Los Nacimientos – Composer Tom Randle on his exciting new project for Buxton International Festival

d4cc46_41a7e5f0829a48a9bff3afc9c01dba28-mv2_d_5220_3484_s_4_2Los Nacimientos is a new, interdisciplinary dance/ theatre piece created in collaboration with dotdotdot dance. The piece itself began life as a song cycle – a setting of texts by the Nobel prize-winning Chilean revolutionary poet Pablo Neruda. The original cycle consisted of five settings of some of his most beautiful and sensuous texts, and has been performed on numerous occasions both in the UK and abroad by the excellent Canadian-British soprano Gillian Keith and superb pianist John Reid.

When I first encountered the poems of Neruda, I was struck not only by the sheer beauty of the words, but also by their immense strength and vitality. While it is clear that Neruda’s more politicised verses were capable of uniting a nation, his more intimate, romantic poems are every bit as powerful. Another aspect of his poetry is the fact that they are, in themselves, so very musical. The lightness and lyricism of his words made it a joy to set to music.

Although the song cycle in its original form had been received very successfully, it was after seeing a performance by dotdotdot dance at in the Buxton Fringe festival that the idea was hatched to work with them and put these two elements – 21st century Art Song and flamenco infused choreography – together. The ensuing result is the piece entitled Los Nacimientos (The Births). The title is taken from another of Neruda’s poems.

Since meeting with dotdotdot dance, the work has been expanded. Two new songs were added to the original set of five, and four piano interludes, called ‘Capitulos’ (‘Chapters’) were written to be interspersed among the sung poems. As Nerudas poems are so full of fantastic imagery, many of which focus on the elemental, we can expect to see choreography of immense strength and power to compliment an equally dynamic musical performance.

The goal of Los Nacimientos is to a forge a new type of theatre combining music, dance, sound and vision into a cohesive whole and bring to life the incredible verses of Pablo Neruda in a way never before seen. We hope that those already familiar with Neruda will welcome the chance to revisit his work in a brand new way, and for those encountering his poems for the first time, I can promise an extraordinary and unforgettable evening.


Los Nacimientos will be performed at the Pavilion Arts Centre on Saturday 15 and Saturday 22 July at 7.30pm.

Buxton Poetry Competition winners announced


A highlight of the Buxton Festival Book Weekend was our poetry competition prize giving. Competition judges Matt Black, Philip Holland and Rob Stephens were joined on stage by winning poets from all three categories of the competition.

The event was opened by competition patron Lady Jasmine Cavendish who talked about the hard work that poets from across the country and the world (including USA, Canada, Brazil and Slovenia) had put into their poems. The winners of the Children’s and Youth Categories were then announced with the winning poets reading their poems to rapturous applause from the audience.

Following a speech by Professor Peter Dewhurst from competition sponsor The University of Derby the winners in the Open Category were announced in reserve order. Fifth place went to Ruth Quinn with her charming poem The Hidden Dragon. Fourth Place was awarded to Josh Ekroy for Entrepreneurs. Third Place was the wonderful A Winter Interlude by Philip Burton. Margaret Morey’s delightful poem Sixties Secret was in Second Place. And the First Prize in the Open Category of the 2016 Buxton Poetry Competition went to Roger Elkin with his moving piece called Songs Without Words.

Songs Without Words by Roger Elkin

What really stuck in Mum’s craw that next Summer
was surrendering her Bechstein baby grand,
that alter of arrival at which she’d taken daily stock
of her upbringing, and her mother’s sacrifice
putting her to the upright. Oh, how she’d ladedahed
at family and friends as graduating to this black-lacquered anvil
straddling the corner of her front room.

So would tackle it, side-saddling the piano-stool’s chintz,
hands lifting and flashing, trafficking the ruffles of notes
as if the caressing of ivories, the spread-fingered rending
were her sole hope of regaining self.

The she’s put all her stumbling discord
back together again with the sweet-saccharine
middle-class fanciness of those Songs Without Words,
the genius of Mendelssohn – uncircumcised Jewboy
become good Lutheran – in sister Fanny’s filigree piano-pieces:
musical antimacassars covering the vulnerabilities
of nothingness, the notes clustering
like sticky flies sucking at ripe blackberries
while Dad smiled wryly with his put-on face,
his fingers itching to switch his TV back to life.

So, from the moment the piano left–
legs rag-swagged for protection,
then jacked into the back
of Cheetham’s van ­–
she felt abandoned.

But never let on what she inwardly termed
My mortification,
till decades later after Dad had gone.

All that time, she kept schtum,
silently rehearsing
her version of words without songs.

Competition organiser Claire Barlow comments: it was a delight to meet all our shortlisted poems at the prize giving event. And to hear them read their poems to a warm audience of judges, patron, friends, family and supporters was a joy. I was particularly impressed by the stage-craft of our young winners who read their poems with great style and confidence.

Information on the 2017 Buxton Poetry Competition will be announced in the new year via www.buxtonfestival.co.uk. Thank you to all who entered this year, and congratulations to our winners and runners up.

Book Weekend 2016 complete programme announced

The complete programme for the Book Weekend running from 18-20 November has now been finalised with new additions Germaine Greer, David Templeman and Clare Hartwell. 

To see the full programme, follow the link to the digital version of the brochure here.

Visit the website to book your tickets now!


Buxton Poetry Competition – Now Open!

Buxton Poetry Competition is now open!

Our annual poetry competition is now accepting entries on the theme of Hidden. Here we talk to the competition organiser Claire Barlow.

Hi Claire, please can you tell us a bit about the history of the competition?

Hello, I’ve been running the competition for eight years now and every year it is a delight to be involved! The competition started when Buxton Festival and the University of Derby got together to create a joint project which would encourage people from across the country to have a go at creative writing. We had no idea that we would get so many great entries over the years and from people as far away as Australia, the United States and Brazil!

Wow, do people really enter from Brazil?

Yes they do, and we get entries from across Europe too. Every year I look forward to getting a parcel of entries from the same school in Slovenia, it puts me to shame that the young people can write poetry in English when I can’t say ‘hello’ in Slovenian!

But you don’t judge the competition do you?

No I don’t (thank goodness, with 600 poems to read!) We have a great team of judges each year who do take the time to read all the poems entered and to create a shortlist of poems. Then the judges whittle that list down further to choose a first, second, third, Highly Commended and Commended winner from each category. We have three categories allowing poets of all ages to enter, there is Children’s Poetry for those under 12 years old, Young People’s Poetry for those aged 12 to 18 and our Open Category for poets over the age of 18. What’s great is that the Children’s and Young People’s Categories are free to enter so young people from all backgrounds can enter the competition without any financial barriers.

Are the judges the same each year?

Matt Black
Poet Matt Black

No, I like to have a few new faces each year to keep things fresh and fair. All judging is done totally anonymously, I make sure of that, but it is nice to know that we get new perspectives and opinions from our judges each year. This year we welcome Matt Black as our Open Category judge. Matt won the competition in 2013 so we’re delighted to welcome him back as a judge this time.

This year’s competition theme is Hidden, can you tell us why the poetry competition has a theme?

The idea behind having a theme is to focus writers’ attention and to provide a stimulus to spark the imagination. We want people to create new work for the competition not to just enter something that was written a few years ago that they submit to every competition going. I also really like the idea that we are creating a collective body of work. Each year we publish an anthology of the shortlisted poems and I feel that a theme gives that document added purpose and impact. It is also fascinating to see how poets interpret our theme. I usually have a few ideas of what people will write about, but each year there are winning poems that surprise me in the way they answer our brief, and that’s great!

Can schools enter the competition?

Yes, we love getting entries from schools from across the country. The entries can’t be group efforts though, each child needs to write their own poem. I think kids will love the theme this year, I imagine poems from the younger entrants about hidden treasure, hide-and-seek and lost toys.

What do people need to do to enter the competition?

You need to visit http://www.buxtonfestival.co.uk/outreach/poetry-competition/ to download an entry pack. This has all the competition rules and entry information plus a form to fill in to send back with your poems. The closing date of the competition is 26th August, so you have plenty of time to perfect your work. For any more information please send me an email at claire@buxtonfestival.co.uk.

When will the winners be announced?

The winners will be announced at the Buxton Festival Book Weekend in November 2016. At this special event we’ll hear all the shortlisted poems read by their authors, plus some work from our current and past judges. Then our Patron Lady Jasmine Cavendish will announce the winners of the competition for 2016. This year our top prize in the Open Category has been increased to £500 so it’s really worth having a go at entering the competition.

Thanks Claire, we’re off to write our entry now…

In association with

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Shakespeare at Buxton Festival

This year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. His plays have been transported into the opera (and ballet) world, and his poetry and sonnets are still well-known and read today. This year, Buxton Festival will be marking the anniversary with a number of writers/speakers, musicians and an opera that have all been inspired by Shakespeare!

How was Shakespeare pronounced? is the title of a talk by David Crystal who will explore the Shakespearean language on 10 July, while Andrew Dickson (his book cover of Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys around Shakespeare’s Globe at the top) on 17 July takes us on a journey to understand how Shakespeare’s works have found a home across the world, and the most unexpected of places. It doesn’t just end there – on 19 July, Assistant Director of Leonore, Ella Marchment, directs a performance based on the life of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway – performed by Elin Pritchard (Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor 2015) – weaving together arias and songs that use Shakespearean text. A recital by tenor Nicky Spence, accompanied by Simon Lepper, As You Like It – Shakespeare Songs, offers a range of songs from Britten and Poulenc, to Purcell, Schubert and Tippett. Manchester Chamber Choir on 17 July features a selection of Shakespearean songs by Paul Mealor and Vaughan Williams (amongst others), and Buxton Festival Fringe’s Shakespeare Juke Box will be outside Buxton Opera House. One of the Festival operas this year is Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi (see it on 9, 13, 16, 20 & 23 July). Artistic Director Stephen Barlow recently wrote a piece in the Festival’s newsletter about Bellini and his opera, which is in fact based ‘on other Italian sources’. In case you missed it, here it is below.

Vincenzo Bellini was born in Catania at a time when Catania was a thriving city of grandeur, status and artistic fertility. His education was hardly all embracing, albeit there was a period when he was immersed in the music of Haydn and Mozart. Principally his life revolved around the music of contemporary Italians over whom Rossini towered. Bellini is said to have remarked after he saw his first opera by Rossini, Semiramide, that there was no purpose in anyone else trying to do anything. However, his adoration of Donizetti in particular led to his career blossoming and he was soon in demand as a composer who knew how to produce in the style of bel canto to please his audiences. But ‘bel canto’ goes nowhere near describing Bellini’s insight and rare talent to ally narrative and psychology within  ostensibly melodic parameters. Verdi was in awe of Bellini’s melodic talent certainly, apparently saying that ‘there are extremely long melodies as no-one else had ever made before’. He was also described romantically as the Swan of Catania as his reputation grew. It was in Germany where this deeper  dramatic talent was truly recognised, and as Tim Ashley writes ‘Wagner, who rarely liked anyone but himself, was spellbound by Bellini’s almost uncanny ability to match music with text and psychology. Liszt and Chopin professed themselves fans’. Wagner intervened in typically magisterial terms in an esoteric but heated debate in Germany with a full justification of Bellini’s seemingly innocent works attesting that behind the purity of simple melody lay deep dramatic artistry.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi was composed in about 5 or 6 weeks, very hurriedly to commission although you would never know it, based not on Shakespeare but on other old Italian sources. Capuleti is Bellini’s first opera in his prime written before he was 30 years old, and within the five years following he composed SonnambulaI Puritani and Norma which remain as three of the most complete and inspired operas of the time. It was the first Bellini opera I conducted and it was in Catania’s aptly named Teatro Bellini with the well-known soprano Mariella Devia as Giulietta. A beautiful statue of the great man stands outside the theatre, such is the value placed on his legacy. Alas, the Bellini cocktail has nothing to do with him at all, but Pasta alla Norma, a Catanese dish based on aubergines certainly does, named by a Director who claimed that the aubergine dish was as sublime as Bellini’s opera, Norma. Heinrich Heine held Bellini in very high regard, and although he described him as ‘a sigh in dancing pumps’ is quoted as telling Bellini he was ‘a genius and all geniuses die a premature death, like Raphael and Mozart’, which apparently he took to heart. He did in fact die at the early age of 34, only two years short of Mozart’s life span, and we can only speculate in sadness and admiration about what great works might have followed if he had lived longer.

Stephen Barlow Artistic Director

So, as you can see the Festival has much to offer to honour ‘England’s national poet’ and ‘Bard of Avon’. Public booking opened on 29 March so be sure to get in early to avoid disappointment!