Stepping to the ‘other side’ as festival founder has proved a welcome challenge
Why the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival? I was brought up in Harpenden where my parents run a music school: Harpenden Musicale. I've always wondered if it might be possible to start a festival in my home county of Hertfordshire one day, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Having played at many festivals around the world, I caught the bug and began to search for an opportunity to launch one myself. Last year I gave a recital with Melvyn Tan in Welwyn Garden City to which the promoter, Mary Anstey, had been inviting me for years. Mary mentioned that she was stepping down but thinking of continuing to organise concerts in Hertfordshire. I mentioned my idea of a festival and, as it happened, the timing was perfect since Mary had a meeting set up in Hatfield House shortly afterwards. And so one thing led to another.
We had a look around the various venues in the grounds and I immediately saw the perfect environment for a chamber music festival. From the Old Palace to the Marble Hall via St Etheldreda's Church, this beautiful house is just perfect for a music festival! The grounds are stunning and, with a restaurant on site, we hope it will encourage people to join us for afternoon as well as evening concerts.
We are very fortunate that many distinguished artists will be performing at the festival. The Sixteen, who will be singing in the closing concert, have performed at Hatfield House before and were intending to give a concert there the weekend prior to Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival. It occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to include them on the programme. We're incredibly fortunate to have other eminent musicians involved, including the Navarra Quartet, members of the Aronowitz Ensemble, Jack Liebeck, Esther Hoppe, Mark Simpson, Tim Boulton, Alasdair Beatson, Ken Aiso, and Robin Michael. We have involved all the musicians in a rich and varied programme during the course of the weekend, including masterpieces dating from Bach to the present day. I couldn't resist scheduling the miraculous Schubert String Quintet for the opening concert.
We worked hard to enrich the programme with a variety of works, which will broaden the relevance of classical music and reach out to new audiences. The education concerts and family events are there to encourage young children as well as adults to get involved and to consider picking up an instrument if they haven't done so already.
I've been amazed by the amount of logistics involved and if it wasn't for Mary and her husband, Chris Goward, it would have been impossible to make this happen. There is an incredible list of tasks to consider: from setting up the festival with charitable status, to organising insurance, staging, lighting, piano hire, funding, accommodation for the musicians, leaflets and distribution, programmes, networking, spreading the word: the list goes on. It has been exceptionally hard work but I know once the music is in motion it will all have been worthwhile.
The support of certain individuals has been indispensible: Ivan Mosley, who has written all the insightful programme notes; the Sheldon Family who are generously allowing the musicians to rehearse in their music room in London leading up to the Festival. Bob Boas very kindly housed the launch concert in London, which was presented by Sean Rafferty from the BBC In Tune programme. I'm delighted that many of the people involved are friends who have supported my endeavours for a number of years.
What was an initial seed of an idea has grown tremendously in a very short space of time. One always faces the challenge of gathering sufficient funds and resources when undertaking any large-scale project and we have been very fortunate to receive support from the Marquess of Salisbury, who has agreed to house the festival and become a Patron. We now have 7 Trustees, Friends of the festival, Founding Benefactors and a community of volunteers, all helping to create an exciting inaugural festival.
We have been very lucky to (touch wood) not face too many serious challenges when launching the festival. Maybe we were concerned about the cost of wine at one point, but in the end, we decided to include a glass with the ticket sales. People can decide on the night themselves if they'd like to indulge more...!
In amongst the various meetings, I have found great pleasure in organising the festival. It has been a whole new experience being ‘on the other side’ and I have experienced what a complex process it can be. Who would have known a 4-day festival would become an almost full-time business! I wouldn't have missed this opportunity for anything and it has been a joy to see things developing even while I've been performing all over the world.
When you think of what a momentous year it has been with the Queen's Jubilee, during which her Majesty visited Hatfield House, the 2012 London Olympics, and all during a deep recession…What better time to launch a new festival?! We do hope to get everything off to a great start and everyone is excited to share in this wonderful music with you.
Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival takes place from September 20-23, 2012. For more information please visit hatfieldhousemusicfestival.org.uk.
Leading British cellist Guy Johnston is the founder of the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, which runs from September 20-23, 2012. Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2000, he is a founding member of the Aronowitz Ensemble, a professor of cello at the Royal Academy of Music and patron of charities for developing musical education in children. (photo © Jack Liebeck)