up a project with Exmoor National Park to commission a work based on R D Blackmore’s book ‘Lorna Doone’ which will have received its first publication 150 years ago in 2019. There is to be a major year-long celebration. This is a super opportunity, as you can imagine.
Now teatime… I take Flora for a stroll. I do the long way round the wood; she can’t be bothered. I then make some tea and for Barry too. More cake. Then I take time out and sow some seeds. Which variety becomes a major dilemma. Do I do foxgloves or Chard? While I decide, I have all last year’s dahlia tubers outside and remove the soil so that they can dry out properly. Have decided to sow lettuces and Sweet Williams. It’s now 7.30pm and wonder why I am hungry. How I love the garden! All the while, my brain has been working on programme possibilities for next year’s festival. No details – sorry mate. I am so grubby I go and soak in a Badedas bath armed with new book which is a biography of Wallis Simpson. I may not finish it as there are nearly 500 pages. Why did I choose it when I could have reread the ‘Secret Garden. – a story that I wallowed in as a child. Supper of pork chop is very late but means I can watch the second episode on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. What a ghastly tragedy that was. I then do more emails, chasing up the last of the op.nos and doing drafts for more 2019 projects.
I find I am yawning a lot and reckon it’s time to take Flora out for a last pee. My final job for the day is to set two mouse traps. I am getting a dab hand at fixing these but find I have to wear gloves to remove the poor specimens squashed by the deadly wire that gets a grip. I don’t have much sympathy when they have attacked almonds, raisins, white chocolate and much else besides.
Well, that’s about it. And I expect any reader to be bored stiff by now. If you have waded through to the end, you’ve done well.
Who would have thought I would be writing this while surrounded by deep snow. It may be pretty, however it isn’t practical. So far we have had to cancel the first round of the Festival’s Young Musicians competition as no one would have got to Devon safely; then I had to cry off from going to the finals of the Oxford Lieder Prize which also meant that I couldn’t stay with close friends; next on the list was a trip to the Royal College of Music to hear one of our previous Young Musicians winners, the talented violinist, Joel Munday and finally another London gaunt still hangs in the balance. If you add to this the cancellation of a discussion with the BSO’s Heather Duncan (try driving to Lyme Regis through hedge high snow); as well as a festival meeting then it rather sums up the perils of living at 1200ft perched on top of Exmoor.
There are advantages to being snowed-in. It provides every excuse to say ‘I am awfully sorry but there is no way I can possibly be there”. And it’s true. When I have no access, I really do mean it. Proof of this was the delivery – or should I say, non-delivery of a gas top-up from Flogas. Bless their efficiency! It meant I had no gas for three weeks which resulted in the three cottages (we used to do holiday lets) had no heating which might have burst the pipes when it thawed. The water pump froze thereby preventing any hope of a hot bath. Try visualising me having a high-class Badedas strip wash from the washing up bowl (I drew the curtains in case anyone was foolhardy enough to venture down the drive to peer in). The latest is the Aga needs a service judging from its output of minimal heat and its lack of the ‘pop pop’ sound that should lurk in the background. It’s funny how comforting that pianissimo gurgle of flames is; a sort of monotone Musak.
It always used to amuse me when, on the odd occasion, I would be on the phone having an earnest conversation with say, the CEO of a company from which I was trying to extract some sponsorship, when I would find myself saying would he mind if I took the kettle off the boil. Then the large German Shepherd dog – Flora – would bark at the arrival of the postlady at which point all hell had broken loose and any hope of bagging thousands of £££££ for the festival had gone.
It’s a miracle that any programming takes place. Forget the creative bit.
Oh, the life of an artistic director! (Dare I say it but it’s great fun)
21st March 2018