Bath International Music Fest 2011

We were in Bath last night for the Festival’s opening ‘Party in the City’, when over 70 amateur musical groups gave free performances in a variety of venues. The town was crowded with enthusiastic people listening to an astonishing line up of talented artists. Street performers, rock, guitar and wind bands, a multitude of choirs, quartets, a trio playing and singing songs from the Great American Songbook, a public school jazz orchestra, operatic singers. The fest turned into a feast of music.

The highlight for us was a performance in the ever welcoming space of Bath Abbey. The traditional procession of young children in fancy dress ended up in the Square facing the Abbey and then preceded by a percussion band, entered the great church, already crowded with audience and performers, the drummers and brass players continuing to herald the music that followed. Joanna MacGregor, festival Director, welcomed everyone and introduced the Brazillian composer and percussionist Adriano Adewale who had been commissioned to present a work he called ‘Talking About Us’, and which he had rehearsed with more than two hundred young people and children over what must have been several weeks.

Through his discussions with children from several city schools, Adewale talked with them about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and asked them what they might include in them. Food, shelter, a safe environment, water, fun time, family education and health care were some of the ideas they shared with him, many matching the list in the U.N. document. Such awareness, he suggests in a programme note, on a deeper level revealed feelings that deserve tender care, are nurtured throughout childhood, teenage years and into adulthood, and point us to a greater and successful life.

So his music developed from these conversations, and had six movements ranging from a tumultuous opening (birth?!), babyhood, lullaby, Family – with a lyric ‘Love loving you’, in which we all joined, Thinking Through, and Rite of Passage.

There was a fantastic combination of sounds, enormous emotion, and for me it was all a deeply moving experience. When the half an hour was over,the great door of the Abbey opened, and we staggered out into the warmth of a sunny Spring evening.

I have known about this annual Festival – now over 60 years old – from the days when Yehudi Menuhin was its Director in the late 50’s with a Festival Orchestra that was presumably formed especially for the occasion. They made several recordings. Since then the festival has moved into non-classical genres.

I wonder what he would think of it now? I’m sure he would approve. He appeared as an act in the interval of the 23rd.

Eurovision Song Contest in 22 April 1978 with the jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli! He played Eastern music with the sitarist Ravi Shankar and in 1983 founded an International Competition for Young Violinists. In 1990 he was the first conductor for the Asian Youth Orchestra which toured around Asia and Japan.

B.R.