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?

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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?

2MF residency reviewed

Last Friday (May 25th), we welcomed eager audiences to the gallery at Barkham in the very heart of the peaceful Devonshire countryside to hear a group of professional musicians – none of whom knew each other at the start of the week – perform an evening of Beethoven and Strauss as part of the Two Moors Festival’s first residency of 2012.

After a few days of practice, with the sun beating down all week, professional instrumentalists Ben Birtle (cello), Francesca Moore-Bridger (horn), Sophie Roper (double bass), Sinead Frost (bassoon), Arnaud Ghillebaert (viola), Max Welford (clarinet) and Chihiro Ono (violin) gave an inspiring performance of Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel Lustige Streiche and Beethoven’s Septet in E flat major Op.20.

The standard of the evening was particularly high, although the Strauss performance was better than the Beethoven, which is fiendishly difficult and a truly awesome work to tackle. Regardless, the audience loved every second of it, reflected in the thunderous applause that nearly lifted the gallery roof off afterwards and the incessant chatter over the dinner table, nigh-on bending under the weight of copious amounts of food provided by artistic director Penny Adie. (Think cold roast turkey and ham, cream cheese quiche, pasta salad, garlic bread, cheese, chocolate cake, meringue…the list goes on and on!)

“This residency instantly proved the need for this project and why we have set it up. It has given young professional players the chance to come together to work on repertoire seldom performed, to rehearse at leisure, to get to the depths of the piece and, above all, reinforce the need to listen to each other while playing. The fact that the weather was glorious added to the package, prompting animated games of croquet and plenty of Pimms,” Penny said.

If you had fun on Friday night and can’t wait for the next instalment, or were unlucky enough not to make it this time round, the next Two Moors Festival residency concert is on August 17th in the gallery. It will be an entirely new group of musicians, with just cellist Ben Birtle returning to Barkham. The musical programme consists of Dvorak’s Nocturne in B major Op.40 and the Double Bass Quintet in G major Op.77, and Mozart’s String Quartet in B flat K.458 The Hunt, so it promises to be an brilliant evening indeed.

Although we don’t charge for these concerts, we do ask for donations, with a suggested minimum of £15 a ticket.

To book, please call (01643 831370) or email adie.exmoor@btinternet.com

What did you think of Friday night’s entertainment?

In lights: Dunkery Beacon

“Dunkery Beacon,” whispered John, so close into my ear, that I felt his lips and teeth ashake; “dursn’t fire it now except to show the Doones’ way home again, since the naight as they went up and throwed the watchmen atop of it.”

This may well have been the case in Lorna Doone, RD Blackmore’s tale of tyranny, true love and 17th-century politics in the heart of the Devon and Somerset countryside, but these days Dunkery Beacon – the highest point on Exmoor at 1,705ft – is set alight for very different reasons.

If you find yourself down south and in this part of the world on June 4th, make your way to this peak, part of the Anchor Chain of Beacons, which are all due to be lit at 22:00. According to Edwin Beckett, appointed beacon registrar for Dunkery Beacon, more than 4,000 beacons will be set alight on the 4th as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

“We request that visitors to the area bring a torch and take all their belongings and any rubbish home.  We are delighted with the help being provided by the National Trust, our parish council and volunteers from the area, Exmoor Farmers for the use of their car park and Mr and Mrs Harold Stevens for also allowing cars to be parked at their own risk in their field by Dunkery Gate,” he said.

You’ll have a truly spectacular view of the countryside if you do head to Dunkery Beacon in June, with lots of other beacons across the south-west and even Wales – used to alert people around England throughout the ages – visible from this particular point.

We’d love to see some of your photos if you do go to Dunkery on the 4th. Send them in for our readers’ gallery!

2MF residency concert on tonight

Tonight’s the night! The Two Moors Festival’s first residency of the year has been going on this week, with seven excellent instrumentalists coming down to Devon to make lots of music, enjoy delicious food and make the most of being deep in the countryside for a few days – with the added bonus of amazing weather this time around!

At 19:00 this evening (May 25th), horn player Francesca Moore-Bridger, double bass player Sophie Roper, cellist Ben Birtle, violist Arnaud Ghillebaert, violinist Chihiro Ono, bassoonist Sinead Frost and clarinettist Max Welford will all take centre stage in the gallery at Barkham and treat the audience to a night of Beethoven and Strauss.

The programme includes Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel Lustige Streiche – the tale of a troublesome German peasant who’s eventually executed by the authorities – and Beethoven’s Septet in Eb major Op.20, dedicated to the Empress Maria Theresa.

Part of the appeal of the residency series is that musicians can come and rehearse in a beautiful setting, away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, and have a bit of a holiday even while they’re working. “Barkham is one of the most peaceful, calm, beautiful places I’ve ever been, especially in the sunshine,” Francesca says. “This is very different to a normal week in central London. No tubes, no noise, no pollution, no frantic tube journeys to last-minute rehearsals, no waiting for phone calls, checking messages and hoping the diary will get busy next month. It’s been idyllic!”

If you can’t make it to tonight’s concert, don’t worry – these seven players will be joining forces with other instrumentalists for the festival’s main two-week event in October, performing Mahler’s Das Lied von Erde on the 13th.

For tickets for tonight, call 01643 831370.

Are you going to have a listen tonight? Let us know what you think of the performance!

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?

The Two Moors Festival garden party: A preview

The sun is shining, the weather is sweet and here at the Two Moors we’re counting down the days until our annual garden party takes place. On June 23rd and 24th, Barkham will be overrun with lots of talented musicians, all of whom are no doubt warming up their instruments, restringing their bows and optimistically packing their suncream in anticipation of two days of fun, frolic and playing an abundance of wonderful music on the croquet lawn and in the apple orchard.

We’ve been holding our garden parties every year since the Two Moors began and it has since become one of the most eagerly awaited events we put on – apart from the two weeks of concerts in October, of course! Come rain or shine (generally rain, in typical British summertime tradition), we welcome people from all over the UK, who come to enjoy a day out in the Exmoor countryside, complete with a delightful musical backdrop.

But music ain’t just the name of the game where the garden party is concerned and you need to make sure you come to Barkham with a very empty tummy. Think sinfully rich Devon cream teas, never-ending jugs of Pimms, summery salads, coronation turkey, vegetable quiche and all sorts of other tasty treats, all homecooked by festival artistic director Penny Adie and her merry band of helpers. This year, John Adie will also be throwing his chef’s hat into the ring and for the first time in festival garden party history he’ll be firing up the barbecue and grilling some of Devon’s finest sausages – all locally sourced.

Another reason both visitors and musicians love to come to Barkham for various musical shindigs is the fabulous festival dog, Flora. She’s a ridiculously friendly German Shepherd who craves attention, so make sure you give her a big pat on the head when you see her trotting around being nosey.

If you think the garden party sounds like something you’d like to attend, you’ll be pleased to hear that we have two tickets to give away, which come with a free glass of Pimms to top it all off.

All you have to do to win is answer this (very) easy question:

Who is the festival’s mascot?

Leave your answer in the comment box below and you could soon be enjoying the sun (hopefully) in the idyllic Devonshire countryside.

To book tickets (although you can buy them on the day), call 01643 831 370.

Tickets £6 each.

In pictures

Here are a few snaps of past garden parties.

Penny cooking up a storm
How many strawberries?
Flora joining in the fun
Get to work!
Relaxing on the patio
The perfect place to play music
Strike a chord
Some serious salad
In the gazebo

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