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Opera North - The Little Greats

Southwell's Bringing Classic Back

22 August 17 words: Marcus Farnsworth

Organiser Marcus Farnsworth gives us the lowdown on the hows, whys and whats of the upcoming Southwell Music Festival...

The Southwell Music Festival was born for a number of different reasons. The town has amazing venues for music, not least the spectacular Minster; it’s something of a hidden gem. Away from Nottingham itself, the number of opportunities that audiences have to experience top-flight classical music are pretty limited, so the Southwell Music Festival is about bringing the best of my colleagues from all over the UK and further afield to my home county.

I’m not a big fan of the term “classical music.” It’s a turn-off for so many people who think it’s not for them because they have had no experience of it in a live setting. The term also doesn’t do the music justice; it implies it’s one genre, when in fact we’re talking about over 500 years worth of music. There’s something for everyone within that vast array of sound, and we aim to present a rich and varied programme with music from the 16th to the 21st century, and everything in between.

I think the festival’s success stems from two essential elements: the highest standards of music making, and the involvement of the local community. As well as the main festival events featuring performers from around the UK and Europe, we have a series of fringe events showcasing local youth and amateur groups. We have a masterclass for local, young musicians, which is a great opportunity to benefit from the expertise of our visiting professionals. There’s also a family concert where you can introduce your young ‘uns to amazing music in a relaxed atmosphere. We want to foster a new audience for classical music and the emphasis on the next generation – performers and audiences – is key to that.

I’m very excited to be welcoming local cellist, Sheku Kanneh Mason, to this year’s festival. Sheku was tutored in a masterclass at the festival in 2015, the summer before he won the BBC Young Musician competition, so we’re delighted that we’ve managed to book him for a solo recital this year.

I’m also really looking forward to the chamber-music concerts that we have on offer. These are intimate affairs where the audience are very close to the performers; it’s thrilling to experience live music in this way. One of this year’s programmes, The Art of the Trio, showcases pieces written for various trio combinations. It takes place in the State Chamber of the Archbishop’s Palace next door to the Minster, another stunning venue.

When I was a kid, I was told that classical music was in decline and that audiences were dwindling. In my career thus far, my experience has been the total opposite of that; we’ve been selling out concerts at the festival since we began in 2014. I sense a renewed interest in live music making. With online streaming services, we can listen to virtually anything we want these days, and I think this adds value to the live, curated experience.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the music we present, I’d say to just come along and give it a go. Our musicians are all about giving exciting, visceral performances. You won’t be disappointed.

Southwell Music Festival takes place from Thursday 24 - Sunday 27 August.

Southwell Music Festival website

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