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.

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!

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

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen Boosting Comprehensive School Results

If you follow the Two Moors Festival closely, you’ll know that music education in the UK is a cause particularly close to our hearts. We do a lot of work with young people in schools introducing them to the world of classical music and giving them all sorts of wonderful opportunities that may never have come their way otherwise.

And we love to hear about other similar stories going on around the world, in particular this BBC news report about the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, which eight years ago moved their rehearsal space to a secondary school in Tenever, a high rise housing estate in Germany that is renowned for its high poverty and crime levels.

We were unsurprised to hear that since the orchestra came to stay, drop-out rates have fallen to below one per cent and the number of pupils leaving school with the lowest qualifications has also dropped.

The school has been working closely with the orchestra ever since they moved in to bring both professional musicians and students together, be it visiting classes to give workshops and talks or helping both pupils and those living in the housing estate write and perform their own operas.

“Normally you only see an orchestra dressed up for a concert, but the kids mostly see them running around in jeans and find them very approachable. It has broken down the barriers,” co-head teacher Annette Rueggeberg was quoted by the news source as saying.

Hearing this really spoke to us here at the Two Moors Festival – we’re always keen to take classical music out of the traditional concert halls and make it more accessible for young people, challenging perceptions that classical music is somehow elite and not something that everyone can enjoy.

And feedback that we always get from the children that we work with in schools in the south-west (where we’re based) is just how much they enjoy learning about classical music and meeting professional musicians, so many of them coming away inspired to continue and take up an instrument themselves.

We’d love to hear if you’ve got anything like this going on in your local area – share your stories in the comments below.

We’ve Got Chickens!

We’ve taken a bit of a break from writing about UK chamber music festivals on the blog this week to let you know that we here at the Two Moors Festival have had a very exciting addition to the family.

Not only do we have festival dog Flora and festival cat Pip, but we’re now very happy to say that we’ve got four fat and plucky festival chickens, who have come home to roost.

If you’ve been following the festival since it started in 2001, you might well be aware that we also used to be home to some rather fantastic peacocks, which did make rather a racket while all the classical music concerts were going on. There was Poppy, Peter and Percy and, although they’ve long since gone, it’s delightful to have some more feathered friends clucking about all over the place.

Artistic director of the festival Penny Adie gave the four chickens to husband John as a Christmas present, along with a rather large coop and they’ve proved to be very successful hen-layers thus far. We’ve named them Mim, Mable, Doris and Rebecca Johnston, and we couldn’t be happier with our new additions to the family.

So the next time you come down to festival HQ for one of the lovely chamber music concerts that we put on in our gallery – or indeed for the festival itself in October – make sure you make some time to come and say hi to our little chickens. We know they’re going to be huge fans of classical music – how could they be anything but?

Two Moors Festival chickens