Category Archives: Music

Concerts at Culbone

We’re quite partial to a quirky concert or two here at the Two Moors Festival and the more interesting our venue choice for performances during the main two-week event in October, the more popular they seem to be. Take last year for example – we decided it would be lots of fun to have an day of traditional classical and jazz, all played going down the Grand Western Canal on the last horse-drawn barge in the westcountry. You can imagine how quickly the tickets went!

Our penchant for out-of-the-ordinary venues really all began back in 2005 with cellist Natalie Clein and Culbone Church, the smallest complete parish church in England that can accommodate 33 people on a good day (and if the congregation squishes up a little!) . Although God made this house of worship small, he also made it perfectly formed, nestling it in a beautiful wooded copse just above Porlock and the north coast of Exmoor.

The history of this parish is a particularly rich one, so you’ll get a real taste of the past and hear some amazing music in a truly glorious setting if you do come to one of our Culbone concerts.

Culbone is mentioned in the Domesday Book (and the Guinness Book of Records!) and may well have been built to serve communities of lepers who dwelt in the woods for centuries. It’s thought that the rubble walls – which are original – are 12th century, while the nave could well be of Saxon origin. It was re-roofed in the late 15th century and a south window was inserted. The screen was built in the late 14th century, while the font behind the door could be Norman, although the pedestal it stands on is most likely Victorian. The porch is probably 13th century and it is thought that the spire – built of slate and deal – was added in around 1810. The bells are of particular interest, one of which is the oldest bell in west Somerset, dating from the 14th century.

The huts and cottages around the church, as well as numerous houses that once stood in the surrounding woodlands, may have now all disappeared but a great many more people have discovered the wonder that is Culbone thanks to our concerts over the years. Aside from Natalie Clein, we’ve welcomed the likes of violinist Tasmin Little, principal oboist with the Berlin Philharmonic Jonathan Kelly, soprano Caroline MacPhie and the Brasil Guitar Duo through the church doors – so it’s no wonder that audiences are keen to tackle the two-mile walk up the hill!

“Artists who expect a green room at Culbone won’t get it!” Two Moors artistic director Penny Adie says. “The church is so small that the only way the performer can warm up is by making sure the audience stays outside in the churchyard. You play in at least three jumpers and cross your legs as there is no loo! It’s only for musicians with character.”

Luckily, the performers all seem to get into the spirit of things when doing a Culbone concert. Jonathan Kelly and viola-player Matthew Hunter (also with the Berlin Philharmonic) even both insisted on walking to the church, with their instruments being ferried up by 4×4!

If you think this sounds like the concert venue for you, just remember to don sensible footwear. We’ve had people trying to get there in very smart shoes!

What’s the oddest place you’ve ever been to a classical concert?

Celebration Day!

The festivities just keep on coming this year, don’t they? We’re going to be all partied out very, very soon, what with the Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee and now Celebration Day in Exeter Cathedral on June 16th.

This particular event – while perhaps not on such a grand scale as the Queen’s ceremony or the biggest sporting competition in the world – will definitely have fans of church music counting down the days until singers from all over the south-west congregate in what is one of the greatest cathedrals (and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture) to be found in the UK. Here at the Two Moors Festival, we’re certainly looking forward to it – and hope to see some of our friends taking part!

Choristers from the Royal School of Church Music-affiliated choirs are invited to join those already singing in the service, which starts at 15:00. Do let us know if you’ll be singing or even if you’re just going to sit back, relax and thoroughly enjoy some of the finest music in one of the best buildings the south-west has to offer.

“Celebration Day is indeed a happy occasion and a musical feast. It’s always very thrilling and uplifting to hear a large choir in a wonderful building such as Exeter Cathedral,” Lindsay Gray, director of the Royal School, remarked.

Hymns and other musical works to be sung include Angel Voices Ever Singing, Christ is Made The Sure Foundation, favourites by Brahms and Stanford, and a piece all the way from Ghana.

The Diamond Jubilee: In Pictures

We had a fabulous time in London over the Diamond Jubilee weekend – almost as good as the Queen! London was alive with bunting, parties, fireworks…the whole shebang! Here are a couple of snaps of the Jubilee concert and a street party in Notting Hill. If only the Queen celebrated like this every year!

If you went to the Jubilee concert or a street party and have some great snaps you want to share, send them into us to include in our readers’ gallery!

Our take on the Diamond Jubilee

What a year it’s been so far for the little old UK. We’ve commemorated 100 years since the Titanic sank to the depths (and educated a good many people who thought it was just a Kate Winslet film), had a wonderful time at the Chelsea Flower Show, celebrated Charles Dickens’ wit and whimsy and seen the Olympic Torch Relay get going in preparation for the Games. And this is all without even thinking about one of the most important events of the entire year – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The celebrations really have done Our Liz proud and it’s been truly wonderful to see how the great British public have embraced the occasion and really come out in their patriotic droves to wish her majesty well and congratulate her on 60 years well spent. Here at the Two Moors Festival, we’ve always been supportive of the monarchy and so were particularly pleased when we were able to secure two tickets to the Diamond Jubilee concert on Monday (June 4th).

And how lucky we were with the weather as well! While it rained down on the royals for the flotilla the day before, the 20,000-strong crowd of gig-goers were treated to an evening of warm sunshine and relatively cloudless skies. Not that inclement weather would have dampened their spirits, however – everyone was buzzing with excitement so much (even in the humungous queues to get in) that the air was simply electric.

With a line-up including Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Shirley Bassey, Madness and Cliff Richard, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the evening was going to be a special one – and the fact that the Queen even made an appearance (although she did miss Tom Jones) really was the perfect end to a fantastic day. While everyone played their little cotton socks off, there were a few stand-out acts, as is always the way.

Annie Lennox was a sight to behold in a pair of gigantic angel wings as she rocked out to There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), Tom Jones did the Queen every justice and thoroughly entertained the crowds with Delilah and Grace Jones defied belief by effortlessly hula-hooping while singing Slave to the Rhythm.

There was, however, one surprise success story of the evening and everybody there and watching it on TV seems to agree that Rolf Harris basically stole the show, with his truly heartfelt speeches. “We are here to celebrate a generous and compassionate lady who has given 60 years of service to the people of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. She has been an inspiration to millions. She has touched hearts throughout the world. A living testimony to the power of kindness, dedication, tolerance and loyalty,” he said.

John Adie, co-founder of the Two Moors Festival, echoed the 82-year-old’s sentiments, saying: “It was fantastic to be up in London for such a historic occasion and seeing so many people hell-bent on celebrating the Diamond Jubilee. It brought home how important the Monarchy is and how it brings the country together – you would never get that in a republic.”

Look out for our photos of street parties and the concert later on this week!

Were you lucky enough to make it to the concert? Who was your favourite act?

God Save The Who?

The British national anthem has been the subject of controversy for quite a number of years now. Whether people are arguing that there should be a specific song for England, bemoaning the fact that our great nation’s sportsmen and women don’t even seem to know the words or getting in a tizzy over the inclusive nature of its lyrics (“and like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush”, anyone?), the anthem always seems to come up in conversation at least once or twice a year.

Now, we here at the Two Moors are joining the debate, since making what we consider to be a rather startling discovery this week – the fact that a seriously dwindling number of schoolchildren actually know this song, a song that has been around since 1745.

While youngsters in the US are brought up on a diet of stars and stripes and pledges of allegiance, patriotism in the UK is firmly off the curriculum, only receiving a brief, cursory mention every couple of years when something worth a party happens, like the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee.

It may be down to the fact that school assemblies in the UK are much less formal than they used to be and children do not have as great a connection with the national anthem as they used to 20 years ago. The Jubilee itself – only the second to take place in British history – also does not seem to be of much interest to youngsters, other than as a good excuse to go to a few street parties and dress up.

While the song is undoubtedly an important part of British history and a tune well used by many composers over the years (Beethoven and Handel to name just two), its relevance and interest these days is now being called into question. Similarly, so too is the monarchy, with a new YouGov poll revealing that while the majority of people believe the royals to be either fairly or very important today, a “notably outspoken group” believe the opposite, with others stating that the royal family is too expensive to maintain and helps perpetuate social inequality.

At exactly what point are we willing to forgo our nation’s cultural and social heritage? The words and tune to the British national anthem form an integral part of both of these, as well as being part of what makes Britain so special. While we may not always agree with French and American cultural values, it is doubtful that there are many children in either country that do not know the words or tune to the Marseillaise or the Star-Spangled Banner (Christina Aguilera excepted…).

That being said, while children may not appreciate the importance of the national anthem, it would seem their elders have a greater sense of historical perspective. According to the Official Charts Company, the anthem has become the first number one in the all-new classical singles chart, followed by other traditional tracks like Nessun Dorma, Jerusalem, Rule Britannia and Katherine Jenkins’ version of I Vow To Thee, My Country. Guess we know what the soundtrack to the UK’s street parties will be this Diamond Jubilee!

What do you think? Should UK children be made to learn the national anthem in school or does it matter if this part of our history disappears?

Musical horror stories!

Lots of people believe that the life of a professional musician is filled with glitz and glamour and yes, it can very well be, but as has been seen in the news this week it can also be fraught with difficulties, as people travel around the world and do their best to keep on top of different countries’ rules and regulations.

Here at the Two Moors Festival, we were very concerned to hear that BBC Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny – who has taken part in previous Two Moors events over the years – had been detained for not having a work permit for his role as compere at the Bulawayo Music Festival earlier this month.

Incoming reports regarding the situation seem a little confused – one minute he’s been released and the next officials are refusing to cancel the arrest warrant. Here’s hoping the matter is resolved as quickly as possible. This case has got us thinking, however – what other incidents have we seen in the last 20 or so years where musicians ran into a spot of bother as they toured around here, there and everywhere?

Festival artistic director Penny Adie used to take the winners of the BBC Young Musician competition out on tour around the Middle East and she really has seen it all – and then some! “Most of the tales have to do with travel,” she says, with a smile. “Losing baggage happened several times. Sarah Williamson, for example, arrived in Bahrain with nothing. The airline gave her £20 for a toothbrush. And Liz Couling had to borrow concert clothes in Doha.”

Travelling with a marimba was also a bit of a nightmare, Penny recalls. Not only did it weigh 96kg in a flight case but several people at customs requested it to be unpacked, assembled, played upon and – once they were satisfied that it was in fact just a musical instrument – allowed it to be packed up again. Other countries also spent a goodly time searching instruments for bar codes, she continues.

Keeping an eye on price tags might also be a good idea, as violinist Magnus Johnston soon found out on the Middle East tour. According to Penny, he once had to fork out £7 for a KitKat from his hotel minibar!

Money and musical instruments aside, people were often struck down with serious illnesses while away, Penny says. “Pianist Harvey Davies once got terrible food poisoning before a school workshop, as did flautist Adam Walker. Adrian Spillett stubbed his toe badly on a boat on the al Bustan beach and had to walk onto the concert platform in socks in front of HRH Princess Alexandra and Omani royalty.”

So, as you can see, a life on the road may not be entirely all it’s cracked up to be – although it’s certain never to be boring!

Do you have any musical horror stories you’d like to share?

Universe of Sound: The Planets

You’ve got a lot to look forward to this summer, what with the Olympics (who’s got tickets?), the Proms, Wimbledon and the Queen’s Jubilee. Well, now you can add another exciting day out to your ever-growing list of activities – Universe of Sound: The Planets, a new free digital installation by the Philharmonia Orchestra at London’s Science Museum.

It launched yesterday (May 23rd) and will be on until July 8th, six whole weeks of magical music-making where visitors to the gallery can experience the feeling of being in an orchestra for themselves, be it as a musician, composer or even the conductor.

Visitors can record performances and post and share them online, see massive 360-degree projections of the Philharmonia performing Holst’s masterpiece conducted by artistic adviser and principal conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and play both real and virtual instruments, as well as chatting to musicians from the orchestra itself, who will be at the exhibit every day.

“The Planets is a rousing piece of music and it’s something that almost everybody knows, even if they don’t know what it is. It’s really exciting to do something with this piece and combine it with the wonders of technology,” Mr Salonen said.

This all ties in very nicely with the Phil’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall on July 8th, with The Planets and the world premiere of Talbot’s World, Stars, Systems, Infinity both on the programme. Musical demonstrations, interviews and large-screen projections – presented by Paul Rissman – will all be included to help concert-goers really get to grips with the Holst piece.

What do you think of The Planets? Timeless or terribly overplayed?

4 of the best: Opera baddies

No matter how much they doth protest, everyone loves a villain really, don’t they? Life would be exceedingly dull if it was all puppies and roses from beginning to end and, certainly, nobody would bother going to the opera if Carmen was a demure, sweet girl who brandished flowers instead of knives and who didn’t have such wanton ways.

To honour the baddies of opera (predominantly male, since the baritone lends itself particularly well to the expression of humanity’s dark side and female characters tend to either lose their marbles or die), we’ve compiled a list of our six favourite blackguards, who we really do love to hate.

1. Baron Scarpia from Puccini’s Tosca

What would this opera have been like without the devious chief of police? He’s never happier than when he’s busy playing mind games with the (rather easily fooled) Tosca, out and about doing a spot of torturing here and there or sentencing people to death quicker than you can say “Bob’s your uncle and Fanny’s your aunt”. Even though he meets a sticky end at the hands of a very desparate woman, Scarpia has the last wicked laugh in the end, with all his quarry finding themselves six feet under when the final curtain falls. A solid seven on the evil protagonist-o-metre.

2. Nick Shadow from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress

When it comes to being very, very bad indeed, the nefarious Nick Shadow shows all the others of his ilk how it’s done properly (although he does have a bit of an advantage, what with being the devil and everything). If there were medals available for being a bit of a cad, Nick would be right at the top of the podium, shaking hands with the judges and accepting his award with glee. He certainly deserves a pat on the back for seeing his very ambitious plans through to fruition. It can’t have been easy to convince someone to marry a bearded lady going by the name of Baba the Turk or that he is in possession of a machine that turns stone into bread and could prove the saviour of mankind. Hats off to you, Nick Shadow. You’ve scored a very well-earned eight on the evil protagonist-o-metre.

3. Don Giovanni from Mozart’s Don Giovanni

Wine and women, women and wine, that’s what the rather misogynistic Don Giovanni’s all about, dividing his time fairly equally between chasing anything in a skirt and partying hard, with a spot of murder thrown in for good measure. He does a pretty good job of evading suspicion and apprehension for the most part – using his manservant in ways probably not included in the job description – but is eventually bested by a statue of the man he killed and dragged down into hell. An interesting character, but perhaps not as villainous as others in opera, so peaks at five on the evil protagonist-o-metre.

4. Iago from Verdi’s Otello (boo, hiss…)

There’s nothing like an accomplished puppet master to really get an audience’s blood boiling and Iago is a true dab-hand at the art of manipulation. He gets the captain of the navy so drunk he loses his job, convinces his boss that his wife is cheating on him and almost gets away with murder. Even though his plan goes a bit belly up at the end and he has to hotfoot it out of Cyprus because half the cast is dead and it’s all his fault, Iago’s canny ability to get everyone to do what he wants with apparent ease scores him an excellent eight on the evil protagonist-o-metre. Congratulations, Iago.

Who’s your favourite operatic baddie and why?

Keep an eye out for the Olympianist

If you’re out and about between Land’s End and John O’Groats this merry month of May, then you really should keep your eyes (and ears!) very well peeled indeed for the Olympianist, who’s zipping from one end of the country to the other by bicycle and giving impromptu piano concerts for charity along the way.

The Olympianist is actually internationally renowned pianist and keen cyclist Anthony Hewitt, who pedalled away from Land’s End on May 9th and gave his first concert that day in Truro at Penair School. So far, he’s hopped off his bike and whipped out his piano (which is following behind him in a van) at The Old Chapel in Calstock, Exeter Cathedral, Market Square in Newbury and St Lawrence’s Church in Lechlade.

He’s already suffered one puncture (but was rescued by two locals, one of whom donated £5 to his cause), cycled his way through a lot of mist in Land’s End and is no doubt getting very used to giving concerts dressed head to toe Lycra as he aims to raise £20,000 for music and children’s charities.

“I am very excited about this Herculean task,” Anthony says. “It embodies the spirit of the ancient Games, which incorporated musical competitions into sporting events for normal citizens.”

Music-lovers will be treated to a very varied programme, with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 all to receive an airing either out of doors or at a pre-arranged venue at one of Anthony’s many stops along the route. Composer Steven Goss has also been commissioned to write a new work, Piano Cycle, which will be premiered on May 19th at Swaledale.

The Olympianist’s Route:

Get in touch if you’ve seen the Olympianist on your travels. You can also follow him on Twitter here.

S.O.S: Save our Singing (Voice)

Throat trouble?

It’s been a rocky couple of months for pop starlet Adele. Although she romped home with the gold at both the Grammys and the Brit Awards, too much Rolling in the Deep took its toll on her vocal chords and she recently underwent serious throat surgery to sort out recurrent bleeding caused by a benign polyp.

Regardless of whether you love her music or think singing exclusively about bad relationships is a little self-indulgent, there are lessons that all singers can take from Adele’s experience where looking after their voice is concerned, so they don’t find themselves in the same situation and having to cancel concert dates – every musician’s worst nightmare!

To help, Two Moors Festival artistic director Penny Adie – herself a former opera singer, who used to live and work in the Middle East and found moving from exceedingly hot temperatures to air-conditioned rooms very tough on her throat – has come up with a few tips to help singers protect their pipes.

  • Drink a lot, although some singers believe that water clogs the throat. I know one who drinks flat Coke, which is a good lubricant apparently
  • Some singers don’t eat cheese or anything else that might clog up their throat
  • Breathe down and slowly, filling the lungs – and every tiny cavity – with air
  • Don’t gasp in lots of cold air
  • Keep yourself as fit as possible
  • Get lots of sleep
  • Don’t drink ice-cold drinks
  • Don’t smoke – although lots of singers used to do so
  • Use whatever’s at your disposal to help – I once used a starched dinner napkin to tie around my throat
  • It’s also sensible to wear a scarf at times (carol singing out of doors isn’t a good idea, no matter how fun it is).

Are you a singer? What have you found helpful for looking after your voice?