Category Archives: Music

Lower Your Blood Pressure With Classical Music!

While running a classical music festival might not be good for your blood pressure (it can be stressful, that’s for sure!), apparently listening to classical music itself is actually really good for you and can in fact lower your blood pressure.

This is according to new research from Oxford University, which suggests that different musical tempos can impact both pulse and blood pressure. While classical music can have a positive effect, rap and pop can send blood pressure sky-rocketing.

Works by Verdi, Indian sitar music and parts of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony were found to be especially good at lowering blood pressure, although Vivaldi’s Four Seasons failed to have the same effect.

“Our research has provided improved understanding as to how music, particularly certain rhythms, can affect your heart and blood vessels. But further robust studies are needed, which could reduce scepticism of the real therapeutic role of music,” lead author of the study professor Peter Sleight said.

What are the other benefits of listening to classical music in terms of your health, we wonder? Apparently, it can also help to relieve pain after surgery and be used to supplement more conventional pain relief. What’s more, it can be of use if you’re something of an insomniac. A team from Hungary recently found that listening to 45 minutes of classical music before going to bed helped students who were having a hard time nodding off.

Do you find listening to classical music helps you in any way? We’d love to hear how you benefit from it. Let us know what your favourite pieces are and how they help you relax.

Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Platform Results

Being able to publish the results of our excellent Young Musicians Platform Competition (part of the prize including playing with Devon music festival the Two Moors in October this year) has prompted me to write about awards in general and their benefits – or not, as the case may be.

Firstly however, to our own wonderful crop of winners for 2015…  We have chosen four aspiring young instrumentalists who gave the panel and small invited audience much joy with their playing. While there is much for them to learn over the next ten years these fledging classical musicians not only showed their expertise in technical terms but more importantly, it was their innate musicianship that came through.

First of all, there were two clarinettists who couldn’t have been more different in their approach, style and presentation. One, Josh Pyman, was outgoing with bags of energy in his jolly and outstanding playing while Edward Holmes was more refined, drawing in his audience with an elegant, beautiful sound.

In a contrasting way, Alicia Steanton displayed a bright sunny disposition which came across in her superbly neat playing with a surprisingly huge tone from such a small frame. Last but not least was the cellist, Marina Martins from Brazil whose mastery of her instrument was mature beyond her years. Her approach was one of a budding artist penetrating deeply into her music with a story to tell.

We’re often asked how we choose between players whose instruments require different techniques, some too demanding for their age. For instance, it’s possible to play a violin from the age of three whereas to find the puff necessary to master a French horn – or the strength to hold it – is quite impossible.

The answer is that the type of instrument is not relevant as far as the festival’s competition is concerned and if children are capable of getting their fingers round the keys with ease, then that’s fine. The Young Musicians Platform awards four instrumentalists an opportunity to share a concert in the Festival’s October programme as well as each receiving prize money of £250.

As to awards in general, what do they signify? Firstly, from the competitor’s point of view, they provide an opportunity to assemble a programme up to concert standard. It is vital to choose repertoire that fulfils the requirements on the application form (very often they aren’t!).

They allow musicians a public platform on which to perform – this is a scary situation that young players find difficult to cope with for the first time. They draw attention to how one copes in a competitive atmosphere (my answer is don’t do them if you’re so terrified deep down that it removes the joy of making music). They provide an opportunity for assessment that can be inspiring but also, can be damaging if the criticism is too harsh. Prize money is useful and last but not least, to my mind, is the competitive environment upon which many musicians thrive.

However, competitions are so numerous now that apart from a handful, they have become meaningless. As someone who reads biographies of artists on a daily basis, an endless list of impressive sounding awards becomes exceedingly boring. There are a few that stand out: BBC Young Musician of the Year winners (quite often not the winner him/herself), Leeds Piano and Kathleen Ferrier competitions. Other useful ‘pegs’ are being on the Countess of Munster Scheme; likewise Martin Musical Scholarship and recipient of the Suggia Gift spring to mind. Separate to these will be appearances at the Wigmore Hall, concerts with major international orchestras and with known conductors that attract my eye.

It’s useful to know that winning a competition doesn’t signify a glittering career ahead. There is an expectation that it will automatically put an artist on the map, but sadly the opposite is often true and I have known many musicians who have felt deflated when nothing happens.

If I were to advise anyone on the merits of entering competitions, the one overriding thing is to enjoy doing them. Whether a winner or not doesn’t matter a jot. There is absolutely no point in standing on a platform in a state of total misery. This is guaranteed to kill the love and joy gained from being involved in music.

Penny Adie

Penny Adie On Writing Two Moors Festival Brochures

It’s true, running chamber music festivals can be fun, but this week I am sighing with relief having completed umpteen pages of text to accompany the concerts that will appear in this year’s brochure

Doing half a dozen would be fine but when there are 30 events to cope with, it’s a different story. The aim of the brochure is two-fold: one to sell tickets; the other to explain about each event without sounding well, to put it bluntly, crass!

Description of artists can be very funny and one often reads words such as:

ever-popular

stellar (the ‘in’ word)

legendary

leading

great young

exceptional

ever brilliant

charismatic

internationally acclaimed

globally renowned

ever talented

most sought-after

inspirational

gloriously romantic

extraordinary

visionary

The list goes on and on.

But what does one do? I try desperately hard to come up with words that are more original and yet sell the artist in a way that attracts ardent music lovers in addition to bringing in newcomers. It’s quite a challenge, time consuming but can be great fun, believe or not! The other pitfall is repetition of a word in the same sentence or paragraph. I generally have a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus by the computer to see what the options might be!

Then there comes the business of text appropriate to the programme of music about to be played. This can be really hard since one has to describe, say, a song recital containing myriad songs as well as the composers who wrote them. Maybe the answer is not to try!

Would you go to a concert if I were to write:

Celebrity recital

Joe Bloggs, piano

Beethoven Sonata in C sharp minor, No. 2 Op 27

The stellar young and brilliant pianist, Joe Bloggs, was awarded the ABC Scholarship to study under the acclaimed teacher, Mary Snooks. Having won many international awards including the xxx, yyy, zzz, rrr, and mmm, he continued his studies under the tutelage of Alexander Romanov in Moscow. He was fortunate enough to take part in several masterclasses while there. On returning to the UK, Joe began a glittering career that has taken him to all the major concert halls at home and abroad. His discography is impressive including CDs for the Alphabet Label as well as for Imperial Records. Future engagements focus on concerto appearances in the Arctic.

Beethoven’s magnificent sonata, commonly known at the ‘Moonlight’, was written in 1801. Its first movement in slow triplets is recognised world over and frequently played on all the international major radio stations. The second movement consists of a scherzo having various key changes that are of interest. The presto agitato is one requiring technical prowess with fortissimo passages occurring at regular intervals.

Would you go to a concert on reading this? Maybe or maybe not.

The trouble is, I am as guilty as the next…

Penny Adie, Two Moors Festival artistic director

Q&A With Notus Winds

Last week, we held another of the Two Moors Festival’s famous residencies, this time with amazing wind quintet Notus Winds coming down to Barkham in Devon for a few days to enjoy some much-needed respite and lots of rehearsing in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

The week ended with a brilliant performance in our gallery (fans of classical music concerts will no doubt already have popped along to check out the venue!), so we thought we’d catch up with the group one final time to find out how it all went.

classical music concerts
2MF: How long have you been together as a group?
NW: We started playing together in our first year at the Academy. Our first, rather ambitious, venture was learning Barber’s beautiful Summer Music. Needless to say it wasn’t our most successful performance but we revisited the work last year, more successfully, for the final of the Academy’s Patrons’ Award. It’s always interesting coming back to repertoire after a break – in this case we had all matured both personally and in our playing to a point where we could do the music more justice.

2MF: What brought you together?
NW: We’ve known each other in various combinations ever since NCO in 2005. Some of us met in the following years through the NYO, the Purcell School and the Junior Department of the RCM. The idea of forming a quintet was discussed by a few of us at an NYO course just before starting at the Academy, and the rest is history!

2MF: What’s your biggest concert to date?
NW: Last year we won the Academy’s Patrons’ Award, resulting in an evening recital at Wigmore Hall last June. This was an incredible opportunity to play some of our favourite music at a beautiful and prestigious venue. Another close contender has to be our debut at the BBC Proms for their Portrait series back in September, when we performed Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Five Distances in front of the composer himself at a concert celebrating his 80th birthday.

The piece is one of our favourites (possibly because we are instructed in the score to stand as far apart as possible!) but the RCM Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall is the biggest space that we have tried it in to date, and it was being recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 – exciting and terrifying in equal measures!

classical music concerts
2MF: What’s the oddest thing that’s ever happened at a concert?
NW: This is a difficult one… Odd and extremely amusing things happen very often, and we always have a little chuckle about them (which we try to wait for until after the performance) but perhaps the most bizarre was when we were giving a recital at the Festival de Inverno in Brazil a couple of years ago. We had finished the final piece and the Brazilian audience, ever enthusiastic, requested an encore.

Luckily we had a little something prepared; unluckily not all of us had remembered to bring the music on stage. Whilst Jon, our bassoonist, sprinted off stage to find it, an awkward silence fell over the hall. Had the audience been an English-speaking one, we would have felt comfortable filling the time by talking about the music and making a joke or two.

This particular audience didn’t speak a word of English, but Carys could not bear the silence any longer so disregarded the language barrier and started talking anyway, to a sea of blank faces. When Jon eventually ran back out with the music the audience was as relieved as we were and welcomed him back with rapturous applause. Needless to say we all double check our music backstage nowadays!

2MF: What’s the best compliment you’ve been paid as a group?
NW: People often say very kind things about us, but a recurring compliment we notice is the observation about the blend of our sound. It is easy in chamber music for individual timbres and tones to stand out from a group – especially in a wind quintet where all the sounds are produced in different ways and have a huge potential for variation. It’s therefore very flattering to hear that ours are well-blended as it is something that can’t always be rehearsed.
classical music concerts
2MF: How did you hear about the Two Moors Festival residency programme?
NW: Back in October 2014 we were fortunate to come to the Two Moors Festival to give a lunchtime recital. Penny Adie approached us after the concert and talked about the residency programme. She said that if we had anything coming up for which we could use an intensive week of rehearsals to prepare, we should get in touch.

2MF: What do you think the appeal is?
NW: In the busy music world it is often extremely challenging to find a window of time to bring five musicians together to rehearse for concerts and learn new music. When it is possible it is often a couple of hours squeezed in between other rehearsals, concerts and teaching.

The residency offers musicians the luxury of having not just a few hours but a few days to intensively rehearse in a constructive, efficient and thorough manner. It also allows freedom to experiment with new ideas (in our case, performing from memory) without having to keep one eye on the clock.

2MF: Do you think coming down to such a part of the world helped your rehearsal process? 
NW: Definitely! Just as the length of the residency gave us freedom with time, so the picturesque views and tranquil surroundings allowed us all to relax with our music making and forget the stresses of everyday London life, which can subconsciously affect all of us.
At Barkham you are forced to disconnect from London life (partly due to the lack of phone signal!) and this allowed us to focus on our music more fully.

2MF: Do you feel refreshed as a group after spending a few days at Barkham?

NW: As individual members relax, it affects the dynamic of the whole group. We certainly felt a difference not only in our playing but also in our peace of mind, which sent us away with a renewed sense of creativity and confidence.

2MF: How did the concert go?
NW: You’ll have to ask the audience! From our point of view, we really enjoyed performing in the gallery, and it was fantastic to be able to showcase all that we had been working on over the week. We had focused a lot of our time on learning Carl Nielsen’s famous Wind Quintet, a core work of the repertoire, and it was a huge benefit to be able to consolidate our rehearsals so soon with a performance.

We had also aimed to experiment with learning some repertoire by heart over the course of the week, and so we played the first of Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves from memory as our encore – just dipping our toes into what is a new concept for us!
classical music concerts

2MF: How do you feel the gallery compares as a concert venue to others you’ve played in?
NW: It was absolutely beautiful! We commented during our stay how much we enjoyed the clarity and enhancing quality of the acoustic, and how the space captures the intimate feel of a 19th century chamber music salon. We also thought it would be very appropriate as a venue in which to record certain works, and wished we’d brought some equipment with us.

2MF: What would you recommend about the residency to other groups?
NW: The obvious benefit of the residency is having the undivided time to focus and rehearse as much as you need to. You are at liberty to spend the time however you feel most beneficial, and not feeling under the usual amount of pressure makes for much better-quality work.

It’s also an incredible part of the country where we could really relax as well as explore the surrounding nature. Another huge attraction of the residency is John and Penny themselves. Penny is caring, wise, genuinely interested and ever helpful – and an incredible cook! John is a hugely entertaining personality with a plethora of jokes and intriguing stories. We really were made to feel at home in their beautiful house, and came back to London with slightly tighter waistbands!

2MF: How much do you love Flora and Pip?
NW: So much! They’re amazing animals who were welcomed into most of our spare time during the residency. They have definitely made five new friends for life! We spent the last morning Googling ways of fitting a German Shepherd into a suitcase…

2MF: What else did you do apart from music-making?
NW: Apart from eat? Not much. No, we went for several walks in the beautiful Devon countryside. We were blessed with stunning weather for the week and took advantage of that during our rehearsal breaks, usually dragging Flora along with us! On one day Penny gave us some instructions on getting to a particular part of the moor, and an hour later was totally shocked to drive past us on the road going in completely the wrong direction. Who knows where we might have ended up had she not put us right!

In Pictures: The Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Competition

Last weekend, we held the first round of this year’s Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Platform Competition, an event on the calendar that all followers of UK classical music festivals look forward to with great anticipation.

As ever, the standard was exceptionally high – there really is so much classical music talent in the south-west of the UK, something that we here at the Two Moors Festival are always keen to promote… hence the competition!

We thought you’d like to have a look at some of this year’s contestants (although we’re not revealing who’s made it through to the next stage just yet), so have a quick flick through some of the pictures below.

The Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Platform Competition takes place each year, with four winners picked who then go on to take part in the festival’s main two-week event in October. It’s an amazing opportunity for young people who live or go to school in this part of the world to play alongside some of the best musicians in the world – a chance that doesn’t come around all that often – and the competition has helped to kickstart many young musicians’ careers.

If you’d like to apply for the 2016 competition, make sure that you keep a close eye on our blog and on the website so you can keep up to date with all the latest information so that you don’t miss out on the entry deadlines.

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Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Competition Rnd 1

The first round of the Two Moors Festival’s Young Musicians Platform competition took place this weekend. A total of 47 candidates aged 18 and under entered at a standard of ABRSM Grade 7 and above. This could be any instrument plus voice and they were asked to prepare two contrasting pieces of their choice.

The competition is unique in several ways. The first is that we look for four outstanding players and not just one. The emphasis is on performance and ability to share an innate love of music with an audience. The audition atmosphere is unlike any other in that we chat in a fun way to each candidate from the moment they walk through the door and we also give a mini masterclass if there’s time. Each of the winners receives £250 plus an opportunity to share a recital in the main festival.

Judging from the feedback, all participants feel encouraged, inspired and above all retain their joy at being involved in playing classical music. In one instance, a young singer said he had been singing music theatre until recently. He then heard songs by Richard Strauss (nothing could be more different) as a result of which he was hooked on Lieder!

The way in which our competition operates begs the question – should all competitions be run along similar lines? Or does this imply that Bach’s B Minor Mass is something to be taken lightly? Does this prepare aspiring young musicians to enter the profession with rose-tinted spectacles when they should be aware of the arduous work and fierce competition that lie ahead? Does this give them a false impression that all competitions are going to be staged in a similar manner?

In an age when competitions abound and spring up like mushrooms, I believe the more encouragement one can give school-age youngsters the better. They need to be inspired, their sheer joy of being involved in classical music requires fostering as much as possible and nowadays, where there are so many competitions, to have one that does these in spade loads says a lot.

It’s instantly noticeable if the music comes from within a musician who plays from the soul. Likewise the opposite where the playing is automatic and the delivery forced. Dare I say it, but some of the performers from specialist music schools display this. There is always the expectation that these youngsters are bound to be brilliant but we’re often disappointed.

With all this in mind, this is where the Festival’s own competition comes into its own. The environment that is provided gives each entrant such stimulus that nerves are frequently dispensed with so that they can play with such expression that technical limitations don’t matter. Their overall love of music-making in a performance is all that matters regardless of whether they enter the profession or not and that the inspiration we give them will help them in later life.

Penny Adie

Classical Music Can Help Dogs Relax, Apparently!

UK classical music festival followers who have been to any of the events put on by the Two Moors Festival are sure to know that we have a festival dog – Flora.

She’s a beautiful German Shepherd that has certainly heard more than her fair share of classical music (she’s reliably informed us that her favourite is Bach!).

But what she has kept under her proverbial hat is that classical music actually has a very calming effect on pooches, with a new study by the Scottish SPCA revealing that it can actually decrease stress levels of dogs in rehoming centres.

Significant decreases in stress levels (measured by heart rate, behaviour observation and saliva samples) were registered after classical music was played, with male dogs responding better than females. Less time barking was also seen while the music was being played – something to remember, perhaps, if your dog is a bit of a loud mouth.

“Although by the end of the week their heart rates and behaviour associated with kennel stress had returned to normal, the initial findings are very encouraging and show that classical music does have a positive impact on the dogs’ welfare,” Gilly Mendes Ferreira of the Scottish SPCA remarked.

This isn’t the first time that the relaxing benefits of classical music have been suggested for animals. In 2013, for example, keepers at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Bristol found that their tigers and lions responded positively to Classic FM, while a survey back in 2002 conducted by Belfast University found that dogs were more relaxed and better behaved when listening to classical music than when listening to pop or heavy metal.

When Things Go Slightly Wrong…

Readers might like to know that artistic directors and chief executives are not immune to domestic trials and tribulations. They always say things go in threes, don’t they!

Firstly, our well dried up. Now, you may think this is impossible bearing in mind the time of year and also the fact that Exmoor, where we live, is one of the wettest parts of the country. However, as dry as a bone, it was. After much archaeological digging at a five foot depth, and across our large lawn (moss really as grass is too grand a word for it), it turned out that there was a leak in the feeder pipe. Once repaired the mounds of soil, now looking like prehistoric mole hills, had to be shovelled back into place leaving a trail of thick semi-frozen mud. So that was issue number one.

On to the next hiatus. Did you know that if you keep a fridge freezer with a thermostat in the fridge compartment, in a very cold environment such as a garage, the thermostat will automatically switch off thereby causing the freezer to defrost? Our freezer, as it happens was not in a garage but in one of our cottages where without heating switched on, had become so very cold as for this to happen. Well, you’ve guessed – the freezer ceased to work leading to loss of lasagne, cakes, Tarte Amandine (times two), brownies, apple pie, chicken pie and much more besides. Hey, ho, at least I’ve got the bowls back!

Now for the collapse of the third gadget – this time our new dishwasher which decided to go on strike through lack of water pressure. Apparently, most models work on high pressure and although there are some that operate on a slow inflow, there is nothing in the literature to say which. Would anyone like an almost-new Bosch dishwasher? It looks as if we shall be washing up by hand for the forseeable future which means going through many pairs of Marigolds! The Festival’s Artistic Director never wanted perfect nails so that’s okay.

On a more serious note, the Friends’ Newsletter is ready to go to print. The programme for October is taking shape (famous last words?) and my wonderful husband has submitted over 50 funding applications to trusts in hopes of obtaining much needed financial support. I should add that these applications don’t mean churning out the same letter but require individual attention, research and several phone conversations before putting pen to paper.

We’ll keep you posted!

Wigmore Hall To Stream Concerts

UK classical music festival followers will certainly be pleased to hear that the Wigmore Hall will be joining the likes of the Philharmonie de Paris and the Berlin Philharmonie in streaming their concerts live – great news for anyone who lives outside the capital and who can’t make it to their choice of performances.

Director of the Wigmore Hall John Gilhooly announced the new season of events earlier this week (February 10th), with highlights including Schubert: The Complete Songs (40 concerts over two seasons), an eight-concert Bartok Chamber Music series and a five-concert series for Magdalena Kozena, including a UK recital with husband Sir Simon Rattle, who will be making his Wigmore Hall debut.

Incidentally, Sir Simon will be conducting a unique children’s orchestra – The Young Orchestra for London – in two concerts at the Barbican on February 12th and 15th. In all, 100 musicians aged between 11 and 21 grade three and above will be taking part in the events – no doubt a dream come true for many.

As the followers of the Two Moors Festival will know, we do a lot of work in the south-west to help support the classical music dreams of young children in schools throughout the region. In fact, applications have just closed for our own Young Musicians Platform Competition 2015 for those aged under 18 who live or go to school in the south-west.

Each year, we take entries for brass, wind, percussion, strings and voice, so bookmark it for 2016 if you’re keen to take part.

Penny Adie On: The Two Moors Festival 15th Anniversary

Strange as it may seem, there is a very small lull in the festival proceedings. It won’t last, however and I shall regret having said that! Sometimes, writers block hits the creative programming and I find it’s better to move on to another aspect – such as writing a blog! I might find it even more productive to tackle some decorating. Our living room will look very smart once done! I don’t know what other festival artistic directors do in their spare time – it would be interesting to hear.

I’m sure many of you will know already that the festival’s Patron, HRH The Countess of Wessex celebrates her 50th birthday this week. This is so exciting for her and we all hope that she has a wonderful time. She is marvelously supportive of the festival and we couldn’t be more fortunate to have such a generous and kind-hearted person looking after us. We are always astonished by how much she fits in on a visit to Devon. On the last occasion, she included four engagements in one day; the first, we believe, in Bristol and the last in Exeter for the festival’s production of ‘Noye’s Fludde’.

With travel time from her home near Guildford to take into account, it was a long day with a punishing schedule. Anyone who says that the Royal Family lead an easy life should think again, for we know hard the Countess works – always smiling, always chatting to people and having the ability to make each person feel special.

It’s hard to believe that we are embarking on the festival’s 15th anniversary. Little did we know that a one-off classical music event would be here all these years later. It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have a clue about the pitfalls that lay ahead. We simply had to keep going – there was something magnetic about the project that drove us to continue.

We were, and are still, deeply passionate about the festival and are, I hope, only too well aware that the moment this dwindles is the time to stop and hand over to someone else. For this year though, there are lots of lovely concerts in store, or at least we think they will be to everyone’s approval. There are certainly concerts that are different, and maybe an event that has never been previously done by anyone. Time will tell..

One interesting thing has happened this week and that is the arrival of concert brochures on the electronic doorstep. These are for concerts within the south-west. There is so much happening down here that it is no cultural desert any more. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Milverton Concert Society, Tamsin Waley-Cohen’s Honeymead Festival, East Devon Choral Society, not to mention Artavian Baroque in Barnstaple are all producing musical offerings over the next three months of the highest calibre.

It is possible, I am sure, to be out every night of the week soaking up music of every conceivable genre. From Renaissance to Messiaen, there really is something to satisfy every musical taste these days!