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Q&A With Notus Winds

Last week, we held another of the Two Moors Festival’s famous residencies, this time with amazing wind quintet Notus Winds coming down to Barkham in Devon for a few days to enjoy some much-needed respite and lots of rehearsing in one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

The week ended with a brilliant performance in our gallery (fans of classical music concerts will no doubt already have popped along to check out the venue!), so we thought we’d catch up with the group one final time to find out how it all went.

classical music concerts
2MF: How long have you been together as a group?
NW: We started playing together in our first year at the Academy. Our first, rather ambitious, venture was learning Barber’s beautiful Summer Music. Needless to say it wasn’t our most successful performance but we revisited the work last year, more successfully, for the final of the Academy’s Patrons’ Award. It’s always interesting coming back to repertoire after a break – in this case we had all matured both personally and in our playing to a point where we could do the music more justice.

2MF: What brought you together?
NW: We’ve known each other in various combinations ever since NCO in 2005. Some of us met in the following years through the NYO, the Purcell School and the Junior Department of the RCM. The idea of forming a quintet was discussed by a few of us at an NYO course just before starting at the Academy, and the rest is history!

2MF: What’s your biggest concert to date?
NW: Last year we won the Academy’s Patrons’ Award, resulting in an evening recital at Wigmore Hall last June. This was an incredible opportunity to play some of our favourite music at a beautiful and prestigious venue. Another close contender has to be our debut at the BBC Proms for their Portrait series back in September, when we performed Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s Five Distances in front of the composer himself at a concert celebrating his 80th birthday.

The piece is one of our favourites (possibly because we are instructed in the score to stand as far apart as possible!) but the RCM Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall is the biggest space that we have tried it in to date, and it was being recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 – exciting and terrifying in equal measures!

classical music concerts
2MF: What’s the oddest thing that’s ever happened at a concert?
NW: This is a difficult one… Odd and extremely amusing things happen very often, and we always have a little chuckle about them (which we try to wait for until after the performance) but perhaps the most bizarre was when we were giving a recital at the Festival de Inverno in Brazil a couple of years ago. We had finished the final piece and the Brazilian audience, ever enthusiastic, requested an encore.

Luckily we had a little something prepared; unluckily not all of us had remembered to bring the music on stage. Whilst Jon, our bassoonist, sprinted off stage to find it, an awkward silence fell over the hall. Had the audience been an English-speaking one, we would have felt comfortable filling the time by talking about the music and making a joke or two.

This particular audience didn’t speak a word of English, but Carys could not bear the silence any longer so disregarded the language barrier and started talking anyway, to a sea of blank faces. When Jon eventually ran back out with the music the audience was as relieved as we were and welcomed him back with rapturous applause. Needless to say we all double check our music backstage nowadays!

2MF: What’s the best compliment you’ve been paid as a group?
NW: People often say very kind things about us, but a recurring compliment we notice is the observation about the blend of our sound. It is easy in chamber music for individual timbres and tones to stand out from a group – especially in a wind quintet where all the sounds are produced in different ways and have a huge potential for variation. It’s therefore very flattering to hear that ours are well-blended as it is something that can’t always be rehearsed.
classical music concerts
2MF: How did you hear about the Two Moors Festival residency programme?
NW: Back in October 2014 we were fortunate to come to the Two Moors Festival to give a lunchtime recital. Penny Adie approached us after the concert and talked about the residency programme. She said that if we had anything coming up for which we could use an intensive week of rehearsals to prepare, we should get in touch.

2MF: What do you think the appeal is?
NW: In the busy music world it is often extremely challenging to find a window of time to bring five musicians together to rehearse for concerts and learn new music. When it is possible it is often a couple of hours squeezed in between other rehearsals, concerts and teaching.

The residency offers musicians the luxury of having not just a few hours but a few days to intensively rehearse in a constructive, efficient and thorough manner. It also allows freedom to experiment with new ideas (in our case, performing from memory) without having to keep one eye on the clock.

2MF: Do you think coming down to such a part of the world helped your rehearsal process? 
NW: Definitely! Just as the length of the residency gave us freedom with time, so the picturesque views and tranquil surroundings allowed us all to relax with our music making and forget the stresses of everyday London life, which can subconsciously affect all of us.
At Barkham you are forced to disconnect from London life (partly due to the lack of phone signal!) and this allowed us to focus on our music more fully.

2MF: Do you feel refreshed as a group after spending a few days at Barkham?

NW: As individual members relax, it affects the dynamic of the whole group. We certainly felt a difference not only in our playing but also in our peace of mind, which sent us away with a renewed sense of creativity and confidence.

2MF: How did the concert go?
NW: You’ll have to ask the audience! From our point of view, we really enjoyed performing in the gallery, and it was fantastic to be able to showcase all that we had been working on over the week. We had focused a lot of our time on learning Carl Nielsen’s famous Wind Quintet, a core work of the repertoire, and it was a huge benefit to be able to consolidate our rehearsals so soon with a performance.

We had also aimed to experiment with learning some repertoire by heart over the course of the week, and so we played the first of Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves from memory as our encore – just dipping our toes into what is a new concept for us!
classical music concerts

2MF: How do you feel the gallery compares as a concert venue to others you’ve played in?
NW: It was absolutely beautiful! We commented during our stay how much we enjoyed the clarity and enhancing quality of the acoustic, and how the space captures the intimate feel of a 19th century chamber music salon. We also thought it would be very appropriate as a venue in which to record certain works, and wished we’d brought some equipment with us.

2MF: What would you recommend about the residency to other groups?
NW: The obvious benefit of the residency is having the undivided time to focus and rehearse as much as you need to. You are at liberty to spend the time however you feel most beneficial, and not feeling under the usual amount of pressure makes for much better-quality work.

It’s also an incredible part of the country where we could really relax as well as explore the surrounding nature. Another huge attraction of the residency is John and Penny themselves. Penny is caring, wise, genuinely interested and ever helpful – and an incredible cook! John is a hugely entertaining personality with a plethora of jokes and intriguing stories. We really were made to feel at home in their beautiful house, and came back to London with slightly tighter waistbands!

2MF: How much do you love Flora and Pip?
NW: So much! They’re amazing animals who were welcomed into most of our spare time during the residency. They have definitely made five new friends for life! We spent the last morning Googling ways of fitting a German Shepherd into a suitcase…

2MF: What else did you do apart from music-making?
NW: Apart from eat? Not much. No, we went for several walks in the beautiful Devon countryside. We were blessed with stunning weather for the week and took advantage of that during our rehearsal breaks, usually dragging Flora along with us! On one day Penny gave us some instructions on getting to a particular part of the moor, and an hour later was totally shocked to drive past us on the road going in completely the wrong direction. Who knows where we might have ended up had she not put us right!
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Two Moors Festival: Notus Winds Residency

Not only is the the Two Moors Festival’s residency project serving its purpose, but it also creates an atmosphere of the utmost fun within the Adie household. This doesn’t mean to say that routine life is dull – far from it!

This week has seen Notus Winds, one of the most talented wind ensembles to burst onto the concert scene, rehearsing in our studio in preparation for the Nielsen competition held later in the year. As you can imagine, this quintet has been high on the agenda along with a diverse range of works that included the first movement of Ibert’s Trois Pièces which they decided to learn from memory.

classical music festivals

They imposed a punishing schedule upon themselves – three hours’ rehearsal each morning, building up a healthy appetite for lunch followed by more sessions over the rest of the day. How Carys Evans’s lip stayed the course, we shall never know – but that’s suffering for one’s art.

The beauty of our residencies is that artists are completely free to run their own timetables, rummage for food and help themselves to wine (although so far, no one has gone to those lengths first thing in the morning!). In the case of this group, because the weather was so glorious, they gulped vast quantities of unpolluted air whilst striding the across the moors in their self-imposed spare time.

classical music festivals

Exmoor has been at its finest this week proudly showing off its spectacular scenery, colours not to mention the first primroses appearing in the banks. I have to say that the ensemble’s interpretation of clear verbal directions differed from ours! As a result Flora, our dog, had so much exercise that she expressed no interest in going for a walk on the day the team left.

The pressures of city living are such that artists take a while to switch off. Invariably they feel the urge to practise the moment they get here thinking that they have a time limit on the availability of a hired studio. Life is very different here and it’s only after several glasses of wine and wholesome food that musicians begin to let go.

The fact that there is no payment involved (even expenses are covered) also takes a day to sink in. We notice a huge difference in the approach to work, the feeling of achievement following a constructive rehearsal, and a sense of well-being on discovering an improved level of playing. As a team, there is time to explore varied interpretations of a piece, a greater opportunity to listen to each other and to work on a better cohesive sound.

classical music festivals

There is no doubt that residencies here play their part in the structural development of a young group of artists. This ensemble has benefited in spade loads. Their concert on the final night was of a standard equal to any recital one might hear at the Wigmore Hall. Here’s to the future of Notus Winds – they deserve to do well!

Penny Adie

Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Competition Rnd 1

The first round of the Two Moors Festival’s Young Musicians Platform competition took place this weekend. A total of 47 candidates aged 18 and under entered at a standard of ABRSM Grade 7 and above. This could be any instrument plus voice and they were asked to prepare two contrasting pieces of their choice.

The competition is unique in several ways. The first is that we look for four outstanding players and not just one. The emphasis is on performance and ability to share an innate love of music with an audience. The audition atmosphere is unlike any other in that we chat in a fun way to each candidate from the moment they walk through the door and we also give a mini masterclass if there’s time. Each of the winners receives £250 plus an opportunity to share a recital in the main festival.

Judging from the feedback, all participants feel encouraged, inspired and above all retain their joy at being involved in playing classical music. In one instance, a young singer said he had been singing music theatre until recently. He then heard songs by Richard Strauss (nothing could be more different) as a result of which he was hooked on Lieder!

The way in which our competition operates begs the question – should all competitions be run along similar lines? Or does this imply that Bach’s B Minor Mass is something to be taken lightly? Does this prepare aspiring young musicians to enter the profession with rose-tinted spectacles when they should be aware of the arduous work and fierce competition that lie ahead? Does this give them a false impression that all competitions are going to be staged in a similar manner?

In an age when competitions abound and spring up like mushrooms, I believe the more encouragement one can give school-age youngsters the better. They need to be inspired, their sheer joy of being involved in classical music requires fostering as much as possible and nowadays, where there are so many competitions, to have one that does these in spade loads says a lot.

It’s instantly noticeable if the music comes from within a musician who plays from the soul. Likewise the opposite where the playing is automatic and the delivery forced. Dare I say it, but some of the performers from specialist music schools display this. There is always the expectation that these youngsters are bound to be brilliant but we’re often disappointed.

With all this in mind, this is where the Festival’s own competition comes into its own. The environment that is provided gives each entrant such stimulus that nerves are frequently dispensed with so that they can play with such expression that technical limitations don’t matter. Their overall love of music-making in a performance is all that matters regardless of whether they enter the profession or not and that the inspiration we give them will help them in later life.

Penny Adie

When Things Go Slightly Wrong…

Readers might like to know that artistic directors and chief executives are not immune to domestic trials and tribulations. They always say things go in threes, don’t they!

Firstly, our well dried up. Now, you may think this is impossible bearing in mind the time of year and also the fact that Exmoor, where we live, is one of the wettest parts of the country. However, as dry as a bone, it was. After much archaeological digging at a five foot depth, and across our large lawn (moss really as grass is too grand a word for it), it turned out that there was a leak in the feeder pipe. Once repaired the mounds of soil, now looking like prehistoric mole hills, had to be shovelled back into place leaving a trail of thick semi-frozen mud. So that was issue number one.

On to the next hiatus. Did you know that if you keep a fridge freezer with a thermostat in the fridge compartment, in a very cold environment such as a garage, the thermostat will automatically switch off thereby causing the freezer to defrost? Our freezer, as it happens was not in a garage but in one of our cottages where without heating switched on, had become so very cold as for this to happen. Well, you’ve guessed – the freezer ceased to work leading to loss of lasagne, cakes, Tarte Amandine (times two), brownies, apple pie, chicken pie and much more besides. Hey, ho, at least I’ve got the bowls back!

Now for the collapse of the third gadget – this time our new dishwasher which decided to go on strike through lack of water pressure. Apparently, most models work on high pressure and although there are some that operate on a slow inflow, there is nothing in the literature to say which. Would anyone like an almost-new Bosch dishwasher? It looks as if we shall be washing up by hand for the forseeable future which means going through many pairs of Marigolds! The Festival’s Artistic Director never wanted perfect nails so that’s okay.

On a more serious note, the Friends’ Newsletter is ready to go to print. The programme for October is taking shape (famous last words?) and my wonderful husband has submitted over 50 funding applications to trusts in hopes of obtaining much needed financial support. I should add that these applications don’t mean churning out the same letter but require individual attention, research and several phone conversations before putting pen to paper.

We’ll keep you posted!

The Two Moors Festival 2014: Over To You

Fans of UK classical music festivals will know that this year’s Two Moors Festival is sadly over and done with, but it sounded like you all had an absolute whale of a time hotfooting it around churches in Dartmoor and Exmoor with artists like Gillian Keith, The Gildas Quartet and the Orchestra of the Swan.

Twitter was agog with photos and tweets of what you went to and how much you enjoyed it, from both the musicians and the audience alike. Here’s what you all had to say about this year’s event and don’t forget – if you missed it this time around, you can keep up to date with info about 2015’s festival on the blog and via our website.

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Gillian Keith At The Two Moors Festival

Those of you who follow UK classical music festivals closely will have heard that we here at the Two Moors Festival have a very exciting concert taking place at this year’s ten-day event – acclaimed soprano Gillian Keith is coming down to Devon!

The singer will be at St Andrew’s Church in Ashburton from 19:30 tonight (October 16th) and the concert is already proving to be one of the best-sellers at this year’s festival – not surprising given the sheer calibre of the artist involved.

Keith will be joined by tenor Tom Randle and pianist Gary Matthewman to play a programme consisting of Bernstein, Arne, Handel and Rossini, among many others – so you can be assured of a very varied recital that will inspire, entertain and seriously impress. We recently featured an interview with both Gillian and Keith on the blog, so have a read if you’d like to find out more about tonight’s concert.

Tickets are still available, although they’re selling very quickly, so if you’d like to see Gillian in action make sure you book. You may be able to buy tickets on the door but it’s definitely more advisable to book. Call (01643) 831 370 to reserve your tickets.

And We’re Off!

As fans of UK classical music festivals will no doubt know, today is the first day of The Two Moors Festival, ten whole days of exciting classical music taking place in churches across the southwest!

To kick proceedings off with a serious bang, we’ve got violinist Viktoria Mullova and cellist Matthew Barley coming down to the Church of the Holy Cross in Crediton at 19:30 to play 13 wonderful songs from Brazil all chosen and beautifully arranged by Viktoria herself.

If you’re yet to buy tickets for this event, there’s still time – although there are only seven left, so you’ll have to be quick about it. You can get through to the box office on (01643) 831 006.

We’re so excited for this year’s Two Moors Festival and have got some seriously impressive artists coming to Devon just for you – renowned soprano Gillian Keith will be here on the night of the 16th, while Kate Royal, the Carducci Quartet and Jayson Gillham among many others will also be performing. Take a look at what we’ve got planned for you and make sure you book sooner rather than later if one of the classical music concerts takes your fancy – the tickets are going fast!