Sharon Canavar - planning the HIF 50th anniversary programme from Istanbul

PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 May 2016

Sharon Canavar

Sharon Canavar


It has to be ‘destination Harrogate’ for one of the country’s leading arts and performance festivals

Singer Van Morrison is one of the special guests at this year's Harrogate International FestivalsSinger Van Morrison is one of the special guests at this year's Harrogate International Festivals

When you work in the events industry, there are certain times of year that if you risk taking a holiday, you’ll never really relax. Here at Harrogate International Festivals we’re in the midst of our chamber music series and signing off the early marketing for our 50th anniversary festival, so I knew whisking the family off to Istanbul to visit the family wouldn’t be easy.

It was when I was trying to stop my toddler falling into the Bosphorus, while at the same time making the most of the free café Wi-Fi to meet print deadlines, that I realised something was wrong. Yet here I was marking up copy under the HIF theme of Discover, Explore & Experiment, muttering about Wi-Fi coverage and typos in the only city in the world that straddles two continents. I had to get my head out of my work and get out there and re-discover this amazing city.

I’ve been visiting Istanbul for nearly 17 years. In that time it’s changed significantly, underpinned by a number of factors not least financial, political and religious. In less than a decade the per capita income in the country has nearly tripled, President Erdogan continues to divide opinion and the media statements during the recent EU negotiations from the Guardian and Daily Telegraph versus Turkish media were a world apart. As a secular country, albeit one that is 98 per cent Muslim, it is still astounding to see the number of mosques being built in neighbourhoods, old and new, across the city. There’s currently a mosque being built on the Asian side on a scale to rival the size of the magnificent Blue Mosque - if this were a church in the UK, we’d be on the brink of a revival!

From the spice bazaar to hearing the muezzin calls for prayer, the amazing food to the fantastic architecture, this city has it all. Add to that, the layers of history around every corner there is much to discover in this wonderful city that has my heart.

So having re-discovered the city of Istanbul, what can you discover in the HIF 50th anniversary programme? With over 100 events this summer, we plan to take you on your very own adventure. We travel to the past, harking back to the HIF’s roots as a festival of arts and science. You’ll be able to explore space, theories of relativity and the surface of the moon in some of our out-of- this-world events. And because it’s such a special year, we have a few extra treats in store. Music legend Van Morrison will be with us in June and former HIF Young Musician Nicola Benedetti returns with a programme of Mozart. There is an amazing outdoor celebration of our 50 years at the Valley Gardens with magical fire sculptures and installations including work from the acclaimed French street theatre company Carabosse.

As well as celebrating our heritage, we are committed to the future. Our Young Musician series has helped shape the careers of some of our greatest musicians, and we’ll be nurturing the next generation with an expanded programme. We’re excited to announce two new partnerships, one with BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists scheme in addition to an exciting partnership with the Menuhin Competition established by our former festivals patron, Yehudi Menuhin.

Our flagship music festival in July welcomes the sell-out John Wilson Orchestra as our artist in residence and celebrated opera singer Sir Willard White who, as our guest curator, will mentor a number of emerging vocal talents.

As well as music, there are words. We’ve helped put Harrogate on the literary map with the Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival and Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. With headliners from Linwood Barclay to Peter James and Mary Portas to John Suchet, expect to explore a broad range of subjects and meet a wide variety of writers.

It’s a tough call but if I am forced to choose, my destination of choice this summer has to be Harrogate! w

Sharon Canavar is chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals

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