A look ahead to the 2011 Ryedale Festival

PUBLISHED: 01:16 14 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:42 20 February 2013

Castle Howard, near York, is just one of the venues for the Ryedale Festival

Castle Howard, near York, is just one of the venues for the Ryedale Festival

How does one Yorkshire festival manage to conjure up some of the world's finest talent? Penny Wainwright finds out

For two weeks in July, music-lovers in North and East Yorkshire will have to pinch themselves to check they havent gone to heaven. For this is when a host of world-acclaimed musicians arrive on their doorstep to perform in some of the most spectacular venues in the country: Castle Howard, Sledmere House, Duncombe Park, Hovingham Hall and Ampleforth Abbey will all play host to concerts from classical to jazz.

In the thirty years since this music fortnight started as the Helmsley Festival cooked up by four musical friends over many a boozy dinner, according to one of its founders, June Emerson - how has it become such a prestigious event? Artistic director Christopher Glynn thinks there are two main reasons: We have the most unbelievable selection of venues in a beautiful part of the world and we have really fantastic audiences.

Theyre amazingly loyal and enthusiastic. Whatever we do, theyre supportive.

This huge enthusiasm for the festival comes not only from across the county but also from further afield. Although most supporters come from within about a 50-mile radius of the venues, visitors also travel from Edinburgh and Somerset, from Canada and the USA, from Germany and Holland. In the first couple of weeks following the launch of the festivals new website this year, 2,000 hits were recorded from Russia and, perhaps more surprisingly, a couple of dozen originated in Iran. How many of these will be translated into visits remains to be seen.

Its Chris Glynns second year as artistic director of the festival. Three years before I took the job, I came up as a pianist to play in a concert at Castle Howard, and thought it was very special, he says - and he doesnt have much trouble persuading artists to take part. When I ask them, the most common reaction is, Oh yes, I love that part of the world, or I remember walking there and cant wait to get back.

This years programme features the sort of names you might more readily associate with Covent Garden or Wigmore Hall than Ryedale, such as baritone Sir Thomas Allen and soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, while youngsters, including Yorkshire Young Musicians, City of Leeds Youth Orchestra and Ryedale primary schools, will also be showcasing their talents.

This outstanding range of performers could clearly attract an eclectic audience, but the festivals concert-goers, though immensely supportive and loyal, tend to be drawn from the silver-haired end of the age range. Both Chris Glynn and the festivals new chairman, Robin Andrews, are keen to widen their audience, especially to bring in younger people. The choice of Animal Kingdom as the theme for this year sounds like a good start.

Chris says: Id always wanted to do Janaceks opera Cunning Little Vixen which brings to life the world of the forest and the animals which live there. We have a brand new production which has its first performance at Ampleforth College at the start of the festival.

Theres a huge amount of music about animals to choose from, Chris adds. This years programme includes favourites such as Schuberts Trout Quintet and Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending, and the newly-formed Ryedale Festival Childrens Choir, drawn from primary schools across Ryedale, will open the festival with an afternoon programme, including Prokofievs Peter and the Wolf and Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo, by Horovitz, at Hovingham Hall.

Chris is also enthusiastic about the Reaching Ryedale programme which takes music to people who would otherwise have difficulty attending festival events, such as adults with learning difficulties, elderly people in residential care and people in prison.

Theres a chance for everybody to get involved when it comes to the festivals community opera. Although auditions for singers, dancers and actors take place a couple of months beforehand, the opera is put together in just five days. Theyre a very experienced team, one of the best in the country, says Chris. Its amazing what they can do.

This years opera is to be A Pigs Tale. Commissioned for the 2006 festival, it tells the true story of a pig that was put on trial in a court of law for biting a girl. The plot sounds as barmy as many a more famous opera, but this production advertised for DJs and rappers, which suggests that its not to be taken too seriously.

As this years festival will only be Chriss second as artistic director, hes still getting to know his audience. But Id like to push the edges a bit while still keeping the festivals identity. There could be a surprise in store for concert-goers who hear talented young clarinetist Julian Bliss play Brahms and Debussy in St Michaels Church, Malton, one evening, when a few days later he appears as King of Swing, Benny Goodman, for a tribute show with his jazz septet.

The countryside plays as important a role as the music at the Ryedale Festival so its fitting that a piece inspired by the Yorkshire landscape is to be premiered here, with a performance at Botton Village. My Yorkshire Road is composed by flamenco-jazz guitar virtuoso Eduardo Niebla, the words are by Mr Yorkshire himself, Ian McMillan, while voices and music are provided by the Men of Staithes Choir and Ripon City Brass Band.

Its Yorkshire thats the ace card up this festivals sleeve. Robin Andrews thinks it is still one of the countys best-kept secrets and hes keen that its name should be better known. Theres no doubt it deserves to be. After all, you can hear top performers in opera houses all over the world, but where else can you picnic on the lawn with a matchless view of a country park and the moors beyond before the performance?

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