Kaleidoscope Choir visit Cavendish Hospital

This week the Kaleidoscope Community Choir gave a special performance at the Cavendish Hospital in Buxton. The patients of the Spencer Ward, who suffer from dementia and other mental health problems, were delighted to welcome us into their lounge for a sing song. Led by musical director Carol Bowns, the choir sang some of their favourite songs including Love Me Tender, My Bonnie, and an interesting alternative arrangement of Amazing Grace. The patients and staff of the ward particularly enjoyed hearing the choir’s own special song – Distant Peak – which was written for the choir by one of their own singers Jacob Eckert. Distant Peak is performed with an accompanying slideshow of images of the Peak District, also taken by Jacob. The patients found it particularly moving to see such beautiful photographs of the familiar landscape around the Peak District which emphasis the descriptive power of the words of this special song.  

Lots of research shows that music, and particularly singing, can help people suffering from dementia – reducing anxiety and increasing cognitive ability  We have seen this first hand in our performances on the Spencer Ward. Patients are moved to tears, smiles and laughter by familiar songs. We have also seen patients who struggle with communication come to life during our performances and join in with our songs or give their own performance of a favourite song.

Members of the Kaleidoscope Community Choir would like to thank the staff and patients of the Spencer Ward for inviting us to perform for them – we hope to return very soon.

Claire Barlow Literary & Outreach Manager

Arts Award at Burbage Primary

We can’t believe it’s nearly school half term! Since the beginning of October, we’ve been at Burbage Primary School delivering Arts Award Discover level to Year 4 children.

Arts Award is a portfolio-based qualification provided by Trinity College London and supported by Arts Council England. It gives children and young people the opportunity to learn about the arts, artists and art organisations, and to grow their arts and leadership talents. The structure is similar to that of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards with Bronze, Silver and Gold levels, and additionally Discover and Explore as introductory levels. Young people who attain their Gold level are awarded 35 UCAS points towards a university application. So far, we have been working for eight weeks in primary schools teaching the children about different art forms and introducing them to local artists and organisations. At the end of the eight-week programme the children get a certificate in a celebration assembly.

Our first session at Burbage began with a few warm-ups and games – one being to create an action for our name (mine was a Grease Lightning move). The first session was an introduction to the programme and for us to talk to the children about what art is, and whether they knew of any artists or consider themselves artists; the latter is always an interesting discussion in the first session. It was wonderful to see so many children talk about playing a musical instrument, and such a range too – singing, piano, recorder, guitar and drums to name a few! Some children also talked about having dance lessons, drawing and painting and writing stories. We also talked about other ways the children are artists, such as decorating a cake and how video games and graphics are also art forms. We rounded the session off with a game that I remember from being at primary school – Say Boom Chicka Boom – a call and response game with each round adopting a different voice – quiet, loud, fast, slow and the children came up with some of their own. 

Last week, the children met a local artist and painter and this week, we will be getting messy in the classroom, doing some crafts and painting based on a landmark or image of Buxton. The children will also be meeting other artists and taking part in workshops, including some singing, acting and drama and a visit to the Buxton Opera House! We can’t wait!

Lily Bracegirdle Artists & Engagement Manager | 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

Young Artists Programme 2016

Every year, Buxton Festival runs a Young Artists Programme which offers young opera singers a professional platform to train, rehearse and perform alongside principals in our productions. This year, seven young singers from the Royal Northern College of Music performed in Beethoven’s Leonore. Here, they reflect on their time at the Festival.

Matt Mears Tenor

The Young Artist Programme at Buxton Opera Festival has been an amazing experience this summer. The opportunity to be involved in a professional production, working with such talented performers, production team and staff, is invaluable to us as young performers. I have particularly enjoyed working with the rest of the Young Artists this year, it’s great to work with so many friends on a project over a couple of months. Once we were in and around Buxton itself we could relax and enjoy performing in Leonore, as well as watching the other amazing productions. 

Matthew Palfreyman Tenor

It was an incredible privilege to be able to perform as one of the young artists in the Buxton Festival Opera this year. Working on a full opera from the start of the rehearsal process to the final performance was an enlightening experience and gave me an insight into many aspects of rehearsal, organisation and performance that I had not previously been aware of. As a postgraduate student the opportunity to work with a professional chorus was invaluable at this stage of my education. The experience helped me to develop a deeper understanding of professional opera and allowed me to make further connections within the industry. Working as part of Buxton Festival Opera gave me the confidence and skills to successfully audition for roles in other Opera productions. Leonore was an inspired choice of opera and to work in Buxton was a real delight. I would love to return to work with the Festival Opera.

Ranald McCusker Tenor

The Young Artist Programme offers a real insight into the professional world of opera. For a young singer, the programme is an opportunity to work professionally with experienced singers and accustomed musicians. I had a rewarding time with the company with some great colleagues. The performances will always be a highlight, and I feel I have left with more stagecraft experience and I am grateful to have worked with some great singers. I had some memorable times with great friends, and I hope to work with Buxton again at some point in the future. 

Henry Ngan Tenor

I graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music with a Masters. The Young Artists Programme is a great opportunity for us to participate in such a large opera and music festival, singing alongside world-class artists. This provided an essential platform for us to gain stage experience, responding to conductor and director’s command and our sense of space on stage. As a Young Artist, I also received some coaching sessions with different Festival music staff to assist with my learning and practice, and I became much more aware of my singing and musicality. Buxton is a very beautiful place and it was great to sing in the historical opera house, which is very elegant and detailed, like the music we produced. All the colleagues were nice and energetic, and together we created a warm and friendly atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoyed every part of the programme.

Ed Gaffney Baritone

My name is Ed and I have loved being part of Buxton Festival this summer as a young artist. I am currently a student at the Royal Northern College of Music and first experienced the Festival as an intern two years ago. I quickly fell for the charm of Buxton and was inspired by the talented artists and staff. Therefore, I was thrilled to gain a place on the Young Artist Programme (YAP) this year. The programme has offered me the opportunity to join a professional cast and crew and experience the creative construction of one of the Festival’s operas from score to performance. The YAP provides an insight into rehearsal etiquette and allowed us to fully integrate into the Festival Chorus. We also received coaching as part of the programme which was led by the hugely experienced and renowned music staff that work as part of the Festival. Being a Buxton Young Artist has been such an important step along my opera training path, providing me with a clearer outlook on the journey ahead. 

Matthew Nuttall Baritone

I auditioned for Buxton’s Young Artists Programme to gain professional experience in the opera world. The programme has been great, rehearsing and being on stage with such talented singers and musicians has been amazing. I have had an incredible time with colleagues old and new and I can only smile looking back on my experience as a chorus member in Beethoven’s Leonore. Being a Young Artist has had many rewards for me; the whole process has been fantastic and I have gained so much experience in the last month, watching, listening to and being involved with the production. My time at Buxton has been one I’ll never forget and I hope I can return again in the future.

David Cane Baritone

It has been a real pleasure participating in the Buxton Festival on the Young Artists Programme this year, performing in the chorus of Leonore. From the first rehearsal in London we were all made to feel very welcome by the production team and all the other members of the company. I loved the overall concept for the production and it was great fun working alongside the Festival Chorus, even if my knees didn’t enjoy it quite as much – what with all the crawling! During the Festival itself, it was fantastic to get to know Buxton as a town – and there was so much going on all over the place! What an amazing way to spend the summer – working with such talented and inspiring musicians and for such a friendly team!


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

Artistic Director Stephen Barlow reflects on the 2016 Buxton Festival

‘The first Festival weekend is without doubt a visceral and hugely rewarding explosion, exuding an excitement, summing up as it does much more than the year-long planning trajectory.’

It’s a pleasure to write in the afterglow of the 2016 Buxton Festival, when memory is filled to overflowing not only with the enormous number of events, operas, concerts and talks, but also with such enthusiasm for the artists who were with us, and the audiences who were so fulsome in their praise and interest. There is so much to talk about but forgive a slightly random selection of topics.

The year long preparation for each Festival has several phases across many disciplines including fund raising, marketing, logistical planning and company management which means drawing together all the strands of accommodation, contact sheets, rehearsal schedules and rehearsal venue booking to name a few. The Festival Company is large as you’d imagine; principal artists, directors, designers, conductors, stage, production and technical managers, choristers and young artists, repetiteurs, assistant directors, props supervisor, costume and wigs supervisors, dressers, lighting designers, concert managers, volunteer ushers and not least, the members of the Northern Chamber Orchestra. The extended company of course includes every concert artist and every speaker, each one of which has travel, accommodation and rehearsal requirements. I know of no other Festival on our scale that brings such a huge number of visiting artists who form our Festival’s offerings each year. Three new opera productions alone make enormous demands upon any planning exercise. Grange Park for example produces three operas each summer, but Buxton Festival offers much more than that. It’s salutary to look at the size of back-up staff involved elsewhere. In comparison, we have a small office staff working year round, so you can imagine the extraordinary motivation required amongst those who provide the foundation upon which the Company of artists arrive to deliver the Festival. It has to be exceptional.

But lest one might fall into the trap of thinking that it is only year long preparation that is pertinent, the artistic planning that falls to me looks further and further ahead. We now work to a rolling three year planning cycle, which is necessary of course to build a vision of strategic planning not only in terms of repertoire and programming in general but also in terms of interesting and drawing artists to us, artists, directors and conductors who have engagements in their diaries stretching two, three or four years ahead. Forward strategic planning is also important to our private and corporate donors alike; they need to see development, aspiration and purpose in our vision of what the Festival is and will be. So our repertoire for the next three years is accordingly already planned, and I shall write about this very soon.

I said in one of the many speeches required of me this summer at Buxton that I was one of the luckiest people alive, only to be countered by Alan Davey the controller of Radio 3 who was present at that performance of Leonore, whose claim he felt as controller of such an enormous output including the Proms probably trumped mine! But the pleasure I have in carefully choosing operas amongst so much else, and then directors and conductors and finally casting wonderful artists very thoughtfully, is intense. This is only exceeded by the most gratifying of all feelings, the joy of performing and seeing opening nights, when the quality of the artists and all involved goes well beyond what one in a balanced way dreamed of. So the truly wonderful international cast of Leonore, the exquisitely subtle and refined cast of Tamerlano, and the enormously skilled and brave cast of Capuleti stole my heart and those of the audiences and critics too. It’s enormously enjoyable also to see the directors and conductors, friends all, delving deeply into the core of these three operas and creating new insights that made me not the only one to go back time and time again to see more performances.

One of our greatest sadnesses in this profession is knowing that most likely all our new productions will be put to sleep, or rather cast aside after the Festival closes, because storage for us is far too expensive an option, and try as we might to provide for one, an after-life for any production anywhere is rare. Having said that, we do aim to, and we are discussing at this time the possibility of some of our productions being seen elsewhere in the near future – this is the holy grail of aspiration and good business of course.

People so often in this world of short sound bytes perhaps but also more widely from habit, want to talk about their ‘picks’ or ‘hits’ or ‘favourites’ from this Festival or that, or Proms season, or Opera season; I find this quite difficult. Interviewers often want a précis of ‘highlights’ on which to focus their article, or to pin their subjects down to bite-sized elements. Most often I’ve been asked for a favourite opera, easy but not as easy as you’d think, or a favourite opera house, or favourite composer, or more close to home favourite artist in the Festival or special concert in the making. I’m afraid I don’t do this lightly. My wife might be allowed to press me into answering a question such as which composer actually has contributed most to a love and appreciation of music and musicality in the broadest sense. But I’d give you five of the most important composers if asked, with the caveat that the entire issue is personal to me, not polemical in the slightest. Well, perhaps just a little bit polemical, but not too much! So what would I say about the Festival just past bearing in mind the complexity of the question?

When I was at Cambridge as an organ scholar, full of the joys of professionalism beckoning, I went home for a weekend and heard the Chelmsford Cathedral Choir in concert performing Tallis’ ‘If ye love me’, a sublimely simple deeply affecting short motet. Professional choirs of course sing this wonderfully, but the performance of the amateur cathedral choir had a simplicity and commitment that brought tears to my eyes. I’ve never forgotten it. There’s a moral in this. Of course Angela Hewitt’s and Stephen Kovacevich’s recitals were quite fabulous, as they should have been, unerring musicians of such quality and dedication as they are. And Sarah Jane Brandon’s Strauss and James Gilchrist’s Vaughan-Williams were deeply affecting. Then there was the Manchester Chamber Choir’s fervent Bach and McMillan. And then quite a few of our Opera principals performing major roles for the very first time and without exception proving masters and mistresses of them, and a glittering future awaits them. Then very specially, the Schubert Ensemble playing a programme specifically tailored for our Festival audiences who above all are so intelligently curious, including the Schumann Piano Quartet which is so often overshadowed by the Piano Quintet. Playing of their quality and insight only comes with maturity and experience. This was very special for me. Equally exceptional and rare are talks such as Peter Hennessey’s with Nick Robinson, freed from broadcasting as they both were, discussing political interviewing with pin point lucidity and easy charm.

The greatest joy though is to plan a Festival with an inner structure of mini-festivals, as so many of our audience come to Buxton for several or many days, to see all three operas and take in as much of the concerts and talks as they can. They share my own curiosity which is so essential and such a natural part of a love for the arts and artists.

Nothing can be more thrilling though than the opening weekend of the Festival. First nights are the apogee of all we do, and for all the artists too. Everything in our planning and preparation aims for this stunning weekend, the opening of three new opera productions in strict succession, a technical achievement alone of some proportion to say the least. Of course performances of a work grow and mutate when repeated – that’s why I particularly love doing as much opera as I do, because we rehearse much more than for concerts and we then can live within the piece longer, and naturally, no performance is ever identical. But opening nights are what we aim for, and what we structure every element of careful preparation and rehearsal specifically for.  It’s easy to forget that nearly every symphony concert, in this country at least, is an opening night, and probably the only night! In the world of opera we take the same pains and view, to produce the best at opening night. The first Festival weekend is without doubt a visceral and hugely rewarding explosion, exuding an excitement, summing up as it does much more than the year-long planning trajectory. All those who dedicate their lives to an eclectic but closely focused arts Festival such as Buxton have the required single mindedness; the reward is our intelligent audience’s appreciation. I look forward to the whole process coming to happy fruition once more next summer with eagerness and confidence.

Stephen Barlow Artistic Director

Guest blog: Elin Pritchard on Hathaway

This is possibly one of the biggest challenges I have taken on as a opera singer.
When I first received the script I just didn’t know where to start. I had done a small amount of dialogue in opera however the last time I’d learnt lines like this was when I was studying A Level drama. My home town and London have seen me muttering on the train, out walking and even in the gym. Learning lines without a melody is rather foreign so it’s taken a huge amount of time to get them ingrained in me!

Anne as a character is a wonderful strong woman whom both Ella and I wanted to show. The range of emotions she experiences during her time with William are enormous! We had to focus closely on how her dramatic journey progress throughout the show, she had a really tough time! We’ve also added a few little interesting snippets that may persuade the audience that Anne had more to do with William’s work than we’re aware of.

I have eight arias/songs in total. To say it’s a vocal marathon is an understatement. Every aria has its challenges, I’ve had to look carefully at the pacing of the show as most of the pieces are enormous and singing them back to back is difficult to say the least! I’m attempting to find as many colours as possible throughout the music, we don’t have the luxury of an orchestra however with Noah’s playing and also the work we’ve done on each piece, we’re hoping we can draw in the audience to this magical mix of wonderful music!

I am nervous but also a little excited to see how the audience react to the show. It’s definitely a new experience for me and I don’t think anyone has attempted something quite like this in a recital venue before. I hope everyone enjoys this wonderful story and journey of Anne Hathaway.

Elin Pritchard Soprano

Guest blog: singer Owen Willetts on why it’s a pleasure to be back in Buxton

It has been such a pleasure to come back to Buxton. My childhood memories of this beautiful town mainly consist of twice weekly band practice, marching through the rain to the beat of a drum, and trying to wriggle some warmth back into my fingers whilst we played on Remembrance Sunday. I grew up in the small village of Bamford in the Hope Valley, and from ages 11 to 16 I played with the Burbage Brass Band (Buxton’s finest.) Every Tuesday and Friday night, come rain or snow, my father and I would drive over the moors  to rehearsals. Then I turned 16 and, my hormones getting the better of me, I decided that my Friday nights were much better spent elsewhere. 

But I’ve always had a place in my heart for brass bands, and for Buxton. Which was why I was so excited when I was asked to come and sing in this year’s Festival. Not only did it mean working with the brilliant Laurence Cummings and the English Concert orchestra, and having the chance to perform Handel’s Tamerlano in Frank Matcham’s beautiful opera housebut it also meant I would be coming home to work. Since arriving I have had the chance to explore and rediscover Buxton: the beautiful 18th and 19th century architecture; the glorious views from Solomon Mycock’s temple; the warren-like five storey bookshop Scrivener’s and it’s working harmonium, and some really fine fish and chips. 

We had our opening night on 10 July, and after all of the weeks of hard work and fun, I think we were definitely ready to share what we had created. We’re so lucky to be working with such a wonderful cast and creative team. Francis, our incredible director comes from a theatre background and has helped us to explore these complicated characters and their emotions. I sang with Paul Nilon (Bajazet) about ten years ago having just left music college, and I remember then being amazed by the incredible commitment and artistry he brought to his role; he really is an inspiration. 

Of course I popped my head in on band practice the first opportunity I had, and 20 years later there are still some familiar faces, including the conductor and his wife the principle horn (my old job!), who have also swelled the band’s numbers with their two young daughters. It was wonderful to hear them again, and playing so well! 

Owen Willetts Andronico Tamerlano

Festival opera series highly praised in the press

“Serious psychological drama and seriously good singing”. Just one of the many reviews of praise for the three operas here at Buxton Festival. This one in particular from Planet Hugill on Francis Matthews’ interpretation of Handel’s Tamerlano. The conductor of Tamerlano also received high praises for his interpretation of the music, with Dominic Lowe of Bachtrack expressing that “Laurence Cummings’ English Concert produced a supple, golden sound that managed to combine constant drama with delicacy.” Buxton Festival’s other two operas have received particularly high praise for the quality of their opera casts and chorus’. The Times newspaper has given the Festival a particularly good review of the chorus in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, conducted by Justin Doyle, “Deftly choreographed, Buxton’s chorus of 16 suggests a far greater number of soldiers and rebel forces, their movements quick, decisive and violent, their singing clean”. Similar praises for the festivals chorus were reverberated by Mark Ronan of Theatre reviews, with him writing of the “Fine singing by the chorus, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra under the superb baton of Justin Doyle fully bringing out the lyrical passion of Bellini’s music.”

Buxton Festival’s opening night opera Leonore has received some excellent praise too, with critics being thrilled by the Festival’s bold choice of opera repertoire in choosing to perform this opera as supposed to Beethoven’s Fidelio. The Telegraph were especially pleased with this choice, asserting praises for the Festivals Artistic Director. “All praise to Stephen Barlow whose conducting of the Northern Chamber Orchestra combines ferocity with warmth and grandeur.” The Guardian newspaper has given a resounding review, expressing praise at the cast’s commitment, “There’s a commitment here on the part of the Buxton singers, orchestra and chorus that is frequently impressive”. With audiences receiving committed and resounding performances, the Guardian also had high praise for soprano Kirstin Sharpin, stating that it was an “impassioned performance”.

With tickets still available, it would be a shame to miss such dedicated and passionate performances. All the operas in this year’s series have fascinating and captivating plots. There is drama, tragedy and comedy, something for everyone. Tickets are still available, but going fast. There are also tickets available for £5 for anyone under 30. As Dominic Lowe of Bachtrack expressed when writing about I Capuleti e i Montecchi, “The overall impression from this performance was that it is a well-cast, well-rehearsed and well-played production. Worth catching if at all possible.” Don’t miss out!

Oliver Gildea Festival Intern

Guest blog: Carol Bowns on Kaleidoscope Choir

Kaleidoscope Choir is looking forward to sharing the songs they have been working as a Buxton Festival Fringe event.  The main aim of the choir is to meet and have fun singing together rather than learn work to create a programme for a performance.  Some of us feel that creates unnecessary pressure, and yet…!  We’ve worked hard learning to sing in parts and create harmonies.  Quite an achievement that is worth letting others hear.  So we hope we have achieved a happy compromise with our showcases which we run like an open rehearsal.  It’s a chance to let an audience hear how we learn and remember our songs to bring them to performance level.  We also make sure there are opportunities for the audience to join in and find out how much fun it is singing together.  This was particularly moving when we visited patients and their relatives at Cavendish Hospital.

We rehearse Tuesday lunchtimes in the Dress Circle Bar at Buxton Opera House which is a lovely, intimate space – almost too much so, as with growing numbers, we’re beginning to feel a bit cramped!  But it’s a treat to hear comments from people who have heard us when they have visited the box office or passed by on the concourse.  With administrative and financial support from Buxton Festival, this is a valuable outreach collaboration between the two organisations.

Our Fringe event is on Tuesday 12 July, 1pm at United Reformed Church (Fringe venue 55).

Carol Bowns Kaleidoscope Choir Leader