Newbury Spring Festival 2016
"It’s not just in grand houses"
As I looked out the window from the Royal Box at Newbury Racecourse, I couldn’t help thinking the blustery and wet weather wasn’t really an ideal backdrop for the launch of the 38th Newbury Spring Festival.
Fortunately the daffodils and enthusiasm inside countered the gloominess beyond the glass.
The Royal Box at a horse racing venue, smoked salmon bagels, the all-round promotion of a festival that boasts the type of music some might view as too highbrow… does the director, Mark Eynon, worry about it earning a reputation as being elitist?
“The festival was founded by the Countess of Carnarvon and therefore has always had the patronage of the great and the good of the area,” Mark says. “It’s also totally funded by private sponsorship including a lot of wealthy individuals who we enjoy welcoming to the festival.
“But that’s only part of the story,” he continues. “What we are very keen to emphasise is that this is not just a posh festival but one for everybody in the area. Classical music all began with the support of the royals, the aristocracy, or the church because they were the sponsors of their day, and they continue to be. But we also now of course enjoy music for as wide an audience as possible.”
The director reassures that it won’t just be classical chamber music at Newbury, owing to the likes of Jazz singer Clare Teal, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and the hybrid super-acoustic Budapest Café Orchestra.
Mark expands on the programme. “This year we’ve got two significantly innovative events to do with musical theatre and opera,” he says. “We’re bringing opera back to Combe Manor, with Barn via Verdi’s Rigoletto performed by Opera Project. We’ve also got Bach’s Coffee Cantata done by Little Baroque Company in St Nicolas Church Hall; what you do is have a cup of coffee in the hall which is set out like an 18th century coffee house, and then the singers and the harpsichordist, all in period costumes, perform.”
I wondered how he goes about booking the artists. “I work several years ahead with the major international orchestras. So I’ve already booked up the orchestras for 2018. People like Pinchas Zukerman, John Wilson and Alice Coote you also have to book a long time ahead.
“But at the same time I have judgement, that’s one of the reasons I do this job, I recognise quality coming through that may not yet be known. When I first heard Benjamin Grosvenor I immediately recognised his stature and gave him a date in the festival. He’s now England’s leading young pianist. He’s coming back to us for the third time already even though he’s only 22. So I also network with up and coming quality young musicians.”
Grosvenor will play on Sunday 8th May at Newbury’s Corn Exchange – a good venue for dispelling the idea that the festival’s venues are all places where you feel out of place without cufflinks.
“It’s not just in grand houses,” Mark says. “There are two events that you could argue are in very posh settings – Highclere Castle and Englefield House. But other venues like the Corn Exchange are very accessible.”
Accessible but not his favourite: that accolade goes to another location.
“St Nicolas Church has got such a good acoustic,” he says. “And normally churches are not very good for orchestras. I used to be director of the Salisbury Festival at the world famous Salisbury Cathedral but St Nicolas is ten times better for an orchestra. It’s got a warm resonant acoustic and there’s a very intimate feeling between the audience and the musicians.”
Perhaps if you do think of Newbury Spring Festival as elitist it’s time to erase that thought and simply assess the 2016 programme. “I hope that when you look at the festival from an unbiased perspective,” Mark says. “You’ll see that it may include some grand venues with grand sponsors but it’s by no means only that.”
Thanks to sponsorship Newbury Spring Festival ticket prices are kept affordable, you can book yours at www.newburyspringfestival.org.uk or by calling 0845 5218 218