Sharon Canavar - celebrating culture which transcends generations

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 May 2017

Sharon Canavar

Sharon Canavar


The Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, now in its seventh year, has grown into a leading event on the literary calendar.

Watching the newsreader Sophie Raworth on the BBC series Who Do You Think You Are? explore the tragic but inspiring tale of her ancestors, made me think about legacy. It threw into sharp light our overarching theme for 2017’s Harrogate International Festivals – Generations.

Edwin Raworth became a solicitor in Harrogate in 1885. In 1890 he met Jabez Butterworth, the son of a police inspector who was head of Harrogate’s police force. It was a time when the Empress of Russia, Princess Alix, would visit Harrogate. In 1907, they went into partnership together operating as Raworth and Co. The firm witnessed world events and huge social and technological change, supporting families and businesses in the town and playing a successful role in the history of Harrogate.

In 2012, in celebration of its 125th anniversary, and its long relationship with public life in Harrogate, the firm sponsored our Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, with an appearance from Sophie as the great-grand-daughter of Edwin Raworth. It is a family success story like Bettys or Ogdens.

The Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival, now in its seventh year, has grown into a leading event on the literary calendar. Harper’s Bazaar picked the event as one of the UK’s ‘best literary festivals’.

Over the years, the HIF has welcomed Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Kate Adie, Michael Palin, Alastair Campbell, Lord Melvyn Bragg, Kate Atkinson, Sue Townsend, John Suchet and Noddy Holder. It has become so successful, we have moved it out of our busy July programme, which also features the world-leading Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, to a new slot in October, where it will have room to further flourish.

The HIF celebrates this continuation of families – across the generations – through culture. It’s reflected in our programme, not only with our Young Musicians platform, but this year there’ll also be a special concert from the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists who will perform at the Royal Hall, recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. We’ll also have the BBC’s Young Musician Finalist Benjamin Goldsheider who will feature in a performance exploring the great dynasties of Mozart and Haydn with the European Union Chamber Orchestra.

Music has the ability to cross the chasms of time, but it takes time, money, talent and passion to safeguard it, and ensure it passes on to the next generations.

I find it incredibly sad to see BBC headlines, such as ‘Music could face extinction in secondary schools’. Our public services have undergone huge cuts in times of austerity, and it’s in part thanks to businesses, like Raworths, supporting the arts, that Harrogate continues its rich cultural offer.

One musician who performed as part of our Sunday Series earlier this year, Oliver Heath, said it eloquently. ‘I think culture is absolutely crucial, especially at the moment with things being as they are on the global stage. It’s more valuable than ever to have things that remind us of what it is to be human in a way that is very uniting, and in a way that speaks beyond what’s going on now. ‘It connects us with this human experience which has been going on for centuries. We will play something written 200 years ago, and the beauty of that music stretches across the centuries and still reaches us inside; you feel a connection. I think that is an amazing thing. That sense of being connected to someone who was going about their life 200 years ago. It’s something bigger than just contemporary events – politics or not being able to pay the gas bill – those things that can drag us down.’

Music, like all culture, makes us empathetic, it helps us understand, to question, to engage in philosophical questions. It’s why we picked our theme, Generations, to celebrate this connection and to look forward to.

Experiencing a live performance can be transformative. It’s why we’re passionate about our new Library of Live scheme, which offers free tickets to young people to come and try something new.

As we embark on our 51st year at Harrogate International Festivals, with some incredible music and literature experiences on offer for you, our audiences, it’s perhaps a good time to ask not just who do you think you are, but who do you think you’re going to be.

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