Posted by: buxtonfestival | August 22, 2012

A day in the life of Music Director for James and the Giant Peach

A day in the life of Music Director for James and the Giant Peach

My job as Music Director for this project essentially involved teaching four groups of children – 100 in total – the score of James And The Giant Peach. We had four different groups working on this project – two primary schools based near New Mills, one secondary school in Buxton and a youth choir based in Buxton. We also had two boys sharing the part of James himself.

A typical visit for me involved setting off from Nottingham at 7am and driving to New Mills. I’d spend the first 2 hours at Thornsett. In a typical workshop, we would do some warm-ups and then learn and rehearse the songs. If they have worked hard, as a reward I teach them the rabbit routine which they all love – you have to see it to understand but it’s basically silly moves to the Nutcracker suite! This group are a regular choir so they were used to the discipline of singing and rehearsal. Then Iwould hotfoot it to Buxton to catch St Thomas More for half an hour at lunch, and then another hour after school. This was the largest group – 40 students aged between 12 and 16. They have a mixed group, some very talented singers and performers and some with less experience. The last visit of the day is to the Madhatters Choir – who are always full of crisps and exuberant energy and great fun to rehearse. After that I may also have a rehearsal with James himself. The next morning I would drive back up to New mills, to visit HagueBarPrimary School. Here I worked with a whole class, which represents a different challenge. There are some lovely singers in the class but they are not so used to singing and performing together, so there can be quite a bit of cajoling and psychology involved in getting them to perform on a cold, wet Thursday morning. The staff were all great and very supportive in the process.

One of the great joys of the job is the travel and the scenery. I have experienced Derbyshire in the mist, the snow, the rain, the fog and even occasional glorious sunshine! And it is always breathtaking. Especially the early morning trip out to New Mills from Buxton.

My job also involved liaising with Graham Hall, who arranged the score for a 5 piece ensemble; he did a fantastic job – very inventive, creative arrangements that bring the songs to life. Sometimes I would have to ask him to make changes to help the children where I think they might have difficulties. I also worked closely with Liz, who is Choreographer for the event. I let her know how the children are getting on and we work out which bits each group will sing and dance.

My background is conducting, singing, piano playing and workshop leading, and I have to use all these skills at different times to get the job done.  The piece comprises 17 songs and one of my first and most important jobs is to decide who sings what. However, I can’t really decide until I have seen all the groups and assessed what they can do. After that I hand out a few extra solos – a Centipede in the Madhatters Choir and a Caterpiller at St. Thomas More’s – that kind of thing! I have a total of six visits to get the groups ready for performance so it is quite an uphill struggle making sure we cover everything in sufficient detail before the final rehearsals, so that they are confident enough in what they are doing. To aid the process, I create and send the schools backing tracks to help them with the learning.

In addition to all this, we regularly have production meetings to decide how we fit all children into the space and how we put the show together – it is quite a logistical nightmare. Finally on the day my job is to put it all together musically – rehearse the ensemble and then run rehearsals, acting as the linchpin for the music.

I’m pleased to say, after the event, that it all went to plan; the children learned everything really well and they performed fantastically. I hope they all had a really positive experience.

Posted by: buxtonfestival | August 3, 2012

Another successful Festival ends with a hello and a goodbye

The 34th Buxton Festival drew to a close on 25 July after 19 packed days of opera, literary talks, music, walks and community projects, attracting an audience of more than 40,000 to Buxton. Celebrities visiting the town included Joanna Lumley, Michael Morpurgo and Justin Webb. The arrival of scorching sunshine on the final week helped end the Festival on a high!

This year’s Festival also marks the departure of Chief Executive, Glyn Foley, who retires after 14 years in post, and the arrival of Randall Shannon. Randall brings a wealth of experience, having previously worked as an Arts Manager and Consultant to a variety of arts organisations and film and television companies, holding Chief Executive roles at Opera Northern Ireland, Opera Theatre Company (Dublin) and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

Randall comments, ‘I am delighted to start work in Buxton, and look forward to the challenges of leading this wonderful organisation, which has thrived under Glyn’s leadership, through to the next phase of development. The audience’s reaction to this year’s Festival has been fantastic, and it’s been fascinating attending events and seeing the feeback first-hand from Festival visitors and local audiences.’

Excellent national reviews for Buxton Festival’s own opera productions this year included 4 stars from the Financial Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph and Mail on Sunday for Intermezzo.  The popular and growing literary series saw many sold out talks and additional events added to meet demand. Audiences queued across the Opera House forecourt to meet Joanna Lumley and Michael Morpurgo and have their books signed.  

Festival staff are already working on next year’s Festival, which will run from 5 – 23 July. The line-up includes Mozart’s La finta giardiniera and a Double Bill of Saint-Saens’s La princess jaune and Gounod’s La colombe.

Posted by: buxtonfestival | July 30, 2012

View from the audience

This year for me the highlight of the Festival was Ballet Cymru’s performance of The Tempest.  I always look forward to this afternoon at the ballet, but on July 13th the company excelled itself.  Sibelius’ music, which was new to me, was a perfect interpretation of Shakespeare’s play and the afternoon was a truly magical experience.  Our party consisted of three generations, the youngest thirteen years old and we were all held in thrall by the enchanted island.

Every part was beautifully danced, but special mention should be made of nineteen year old Lydia Arnoux’s tiny, delicate, ethereal Ariel and Daisuke Mura’s convincing Caliban in a role demanding a mixture of modern dance and acrobatics.  There was plenty of humour in the drinking scene, including some realistic rain (!!) and I particularly liked the way Aimee Williamson, as Trinculo, danced her way through all of this.

The curtain call came all too soon and as the dancers came on one by one I found myself thinking, ‘But where is Trinculo? Where is Alfonso?’ and I was suddenly reminded that the ballet had been performed by just ten dancers!  How fitting that Ariel was given the principal curtain call.

 Margaret Ryder

Posted by: buxtonfestival | July 6, 2012

Guest blog from Stephen Gadd

Stephen Gadd and Claire Rutter

It’s all go in the Rutter & Gadd household. We’ll both be appearing at the Buxton Festival this year, but not together: Claire will be giving a recital with harpist Claire Jones, while I’ll be performing in two different operas, Intermezzo and L’Olimpiade.

The Claires first performed together last year while Claire Jones was still the official Royal Harpist. Their programme was extremely successful, so they’re thrilled to have another opportunity to work together. Click here to find out more

Rehearsals for Intermezzo began six weeks ago. It’s an extraordinarily challenging and complex work, and the normal system whereby singers arrive fully prepared to perform off the copy is impossible to follow. Thankfully, our director Unwin (there being three Stephens in the room we go by our public school names of Unwin, Barlow and Gadd) comes from a theatre background where actors usually arrive having barely looked at their scripts. Indeed, the opera is highly theatrical, and might easily work without any music: unusually, our rehearsals therefore follow a pattern of singing through a scene, then simply reading the words, then plotting out some staging while still speaking the script, and only then reintroducing the music. It’s a very effective way to get to the nub of the drama.

L’Olimpiade, meanwhile, is already on the road. We opened the show at the Eilat Festival in Israel back in March, and have since given the first ever UK performances of the piece at the Lufthansa Festival in London and at the Bath Festival. We’re looking forward to the Buxton performances as the first at which we will have the luxury of a proper theatre, stage, and orchestra pit! In our production all of the performers remain on stage almost throughout the piece, which is normally a terrible disappointment for us singers. I have to say, though, that there’s never a dull moment in this piece, and to listen to my colleagues on stage and in the band – La Serenissima – is a real treat.

Meanwhile, Claire and I are performing together in Madam Butterfly at Grange Park Opera near our home in Hampshire, giving us the rare opportunity to spend time in each other’s company and live at home. In recent years we have both performed there under Stephen Barlow’s baton (in Norma and in Tristan und Isolde), and hope very much to be part of his exciting plans for future years at the Buxton Festival.

Listen to interviews with the creative team of Intermezzo and see rehearsal clips on our Youtube channel here 

Posted by: buxtonfestival | July 4, 2012

More about the Festival Double Bill

Kate Ladner

The chance of a lifetime to see two rare operas – with beautiful melodies, mythical settings and magical storylines – our Double Bill features damsels in distress from captivating Russian and Finnish fairytales. The acclaimed director Stephen Lawless and conductor Stuart Stratford lead a top-class team including Kate Ladner, Richard Berkeley-Steele, Robert Poulton, William Dazeley and Emma Selway. These two operatic rarities each reflect their composer’s nationalism:

Kashchei the Immortal
Rimsky-Korsakov’s extraordinarily original one act opera tells the story of an evil wizard who has imprisoned a beautiful young princess in his gloomy underworld. He will keep her there and remain immortal as long as his daughter, Kashcheyevna, a cold-hearted witch, holds back her tears.

The princess longs for her beloved Prince Ivan-Korolevich to rescue her, but Kashcheyevna has other ideas. Will the prince escape the witch’s charms, rescue his beloved and defeat the wicked sorcerer?

The Maiden in the Tower
Sibelius’s only completed opera demonstrates the authentic voice of the composer in refined orchestral writing, a beautiful choral scene and distinct folk influence.

When a young maiden rejects the advances of a malevolent bailiff she is kidnapped and imprisoned. Racing to her rescue, her heroic lover prepares to fight a duel to rescue his sweetheart in this bright and evocative opera.

We’re delighted to welcome back Stephen Lawless to the Festival, who came to Buxton in 2005 to direct Ascanio in Alba. Stephen has directed operas throughout the world, including the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera. He said:

Sibelius’s The Maiden in the Tower and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Kashchei the Immortal share a common story-line – that of men who incarcerate women for their own gains. For me Sibelius’s short opera presents a naive vision of the darker side of the games that children play. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera presents the same premise but in a much more adult fashion. The challenge for Russell Craig (set and costume designer) and me, is to find a way of linking the two operas, whilst preserving their individuality.

Save the date! The Double Bill will be performed on July 9, 12, 17 (matinee), 20, 24.

Book tickets here

 See video interviews with the creative team and rehearsal clips here

Posted by: buxtonfestival | June 26, 2012

Find out more about Buxton Festival’s opera Jephtha

James Gilchrist

The second of our Festival productions will be Handel’s Jephtha

Rising star Frederic Wake-Walker directs a timeless production of Handel’s classic oratorio. We’re delighted that Harry Christophers will return to Buxton to conduct a stellar cast, led by Susan Bickley, James Gilchrist and Gillian Keith. They are joined by the renowned Orchestra of the Sixteen, and the distinguished Festival chorus, in some of Handel’s most glorious and inspired music.

Susan Bickley, who appeared in Roberto Devereux here, has performed the role of Storge around the world, while James Gilchrist, who takes the title role, is one of our leading Baroque specialists. Gillian Keith, Jonathan Best and William Purefoy, all well-known to Festival audiences, complete a quite exceptional cast.

Handel’s oratorio depicts the biblical story of Jephtha, who single-mindedly vows to God that if he is victorious in battle, he will sacrifice the first creature he meets upon his return. However after the glory of conquest, Jephtha’s jubilation soon turns to horror, when the first person to welcome him home is none other than his beloved daughter, Iphis, whose sickening fate has been sealed.

Making his début as director and designer at Buxton Festival, Frederic Wake-Walker comments: ‘This meditation on the paradox of life journeys to the very heart of the psychological condition of man’s anguish of choice between duty and love’.

Jephtha will be performed on July 8, 11, 14, 18, 21.

You can also hear James Gilchrist and Gillian Keith performing pieces from Jephtha on BBC Radios 3’s In Tune at 6pm on Friday 29 June

 Book tickets here or call the box office on 0845 12 72190

Posted by: buxtonfestival | June 20, 2012

Around the World with Buxton Festival and Live Music Now

Yesterday 255 children with special needs came from schools across the region to enjoy a concert at Buxton Festival.  The sun was shinning in the Pavilion Gardens as the children arrived, but they didn’t stay in Buxton long as the musicians from Vista Trio took them on a musical adventure around the world. 

Stops on the journey included a visit to the Kung Fu Panda in China with a sing along to ‘Kung Fu Fighting’.  Then we were off to the arctic where we all had fun pretending to be penguins! Next it was a stop inHollywood to hear some film soundtracks but we hopped on a Yellow Submarine to get back to Buxton.

The children made the most of the sunshine by enjoying a picnic in the park before heading home.

The concert was organised by Buxton Festival and Live Music Now. The project aims to involve children with a range of disabilities in creative arts activity.  We host the concert in the large open space of the Octagon at the Pavilion Gardens, so that the children and their carers have the freedom to move about, run, dance and enjoy themselves.

Claire Rhodes
Development Manager, Buxton Festival.


Posted by: buxtonfestival | June 18, 2012

Guest blog from young artist at Buxton Festival

Guest blogger Belinda Williams gives an insight into Buxton Festival rehearsals this week:

The sixteen young artists and ensemble members of Buxton Festival Opera are variously arranged on the floor of  The Buddhist Arts Centre, Bethnal Green, hissing and writhing. Outside, the grey June drizzle falls for a further 20 minutes as we improvise movement and sound. When we finish, the windows are thick with steam, and I hastily introduce myself to the girl who I find perched on my back. So begins our exploration of Handel’s Jephtha – an oratorio about blood ties and religious fanaticism, which will be conducted by Harry Christophers and directed by Frederic Wake-Walker.
In three short weeks the curtain will rise on Buxton’s 2012 season, and in the meantime Freddie is moulding us into an homogenous and physically expressive company. 
The next day, across town in an old school gym in Kennington, we encounter Stephen Lawless’s nightmarish fairytale realisation of the Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov double bill. I spend the afternoon exploring my Lord of the Flies malicious inner child, and then return home that evening to prepare for my first cover rehearsal. Jephtha’s wife, ‘Storge’ (I will be covering the great Sue Bickley in this role), is plagued by night terrors and portentous dreams of the battlefield. Quite unlike Storge, I am sure I will sleep like a baby tonight.

Hear more from Belinda at and Twitter: @belindawills

Alistair Ross at the harpsichord during Festival rehearsals

Posted by: buxtonfestival | June 7, 2012

Find out more about Intermezzo

The first of our Festival productions in July will be Intermezzo by Richard Strauss. The work features some of Strauss’s most radiant love music and is widely regarded as one of his most enduring compositions.

Strauss wrote the libretto himself, based almost exclusively on real life exchanges with his wife. When a love letter was mistakenly addressed to the composer, and intercepted by his ‘difficult’ wife, a jealous rage ensued, and from this incident Strauss created a brilliant autobiographical comedy.

Intermezzo is directed by Stephen Unwin, Artistic Director at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, making his début at Buxton Festival after directing at the Royal Opera House, ENO and Garsington. Stephen told us:

Intermezzo isn’t just a musical masterpiece, it’s an extraordinarily powerful drama. Like so many other great Viennese writers of his acquaintance, Richard Strauss uses a realistic and apparently trivial domestic situation to dramatise the transience of all things and the relative nature of married love, in a style which is both sweet and sharp, melancholic and dark with desire.”

Stephen will be joined by Buxton Festival’s new Artistic Director, Stephen Barlow as conductor, who brings more than 30 years of international experience in some of the greatest opera houses worldwide. Strauss operas are something of a speciality for him – he’s conducted nearly every Strauss opera in productions all over the world, including Glyndebourne and San Francisco. Stephen commented:

“Of all his 15 operas, of which six are amongst the most frequently performed worldwide, Intermezzo, is the most ambitious and modern to our eyes now, not only in its cinematic construction. There are 13 scenes in all, interior and exterior, some very short, and several contrasting orchestral intermezzi ranging from moods of contemplation to passionate virtuosity. Beecham, one of Strauss’s most fervent admirers and supporters in this country, particularly loved and often performed the central intermezzo in concert, such is its haunting beauty. The plot is autobiographical, and goes well beyond the sensibilities of most other composers, laying his love for his wife open for all to see. It is a sensitive but also urbane comedy, full of dramatic insights, musically appropriate invention and honesty, allied with the innate skills of one of the greatest of all opera composers. Intermezzo is still little known, and in the superb English translation by Andrew Porter, memories of it being performed in this country stretch back to Glyndebourne’s John Cox production in the 1970s and subsequent revivals at Opera North and Scottish Opera in the 80s, which I conducted. I’m very happy indeed to look forward to this new production with such an outstanding director and cast.”

An exceptional cast includes Janis Kelly, who has recently been acclaimed at the Metropolitan Opera, Stephen Gadd, making his début at the Festival, and the highly rated and experienced Andrew Kennedy.

You can see Intermezzo on July 7, 10, 13, 19, 22 (matinee), 25  Book here


Posted by: buxtonfestival | June 1, 2012

Festival for a Fiver!

Audiences under 30 years of age can now attend any event at this summer’s Buxton Festival for just £5.

From July 7 – 25 the beautiful Peak District spa town will host top class opera, concerts, recitals and literary speakers. Tickets for operas already offer excellent value, priced from £10 – £58, and the return of the £5 initiative now makes hundreds of arts events at the festival even more accessible to young people.

Glyn Foley, Buxton Festival Chief Executive, said:

‘The Festival for a Fiver offer was designed to open new doors for students and young people who have never tried opera, or our other events before, because they’ve been put off by the price. We love to welcome new audiences to the Festival, and hope this initiative will prove even more popular this year, and that we may tempt new-comers to join us and experience something they’ve never tried before.’

Now in its 34th year, the Festival has a long history of producing rarely performed operas, gaining a national reputation for excellence, while its impressive music series features everything from top orchestras to world music. Its literary series offers a unique insight into the lives of more than 30 speakers from novelists and politicians to academics. This year the line up includes Joanna Lumley in conversation with Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, the BBC broadcaster Justin Webb and author Paul Torday, whose previous novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen has recently been made into a feature film starring  Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.

Festival for a Fiver tickets can be booked at Buxton Opera House on 0845 12 72 190 or in person. These tickets cannot be purchased online. Proof of age required.

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