Bath, where we live, seems to have a festival every other week. Currently we are in the middle of the longest and most prestigious of them, the International Music Festival and the streets have been full of wet and bedraggled visitors looking for where their tickets tell them to go, and seeking sanctuary and sustenance in one of the many of the city’s excellent bars, pubs and restaurants.
The Festival’s ‘Party in the City’ on the third night began with masses of music and hundreds of children moving from the streets into the ancient Abbey where Pete McGarr’s ‘Home Songs’ was given its first performance. We were amongst the huge audience who were actively involved, having been carefully rehearsed beforehand. A party indeed. Free concerts at many venues continued throughout the evening.
The opening concert of this the 60th Festival, was given by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Colin Davies, a previous co-director of the Festival. The main work was Bruckner’s 7th.
Symphony. A wonderful experience. Nothing of the seventy or so concerts and events that followed during the duration of the Festival (though we only tasted a few), could quite compare for me with that magnificent partnership of composer, conductor and orchestra.
The Festival is directed for the third consecutive year by the multi-talented pianist Joanna MacGregor who not only performs in her own right but keeps on appearing as accompanist or co-performer in many of the concerts and events throughout the Festival. We were present at two BBC Radio 3 live programmes at the weekend and she was interviewed at both of them as well as performing at one. She is quite remarkable and has worked hard at retaining the core classical content which has made the Festival’s name, but at the same time broadening it. As she said yesterday, ‘adding to the canon’.
The final concert on Saturday is given by a group called ‘Babyhead and Bellowhead’. In the Festival brochure they are described as ‘steeped in English folk traditions of music and dance… combining the funky rhythms of ska and reggae with a taste for classical hip hop’. Regarded as one of the most talked about bands on the contemporary folk circuit, there’s no doubt at all that Joanna MacGregor will be in the audience to enjoy the concert and to say ‘farewell’ at the end of this year’s Festival.
And next year?