State of play in the Festival’s run-up

67 days to go until UK classical music festival The Two Moors Festival begins…

When I think of how much there is to do in only 67 days, it is positively daunting. It’s better not to dwell and just get on with it.

Business is brisk in the Box Office – a relief as it would be seriously worrying were it not so. Friends’ bookings are healthy and the number of new Friends is up on last year. This is positive in itself and a good boost to morale. It also gives our wonderful person running the Office plenty to do. We are so lucky this year in having Oxford music undergraduate, Rebecca McNaught to help. Not only is she a super person, but is brilliant at the job and great on the phone giving would-be ticket purchasers all the information they need before they make up their minds to buy tickets.

Talking of the Box Office, we must be one of the few festivals to have a real person at the end of the phone. We guarantee that whoever speaks has specialist knowledge and who knows how to pronounce indecipherable names such as Ibragimova and Shostakovich. It is amazing how much difference this makes to ticket sales!

Tackling PR is vital at this time of year. The trouble is where to start as there are so many avenues of possibility. The other problem is how to cover 1,200 square miles of festival patch. We are fortunate in that the local press and regional magazines such as Devon Life are keen to include features. Local radio also sparks as does BBC TV’s ‘Spotlight’ providing there is something to film – concerts by and large do not make good television! The national media is becoming more supportive than ever and as I type, there has been a splendid article in Classical Music Magazine as well as promises from the press and various Listings.

Classic FM has done us proud over the years and we’re crossing fingers that they might be able to give us air-time as they have in previous years. There is also BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ which we try to interest – successfully a number of times.

There is the series of run-up concerts in the Ticket Office at Tiverton Parkway’s Ticket Office. These may sound totally off the wall. Well, they are! The concerts do not disrupt the everyday working of the station; people come and go and it’s quite often that someone might be asking whether they might need to change at Birmingham New Street while Bach is providing the background music. We never stop the ongoing business of raising funds to cover costs. How tedious this is for my husband, John. We wouldn’t survive without his Trojan efforts.

One of the main jobs to do in August is assembling the programme. It’s true to say that this is a nightmare. Inserting notes and biographies are the easy bits. The hardest part lies in achieving consistency in the way a work is written. Does one write Sonata in E major Op. 14 No.1 or Sonata Op. 14 No.1 in E – the options are endless!

On which note, I will end and give readers the next instalment in a few days’ time.

Win! 2 Tickets To Tarka The Otter, The Opera

As a UK classical music festival, we’re always coming up with new and exciting concerts and performances to keep you all entertained – and this year is certainly no exception.

At the Two Moors Festival’s main two-week event in October this year (our 15th anniversary), we’re putting on two more performances of our highly successful and critically acclaimed opera Tarka the Otter. (It received a 4* review from Times critic Richard Morrison when it premiered at RHS Rosemoor back in 2006 – so is very much a must-see event.)

If you missed the debut performance, don’t worry. We’ve got two tickets worth £28 each to give away to the first showing of Tarka the Otter The Opera at this year’s Two Moors Festival, taking place on October 20th at 19:30 at Exeter Cathedral in Devon.

To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic prize and the once-in-a-lifetime chance of seeing our very special opera, all you have to do is post this blog post up on Twitter or Facebook and tag us in the post. The winner will be drawn at random from all the entries on August 31st.

You can find us on Facebook here and Twitter here.

And keep an eye on the blog as we’ll be running another ticket competition in the coming weeks.

The Opera Of Tarka The Otter At The Two Moors Festival 2015

Back in 2004, we here at the Two Moors Festival decided it would be a good idea to commission an opera based on Henry Williamson’s much-loved novel Tarka the Otter – a great addition to the listings of Devon music festivals, we thought.

For those who haven’t read it, the book has great ties to this part of the world, set as it is in the very heart of Exmoor. Williamson wrote it after returning to Devon following WWI and his experiences at that time can be seen creeping into the work itself.

In 2006, our opera premiered at RHS Rosemoor and was so successful that Times critic Richard Morrison gave it a 4* review.

As part of our celebrations of the Two Moors Festival’s 15th anniversary, we’re proud to bring Tarka the opera back once more and hope that if you didn’t manage to see it last time, you are able to get tickets this year.

Composed by Stephen McNeff and directed by Thomas Guthrie, part of the original idea of putting on such an opera was – much like Noye’s Fludde – to involve the local communities as much as possible. Consequently, many children from local schools take to the stage as ducks and eels – and it’s certainly a sight to behold.

This year, the production will take place at Exeter Cathedral on October 21st – which audiences that saw it last time will no doubt appreciate, since the opera’s debut took place in a marquee!

Tickets cost between £10 and £35, and can be purchased via the Two Moors Festival box office. Make sure you book early as this is sure to be a sell-out show.

See what else is on at this year’s two-week event in October on our website.

Cellist Rebecca McNaught On Becoming A Performing Musician

My aim is to be a professional cellist of some description. Playing is what I love most and want to do for as much of my life as possible. I’m currently studying music at Merton College, Oxford. People often ask one of two things when I tell them where I study:

  • Oh so that’s a performance based degree, right?

  • Why there?

The first question is completely wrong: it’s an academic music degree. The second question is one I certainly ask myself when staring at a blank word document hoping I can form a 1,500 word essay about a 14th century French composer I have never even heard of, or bashing notes out of a keyboard in the hope my score reading sounds vaguely like Lassus. So why did I choose university over conservatoire in the first place?

The first answer is either overly simple or simply stupid. I don’t know. When I was in year 12 going into year 13, I made the (big) decision that I didn’t want to spend the next three years of my life practising. And practising. I wanted to see a bit more of the world and to meet people who weren’t just musicians.

Here in Oxford some of the best musicians don’t even study the subject: they are medics, historians, chemists, you name it. Secondly I wanted to have the chance to view music from an academic perspective, to get a feel of how and why music is constructed in the way it is, and to contest those accepted traditions of musical analysis and the musical canon. Although this has been a big challenge for me personally, I feel that what I have already learnt in two terms has altered my attitude towards the way I view musical practice. And however difficult, I am really loving it.

Performing at university

It might be easy to think that the performance opportunities at a university would be limited but it’s certainly not the case. In one term alone I did three solo recitals alongside a mountain of chamber and orchestral playing. Emails regularly fall into my inbox asking for a cellist to help out and it’s very easy to get overloaded with opportunities. Quite often I can spend as much of my day playing as I do working! So has it been the right decision? It’s a case of waiting and seeing…

Clearly this is all very one sided. I’ve only done two terms at a prestigious university and so I have no knowledge of the transition to conservatoire after university, or the leap straight into conservatoire after school. So I decided to ask a few friends who have taken different performance paths to give me their views.

The first is a friend who, like me, headed to Oxford after his A levels to study music. However, he has since graduated and now studies the oboe at the Royal Academy of Music so can now see the utility of his degree as well as the transition between the two.

His choice to go to university first was very similar to me as a degree: “It left my options open in a way that I didn’t think a performance course might.” His first year was filled with orchestral playing and he points out that that meant he “did very little practice and had to make a real effort to head over to the practice block amid the tidal wave of other things I could have been doing”.

For him it was chamber music that made all the difference. “Setting up my trio was one of the most rewarding things I did at university and I grew so much as a musician. Oxford also has loads of opportunities to perform in lots of different settings. Every lunch time, there will be a clash of college music society recitals to choose from and it’s a great chance to try out new pieces.”

So I asked him the big question: whether he thought his degree had been useful to his performance plans. “My academic work stretched me and equipped me with the tools to examine and make sense of life in all its richness. I think a good degree will nurture these skills and, in that sense, I don’t think that it’s necessary to study music.”

Thus his concluding advice was as follows: “If you know that you definitely want to be a performer then maybe music college is for you. But if you have a sense of curiosity about the world outside of being a classical musician, then I would strongly suggest an application to university. You meet people interested in all manner of subjects and have the opportunity to expand your view of the world.” And this is ultimately the decision I made when I was in sixth form.

What about conservatoire?

Going straight to conservatoire has its advantages too: you don’t lose out on hours of practice while writing essays and you are surrounded by musicians following the same dream as you. Another friend, a singer who went straight to the RNCM at the end of sixth form said: “It is hard work but I appreciate the fact that 60 per cent of my degree will be based on a 30 minute recital as I feel I can portray my hard work and skill through this far better than I ever could in a written dissertation.”

If you know that playing, not writing essays, is what you want to do then conservatoire is the way forward without question.

The longer I spend at Oxford the clearer my choice is becoming to go onto conservatoire once I have finished my degree. It seems strange that it has been an academic degree that has made my mind up, and that’s not because I’m not enjoying it. But, at the moment, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I feel privileged to be spending three years expanding my mind about music away from the cello and then being able to put that information into practice.

I am astounded by the number of performance opportunities I have been given. But more importantly I feel lucky that I am being given these opportunities by both tutors and students who have such varied interests and such passion for their subjects and hobbies alike.

At the end of school you are told to follow your heart. My heart was undecided and university has been the place where I’ve been given the time to see what I really want to do. And who knows, in a year this may all have changed!

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.

Music And How You Were Brought Up With It

I have been thinking long and hard for a while on the sorry subject of UK music education – a phrase I happen to loathe! Was music in schools more prominent 30 years ago than it is now or are we paranoid about its so-called lack in the 21st century?

When I was at St Hilda’s school in the 1960/70s, we began the day with assembly during which two traditional hymns were sung. And did those Feet was done to death, as was Onward Christian Soldiers. It didn’t matter what faith one belonged to (we lived in North London at the time), we sang them lustily. Before then however, I remember fondly the very early days at Mrs Royal’s nursery school, where incidentally, there lived a tame squirrel called Jiminy whom we loved dearly. We played cymbals, banged drums, shook bells and generally made the most ghastly racket – but it taught us what fun you could have making it!

But back to St Hilda’s and the hymns. We had a Miss Fulger who took us for weekly music lessons. These involved lots of choir singing of traditional folk songs accompanied by her appalling piano playing on a not-very-good brown grand piano. I used to be teased because I had a strong voice and sang out as loudly as I could while the others made couldn’t or didn’t.

The other thing we did was Eurythmics which was enormous fun. We charged around the big hall with the ‘big girls’, one of whom happened to be Charlotte Rampling! These were our regular ration of music lessons, although one could learn a specified instrument in school. Now I think about it, our nativity play incorporated lots of carols which were embarrassingly badly performed since we were more interested in showing off our halos and carrying shoe boxes containing frankincense and myrrh.

Aged ten, we moved and Oakdene in Beaconsfield was where I was sent to school. There was a new music department with supposedly sound-proofed practice rooms. They didn’t work very well as it was quite impossible to play the piano without hearing a screechy violin next door. At this very nice school, again we had daily assembly (more Onwards and Feet), weekly singing lessons as well the opportunity to learn individual instruments with in-house teachers.

My piano teacher was Miss Ruddock who suffered from dreadful asthma and had a puffer that made me giggle while trying to play Bach. There were visiting professional artists who gave termly recitals during which 90 per cent of those listening were bored stiff.

On to Beaconsfield High School where there was much more going on. Firstly, it was a brand new school where even the pianos were squeaky-clean with no sticky grey edges to the ivories. O level music was well taught; we did a cracking production of Noye’s Fludde (my father was ‘God’); oh yes, as well as yet a bigger dose of Christian Soldiers and an army of Feet. For the first time, there was lots going on in the music block and more to the point, the standard was high and it was cool to be part of the musical crowd.

As to musical experiences outside school, I used to go to many Earnest Read children’s concerts, to David Wilcock’s carols at the Albert Hall and I sang in the church choir, did ballet, and if I had wanted it, the county provided opportunities for orchestral playing.

So what was different then to now? Not much, I think. So why is everyone so paranoid about the supposedly current lack of music education in schools?

If you really want something you go and find it. If football is your thing, you badger your parents or your sports teacher to take you to the local football club; the same with Brownies, Girl Guides and Scouts. The opportunities are there and offered in plenty. There are always going to be good schools and those less proactive. There will be good teachers, as well as indifferent. Instruments will still be available on loan. There will be choirs to join, jazz groups, ensembles to enjoy playing with; orchestras offering different standards.

The choice these days is enormous and I reckon that even in the most deprived areas there is something out there that one can grab with open arms – if you want it! The trouble is that everyone these days expects to be spoon-fed. I do realise however, that there are deprived places in inner-city areas in which opportunities are harder to come by

This could – or should – provoke hostile reactions! Readers, do come forward!

Penny Adie, artistic director, Two Moors Festival

Exmoor’s World Championship Crabbing Competition

So this may not strictly be a Devon event, but it takes place so close to the Two Moors Festival headquarters (and it’s still on Exmoor) that we just had to blog about it, not least because it sounds so much fun.

The Exmoor World Championship Crabbing Competition is taking place this month on May 30th at Porlock Weir in Somerset, so if you happen to be on holiday in the region and are looking for something different to do, this would be an excellent choice.

Festival organisers John and Penny Adie, and their three children, used to spend many a happy hour crabbing on the pontoon in Dittisham, a delightful little village in South Devon that you must visit if you’re ever in the area – and they’re all sorely tempted to make their way to Porlock Weir to take part in this particular event, if just to reminisce about the good old days!

Everyone is eligible to compete and you could walk away with a beautiful trophy handmade by Bristol Blue Glass… all you have to do is bring your own line, bucket and bait.

If you’ve never done it before, here are a couple of crabbing tips to help ensure success at the competition.

1. Don’t forget the weight

If your bait is heavy enough, you might not need it, but a weight will help drag your line down and keep the bait at the bottom where all the best crabs are hiding.

2. Consider your bait

Don’t just use any old thing lying around the kitchen as bait. Crabs can be quite fussy! Bacon, chicken or bits of fish will work well, but crabs are particularly partial to sand eels so see if you can find any of those.

3. Bring a net

The hardest part about crabbing is getting your catch off the line and into the bucket, but a net will help ensure that they don’t escape back into the water. Bring a large bucket as well – you might catch so many that you run out of room!

Find out about the latest news from the Two Moors Festival here!