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?

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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.

Walking with Dartmoor ponies

Dartmoor ponies have been seen roaming the hills and dales of this part of Devon since the Middle Ages and they have now become one of the biggest tourist draws of the countryside, with countless visitors flocking to the area each year to see these stout little beasts in the flesh.

Of course, some people are more clued up than others about how to wend their way through the countryside without leaving the indelible footprint of mankind behind, whether it’s picking up any rubbish, putting fires out thoroughly or keeping dogs under control and firmly on leads where necessary.

This latter point is particularly important when encountering the hardy ponies that roam both Dartmoor and Exmoor freely. Only last week a dog was seen near Burrator Reservoir on Dartmoor attacking a mare and foal, which resulted in both dog and foal being put down.

Such incidents are easily avoidable, if just a little bit of care is taken. Alona Stratton, breeder of registered Dartmoor ponies and former council member with the Dartmoor Pony Society, has advised tourists coming to the area that it is best not to disturb the horses and avoid approaching them.

“Leave them be,” she says. “Don’t try to feed or stroke them. By doing so you encourage them to go nearer to the roads. Keeping dogs on leads and under control is also important. Respect the ponies’ space and they’ll respect yours.”

The Dartmoor National Park Authority is also working to tackle the problem of dogs on the moors, launching new campaign Paws on Dartmoor in response to the increasing numbers of incidents involving uncontrolled dogs and livestock.

Between June 8th and 10th, a range of activities for dog-owners is being put on at Roborough Common to promote responsible access to the area, with professional trainers on hand to provide obedience tips, National Park rangers leading free guided walks and the Dartmoor livestock protection officer also offering advice and assistance.

So if you’re going to any Two Moors Festival events this year, please make sure you keep your dog well under control and show the ponies on Exmoor and Dartmoor the respect they deserve.

Should dogs be kept on the lead at all times when out walking or can they ever be well-trained enough to be let off?

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.

Schubert the Sheep: Our plucky little mascot

Schubert is no ordinary sheep. Although born and bred on the wilds of Exmoor, he has eschewed the fields and pastures favoured by the others in his flock to pursue a more cultured existence, free from sheep dips, the shearing pen and collies snapping at his hooves.

In 2001, he found his way to Barkham at the height of the foot and mouth crisis and was adopted by the Two Moors Festival as its official mascot. Since then, Schubert has travelled all over the south-west, meeting and greeting hundreds of musicians and classical music-lovers and helping to make the festival a success wherever concerts take place.

Whether he’s climbing up to sit in the church pulpit at a concert, doing a love duet with Cardiff Singer of the Year Marius Brenciu or attending a talk at a local rotary club, Schubert is never happier than when he’s out there supporting the festival.

Here are just a few photos of him in action over the years:

If you see Schubert at any Two Moors events, snap a picture of yourself with him and email it in for our readers’ gallery.

Send your pictures to: sadie054@googlemail.com

Introducing…New Two Moors chairman John Willan

John Willan

It’s all change here at the Two Moors Festival. At the beginning of the year we waved a solemn goodbye to acting chairman Des Belam (who remains involved as deputy chairman) and said hello to his successor, John Willan, a former chorister at Magdalen College who read music at the University of Edinburgh and has a diploma in piano from the Royal Academy of Music, where he is also an honourary associate.

John is certainly more than qualified to assume the role of chairman for the festival, a post he is really looking forward to sinking his teeth into. Working as a classical producer for EMI in the 70s and 80s – alongside the likes of David Munrow, Domingo, Argerich, Gavrilov and Levine, to name but a few – John became managing director of the London Philharmonic in 1985 and was approached by the BBC in 1995 to build a music division for BBC Worldwide.

In just three years, he established the BBC Legends label and BBC Music Publishing, leaving the company in 1999 to join the board of music agency Hazard Chase. In 2006, he was appointed chairman of the International Artist Managers’ Association and, in 2009, was made a governor of the Royal Academy of Music.

John had this to say about joining the Two Moors Festival as chairman: “Who could resist such an offer? A beautiful part of the world, excellent music-making in wonderful surroundings, such energy and imagination from the artistic and administrative team and a real attempt to involve young people. A festival in every sense of the word, which I hope to support in every way I can.”

Penny Adie, artistic director of the festival, is just as thrilled to have John at the helm, steering the charity onwards and upwards. “I am hugely excited at the prospect of his chairmanship of the festival as, with his global experience of the arts, he will take it further forward in its development as a key arts organisation in the south-west.”

With a roster of past artists that includes outstanding musicians like Yevgeny Sudbin, Julian Lloyd-Webber, Andreas Haefliger and Mark Padmore, the festival can only go in one direction – up! – now that John is involved. Here’s to 2012 and beyond.

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?

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