Apsley Cherry-Garrard and the world’s worst journey

Credit: Eyewitness Accounts with Scott in the Antarctic by Herbert Ponting.

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The Odditorium: the tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors whose obsessions changed the world (Hodder & Stoughton, 2016) includes some amazing characters. Some you’ll have heard of, some you probably won’t. All of them have changed the world, although in some cases the wider world hasn’t noticed yet. They include Joshua Norton, first Emperor of America, and Reginald Bray, who carried out strange experiments with the Royal Mail. I was delighted to be asked to write about Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who is by far my favourite explorer. 

When I was at school, we were often told stories about adventurers and explorers as something to aspire to. Captain Robert Falcon Scott was held up as a great example, bravely sacrificing himself in an attempt to reach the South Pole. As Sara Wheeler once described Antarctica, our southernmost continent often seems to be “a testing-ground for men with frozen beards to see how dead they could get’”. Despite that, I find Cherry-Garrard’s accounts of his adventures uplifting and inspiring.

Scott intentionally framed his death as an act of heroism. Bruce Chatwin’s book What Am I Doing Here (1988) describes a note left by Scott reading: “I have done this to show what an Englishman can do”. This legend-making worked well, and Scott’s story has often been retold. But his account often overshadows the tale of his companion, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. When Cherry-Garrard wrote an account of his time in Antarctica, it was entitled The Worst Journey in the World (1922). This referred not to Scott’s fatal mission, but to Cherry-Garrard’s attempt to collect penguin eggs for scientific research. What Cherry-Garrard went through was about as bad a time as one could go through and survive to write about it. 

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Cherry and his two companions travelled 60 miles on foot to reach the Emperor penguin nesting grounds, all in the darkness of an Antarctic winter. Pretty much everything that could do wrong did. Cherry’s teeth shattered from shivering at one point. Yet there was no triumphant return home and, according to Cherry’s account, officials at the Natural History Museum couldn’t care less about the eggs that had been retrieved at such high cost. 

Scott gets most of the glory from that expedition, despite his mistakes. But, for me, Cherry-Garrard’s story is the most precious – his graceful description of suffering and how to bear it has as much to say about daily life as it does about Antarctic exploration.

The Odditorium at the Buxton Festival is a chance for me to talk about one of my favourite people. Cherry’s account of frozen misery is inspiring, and is one of the greatest treasures that has been found in Antarctica. We’ll also be talking about Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, who created the most important work of art in the 20th-century, the bestselling author of books on Tibet (who didn’t even own a passport) and an Italian time lord who built the world’s largest underground temple. In just two hours, you’ll hear an alternative history of the world told through the lives of these remarkable people. 

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James Burt

Book Weekend favourites

As the Buxton Festival Book Weekend is now less than two months away(!), the Festival team decided to share which events they are looking forward to this year.

“I’m very much looking forward to the Book Weekend this year with the added bonus of having some opera available to attend too! English Touring Opera will be performing one of my favourite operas, The Return of Ulysses by Monteverdi on the opening day of the Weekend this year.  And then on Saturday afternoon one of my favourite speakers, Matthew Parris will be giving us another one of his entertaining talks. I love listening to Matthew’s programme Great Lives on BBC Radio 4 which he delivers brilliantly and it is always a joy to hear him speak at the Festival. A lovely autumnal weekend of culture in a beautiful spa town – what more could you ask for?!” Lee Barnes Administrator

“As a Derbyshire farmer’s daughter who has many memories of being in and driving Land Rovers I am of course looking forward to Ben Fogle’s talk on Friday evening! The Mary Queen of Scots talk will be the first official event in the newly refurbished Pump Room in The Crescent – a little historic event for Buxton and the Festival!” Liz Mackenzie PR & Press Manager

“I first met Helen Keen in 2008 when I reviewed her show It Is Rocket Science at the Buxton Fringe. In it, she managed the unique trick of being engaging, informative, educational and very funny, as she told the history of manned space travel. The show was a hit, not just in Buxton, but wherever it was performed, leading to it being expanded into a series on BBC Radio 4. I was thrilled to see that Helen had her first book out, using the popularity of TV series Game of Thrones as a jumping off point to look at the scientific and historical questions it throws up in her own unique style. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones myself, but I know that won’t matter – looking back on my review of her Buxton debut I wrote: ‘Helen herself has a highly engaging personality and such an obvious enthusiasm that the audience cannot fail to be captivated.’” Robbie Carnegie Marketing & Web Manager

“As a Tudor fanatic, particularly Elizabeth I, I am really interested to hear David Templeman’s talk on the Queen’s Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart (or Mary Queen of Scots). Mary (like Josephine Wilkinson’s talk on Katherine Howard at the 2016 Festival) is largely a misunderstood character who really had a sad and unfortunate personal life. I am also looking forward to William Sitwell’s talk on Lord Woolton who was Minister for Food during WW2. I’m also a Game of Thrones fan (though I’m still on season 3 – need to hurry and catch up!) so I’m interested to hear Helen Keen on Saturday afternoon.” Lily Bracegirdle Artists & Engagement Manager

“I really like the line-up for the Literary Lunch on Sunday. Matthew Dennison who will be talking about the life of Beatrix Potter (it’s also the 150th anniversary of her birth), which is complemented nicely by Marina Warner’s book about fairy tale and Clare Hartwell’s book which looks at the landscape and history of Derbyshire.” Lucy Durack Development Director

“I’m so excited for the book weekend this November as it encompasses all my favourite things – food, heritage, poetry and Derbyshire! I’m particularly looking forward to seeing The Odditorium on Saturday evening, I’ve been listening to David Bramwell’s podcasts (http://www.drbramwell.com/podcasts/) and I can’t wait for him and the other speakers to introduce their wonderfully eccentric characters from history. I’m also looking forward to buying all my Christmas presents early at the Waterstones pop-up shop!” Claire Barlow Literary & Outreach Manager

 

Guest blog: Ella Marchment on her Buxton Festival experience

After five years, five different jobs, five birthdays during London rehearsals, and sixteen productions, Buxton Festival has become so integral to shaping the artist I am today that I might well have been the privileged inhabitant of a fairy tale land for the past five years. At 24 years old, even though I am still one of the youngest company members I am only out-Buxtoned (in terms of years at the Festival) by head of music Annette Saunders (whom legend suggests has been at Buxton since the dawn of time), costume supervisor Mark Jones (who I got off to a great start with by blowing the fuse box of the house we lived in in Buxton year 1), production manager Sam Fraser, and I am also pipped to the post by Stephen Barlow by a year (he conducted a production in 2010). I’ve lived through the reign of two executive directors, and through the operas I’ve travelled between domestic confrontations in Austria to opium induced hallucinations in France, via the Italian mafia, Beethoven’s quest to find his eternal love in Vienna, and most recently ended up with William Shakespeare’s dead body and widow in Stratford.

I love opera because I love telling stories, and Buxton has provided me with invaluable opportunities over the years to indulge wholeheartedly in a fabulous variety of exotic and exciting tales, executed to incredibly high and exacting standards. Not only have I expanded my knowledge and comprehension of operatic repertoire through Buxton, but through the various jobs I have had in the Festival I have acquired the tools needed in order to run my own companies, to direct my own shows, to be a spokesperson for my genre, and to be independent minded. But most importantly of all, Buxton has taught me to value teamwork and collaboration.

My Buxton journey started aged 19 (yes actually in the Buddhist Arts Centre at Bethnal Green) in a production introduction for Intermezzo. I had written to over fifty companies asking for internships or to work as an assistant director and Buxton – via Randall Shannon’s predecessor Glyn Foley – was one of the only places that responded saying that they would take me on as a stage management intern. I leapt at the opportunity as I know that I am never happier than when I am in rehearsals, and immediately threw myself into supporting the stage management team on the three opera productions that year for Buxton. I spent most of the four weeks of London rehearsals making paper props for the various productions, and famously went on a wild goose chase around London for chocolate coins that Stephen Lawless insisted on having, only managing to find them after half a day of hunting in…

Harrods…in the form of chocolate Olympic medals. (I did mention that Buxton has a commitment to quality right?)

However, I already knew that I wanted to be a director, and within a few days most of the Buxton company did too as I would sneak into the back of rehearsals whenever I could with my score and sit in the corner whilst making props trying to grab glimpses of the rehearsal process. I. Was. In. Heaven. Not only that year did I learn how to make all sorts of period letters, but I gained an overview of the operatic production process.

I actually did a little dance for joy when Stephen Barlow asked me back the following year as the Young Artist assistant director. This time I was actually allowed to be in the rehearsal room all the time and doing what I dreamed of doing in the Festival. Also, the nature of the Young Artists Programme meant that as well as the two main productions, I was also introduced to two relatively contemporary pieces of music theatre (Stephen Oliver’s Exposition of a Picture and Stravinsky’s Renard) and felt like I really belonged to the team of other Young Artists.

After two years of incubation Stephen Barlow and Unwin agreed that it was time to unleash me as an assistant on the main productions – a role that I have now fulfilled on Stephen Unwin’s The Jacobin (2014) and Lucia di Lammermoor (2015), and Stephen Medcalf’s Leonore (2016). I was simultaneously allowed to sink my teeth into the concert operas from that year too (I looked after Rossini’s Otello in 2014 and Louise in 2015), and pre-performance talks.

I have now been at Buxton longer than I was ever at any school, and in many ways the Festival has given me far more practical skills and knowledge of my chosen industry than any other institution, college or school. I’ve looked forward to Buxton every year like a small child excitedly waiting to rush down to see whether Santa has visited on Christmas morning. Every year as soon as I’ve known I’ve been returning I’ve counted down the months in eager anticipation of another year, another opera, another opportunity to help another director bring their ideas to fruition, and another opportunity to spend time with a company that has become like a second family to me.

But what I am most grateful to Buxton for is for the fact that they have trusted in my competence as an artist and have taken risks in me at every turn. In the first year bringing me into a production department that I had virtually no prior knowledge of, in the second year giving me a real role in a company whilst most of my peers were still safe within the bounds of University life, for giving me my first real assistant jobs, for letting me look after the design of the concerts, for letting my imagination run wild in the cover shows, for giving me the opportunity to practice public speaking, and – most recently – for being co-producers in Helios Collective’s (the company I founded in December 2012) Hathaway in the 2016 Festival and providing me with an invaluable opportunity as a young director. Buxton has had faith where very few others have, and for that I will never be able to thank the family enough. Buxton isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life.

Ella Marchment Assistant Director Leonore

Chatting with Festival supporter Mark Sutherland

During the Festival, I sat down with Mark Sutherland who is a great supporter of the Festival.

So Mark, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I live in Sheffield where by day I am a career civil servant working in project management in the Department for Work and Pensions. Outside of work I enjoy travel, reading, drinking too much beer and wine, visiting museums and galleries, and attending opera and concerts. I regularly attend performances at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, BBC Proms and Wigmore Hall. Occasionally I also write reviews of these performances for the website classicaldiary.com. I am also a member of the BBC Trust’s Yorkshire Audience Council.

How did you first find out about Buxton Festival?

I was introduced to the Festival by a friend of mine Norma Hird who also happens to be a member of the Festival Board. Knowing my passion for opera and the fact I attend operas in the UK and abroad it was Norma who suggested I come to Buxton. I was ashamed to say that I hadn’t been to the Festival despite it being on my own doorstep.

What attracted you to the Festival, and what was the first event that you attended?

It was the variety of events and Norma’s steer that attracted me to the Festival back in 2012. The first event I attended was Intermezzo – an opera by Richard Strauss. As a lover of Strauss operas I thought this was a fantastic production with Janis Kelly terrific in the lead role. It was also the first time I had heard the fabulous Northern Chamber Orchestra who play such a critical role at the Festival each year.

Is there a particular part of the Festival that you like?

For me the unique selling point of the Buxton Festival is that it’s really three festivals in one; a fantastic marriage of opera, music and books. I love the fact the festival showcases rarely performed operas. Each day is varied from the talks and concerts in the morning and afternoon to the opera in the evening and then the late night jazz which makes the Festival very special.

Do you book your tickets fairly early? 

As a benefactor of the Festival I make good use of the priority booking period. So this year I booked my tickets in February which was just as well as several of the events I booked including the 9am talk with Nick Robinson and Peter Hennessy, and the Oldie Literary Lunch with Joan Bakewell and David Aaronovitch sold out quickly. The great innovation this year was that priority booking could now be done online which in my view was about time too.

Have you attended every year since you first visited the town and Festival?

Yes, since my first Festival in 2012 I have attended every year. I now try and spend around 10 days at the Festival going to as many events as I can. In addition I have attended the Autumn Literary Weekend since it was launched in 2014 and also various Friends of Buxton Festival events both in Buxton and London.

During the last five Festivals I have had some great experiences watching the operas and attending some fine concerts. It has also been great to meet in person some of the literary speakers. Personal favourites have included Alan Johnson, Gyles Brandreth, Peter Hennessy and Jean Seaton, the official historian of the BBC, who I met many times at the BBC Archives so it was great to hear her talking about her research. Each year I am an enthusiastic user of Twitter giving my feedback on events I have enjoyed.

What attracted you to the Festival this year?

It was the usual mixture of rarely performed operas, established and talented young musicians, alongside a range of interesting speakers.

What was your favourite event and why?

That’s a difficult question as there is always so much great stuff at the Festival. In the opera series I really enjoyed Beethoven’s Leonore. As someone who has seen Fidelio, the opera that Leonore eventually became, a number of times it was fascinating to see the genesis of this masterpiece. In the music series a standout was the concert from celebrated pianist Stephen Kovacevich. The late night jazz concerts in the Pavilion Cafe just get better and I loved the gigs from Jazz At The Movies and Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen. In the literary series Alexei Sayle was hilarious, Peter Hennessy entertaining in all three of his talks, and it was great to hear D J Taylor, a writer and critic I greatly admire. 

What would you say to someone who is new to opera?

Give it a go, don’t be scared. Opera is an art form for everyone not just the few. Many of the plots may be bonkers but the music and the singing will surely bowl you over. The glorious Frank Matcham designed Buxton Opera House is a terrific venue to enjoy a night of opera. Next year the Buxton Festival will be producing Benjamin Britten’s opera Albert Herring. This a great introduction for those new to opera. It’s a funny story, has some great music and is sung in English. Definitely give it a go!

What would you say to someone who is new to the Festival?

Enjoy all the Festival has to offer. Buxton is buzzing during July with the Fringe running alongside the main festival. Try and sample as much as you can whether it’s the opera, concerts or literary events. Buxton is definitely the “friendly” festival supported by a great Board of Directors and Executive Team, fantastic interns (some of whom end up working for the Festival full time!) and volunteers who all make sure you have a great time. I guarantee that if you come to the Buxton Festival, just like me, you will come back year after year!

Thanks, Mark!

Lucy Durack Development Director

Guest blog: a Buxton connection

Growing up in Buxton I never really considered that a career in Opera would ever be an option. In my head it was posh people in suits singing Nessun Dorma at football matches and that was about all I knew of it. How wrong I was! It wasn’t until the age of eleven when I developed an interest in singing and started having lessons with local teacher Clare O’Neill that the ball really got rolling. The beginnings of my singing training coupled with education projects at both the Buxton Festival and the G&S Festival sparked a love for all things opera and a career that I adore.

One of the earliest projects I was involved in at the Buxton Festival was a production called Burning Waters in 2000. This was a massive open-air promenade opera that moved all around the Pavilion Gardens and involved children from schools across the town to help perform, make costume, props and even write some of the libretto. I was chosen by my school to work with the librettist and help come up with some of the lyrics for the part of the opera that our class would be performing in. This alone was exhilarating but then getting to hear hundreds of people singing the words that I helped write was mind-blowing at that age. Little did I know that the director of this production, Caroline Clegg, and also some of the professional singers would become close friends and colleagues in the years to come as I moved into opera as a profession.

Move forward sixteen years and then having gone off to train at the RNCM before deciding to take the plunge and move into directing I was delighted when Stephen Barlow asked if I would like to be Assistant Director on this year’s production of Tamerlano. For me this opera is one of Handel’s greatest. The level to which people go to play with other’s emotions makes it truly heart wrenching stuff.

Getting to work with Francis Matthews on this production has been a fantastic experience as a young director. The level of insight into the character’s minds that Francis has and the different layers within them has been fascinating to pick apart. Being a part of this discovery process has been wonderful and I think we all feel like we’ve really got to know these characters and what makes them tick. I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting to pick it apart again still for the Scenes performance in a few weeks’ time with our covers. We’re still finalising a few details but let’s just say we’re planning to rock it out!

Mark Burns Tamerlano Assistant Director

The Tamerlano cover show is on 19 July at the Palace Hotel.

Festival for a Fiver

Are you under 30? Do you enjoy going to festivals, the theatre or live music events? Would you like to attend the opera and get discounted tickets and attend social events? Sign up to our FREE membership and enjoy Festival events with discounted tickets, and social events.

Simply send an email with your name, contact details and date of birth to lily@buxtonfestival.co.uk, and we’ll give you access to all the events at Buxton Festival – opera, music and books – for just £5 a ticket.

It’s a great way to experience all that Buxton Festival has to offer and to be a part of the most vibrant month in the Buxton calendar.

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