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

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?

Devon goes for gold at the Countryfile Awards

As any classical music fan will know, the countryside is often a huge inspiration for composers (Beethoven’s pastoral symphony, anyone?) and here at the Two Moors Festival we are, quite rightly, very proud of our beautiful south-west setting. Now, Devon has been recognised for the glorious destination it certainly is in this year’s Countryfile Magazine Awards, being nominated in several categories.

No trip to Devon – even if you come to us in bleak mid-winter – would be complete without a quick sample of a true-blue cream tea, a belief that tv chef Valentine Warner (who compiled the list of best regional dishes for the awards) clearly shares. “A cream tea should be treated as a ritual. If only I had the time to eat one every day,” he writes. Hear, hear!

But it’s not just sumptuous food that has the people over at Countryfile excited about the many and varied Devonshire delights. Oh, no – our little towns are going for glory this year as well and anyone who’s been to Totnes – described by countryside writer Nicholas Crane as a “visionary town with a castle, a busy market and a delightful location” – will certainly be happy to see it in the running for Britain’s favourite market town.

Clovelly – a quaint little village that has been owned and run by the same family for generations – is also in it to win it this year, with Countryfile presenter Jules Hudson adding it to the best heritage attraction category and describing it as a place that “offers a slice of romantic escapism into history and the feel of classic coastal settlement”.

So what are you waiting for? Go and register your vote and help Devon clean up at the awards ceremony for 2012. You could even win a two-night break in the county if you do take part.

What’s your favourite part of Devon? Where do you think people should visit first?

Two Moors Young Musicians Platform winners revealed

Earlier this month, the Two Moors Festival held its annual Young Musicians Platform competition, with the 2012 event receiving a record number of applications from talented musicians from all over the south-west. The standard was higher than ever before as the 17 who made it through to the second round battled it out for a place in the top four and a spot in a concert in Ashburton on October 13th as part of the festival’s main two-week event.

The judges have conferred, the votes are in and the winners can now be revealed. They are:

– Singer Lucy Bray, 18, from Exeter School

– Clarinetist Laura Deignan, 16, from Devonport High School for Girls

– Flautist Katie Roberts, 17, from Wells Cathedral School

– Recorder player Jacob Warn, 17, from Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School, Bristol

Festival artistic director Penny Adie had this to say about this year’s group of winners: “[They] exceeded expectation. Gifted and possessing that rare quality of inner musicianship, all four showed themselves to be at one with their instruments and each thoroughly deserved their awards. Recorder player Jacob Warn excelled himself with his slick command of the recorder, while Laura Deignan, (having entered previously), proved what a fine musician she is with a beautiful sound on her clarinet. Katie Roberts also produced a strong rich tone. Lucy Bray, the young soprano, came equipped for a professional performance. Already with a solid technique and at one with Lieder, she gave a beautiful performance.”

You’ll be able to see these four play in concert in October as part of the festival’s main two-week event, so keep your eye out for the soon-to-be-released brochure and the opening of the box office.

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