Petworth Festival could be a record-breaker

Artistic director Stewart Collins
Artistic director Stewart Collins
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This year’s 39th Petworth Festival is looking good for another record-breaking outing (July 12-29).

The festival broke box office records in 2015 and 2016; this year, it surpassed its 2015 figures with more than two weeks to go before opening.

Artistic director Stewart Collins is delighted with the programme he has been able to bring together – his longevity in post certainly a factor.

“I realise I still have the words ‘new artistic director’ buzzing in my ears, but actually I realise this is my eighth festival. I have held the job as long as anybody which is fantastic because I love the work that we have been able to do. I love the area, and the audiences have been incredibly supportive.

“There seems to be a strong bond between us all.

“I think the thing about programming is about building trust with the audience. What I try to do is bring in incredibly high-quality stuff, but not necessarily things that people would expect. I think it is important that you don’t deliver the usual suspects all the time.

“But because the audiences have got to know me, they realise that if I do bring in something that is perhaps slightly less well known then it is worth turning up and seeing what is in the programme.

“There have been several times when I have been surprised and delighted when things that I knew were excellent but perhaps a little bit unusual have sold much, much better than I thought they would.”

Stewart added: “It is certainly a larger festival now. It has grown over the years.

“I was brought in with the requirement that I look to expand the range of performances and also grow different audiences. No festival can stand still. You just have to be constantly looking to find new audiences so that you have always got new people coming in, with things like world music coming in and so, and I think that has happened quite successfully.”

Matching 2015 figures two weeks before the first event is proof enough of that: “We are never smug. We would never say that we are comfortable, but we do seem to be in good shape. And the good thing is that we have got something like 40-odd events. There are usually two or three concerts that you book and you think they are a good idea, but no one else does! But this year we are selling consistently across all our events, which is great.

“The festival structure is that we have a group of friends of the festival, and there are about 700 of them, people that we sell our tickets to first. They are our principal supporters, and a lot of them buy a lot of tickets, which means that we know very early on how people are responding to what we are doing.

“I would say that we sell about 60 per cent of our tickets to our friends.

“I think we have got one or two more events this year than in previous years. It is not dramatically bigger. We have opted to gradually extend, and we have extended gradually geographically as well. There will come a point where we are doing as much as we can do and as much as we should do, but we are gently testing that point each year.

“Next year will be interesting with our 40th year, and there will be some very special stuff for that. It will be a bigger festival than this one. Our aim is to grow about five per cent a year.”

For full programme and booking, see www.petworthfestival.org.uk.

Classical music at Petworth

This year’s Petworth Festival is promising a particularly-strong classical section.

Roderick Williams, who was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, opens the festival, along with pianist Iain Burnside, with a performance of Schubert’s song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin on July 12 in St Mary’s Church.

Other classical highlights will include:

The Orlando Consort: The Passion of Joan of Arc, July 16, St Mary’s Church. Leading UK vocal ensemble, The Orlando Consort, perform a live sound track to this silent film masterpiece.

Gillian Keith and Simon Lepper: Elemental. July 17, Champs Hill. A thoughtful programme performed by award-winning duo, soprano Gillian Keith and pianist Simon Lepper.

Chloe Hanslip and Danny Driver, July 19, St Mary’s Church. British violinist Chloë Hanslip is joined by a figure well known to Petworth audiences, pianist Danny Driver.

Leon McCawley: Natural Selection, July 25, St Mary’s Church. The British pianist presents a varied programme of music inspired by nature, incorporating the great centres of musical excellence from the 18th through to the early 20th century.

Thomas Gould and Gwilym Simcock: Baroque Encounters. July 27, St Mary’s Church. Two musicians come together for a special collaboration to celebrate the music of JS Bach.

The Trio Apaches with The O Duo, July 28, St Mary’s Church. The programme is based around transcriptions of substantial orchestral masterpieces, culminating in their huge version of Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony.

Voice: A Life of Love and Joy, July 29, The Church of the Sacred Heart, Petworth. The Festival returns to Petworth’s Catholic Church for the first time years for a choral performance by the young female acapella ensemble Voice.

Also coming up are: Musicians from the Royal Academy of Music: Lucy Humphris (trumpet) Harry Rylance (piano); Festival Peal; Festival Service 2017; Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord); L’Avventura /Old Blind Dogs – Orpheus Caledonius; Trygve Wakenshaw – Nautilus (comedy); Come and Sing with Ben Parry – The Sound of Music; Cedric Tiberghien (piano) and Jess Robinson (comedy).

Semi Finalist in 2017’s Britain’s Got Talent and a huge hit at successive Edinburgh Festivals, Jess Robinson is a vocal impressionist. Joined by a three-piece supporting band, she will mimick Julie Andrews, Tina Turner and Kate Bush among others.

Also coming up is a family event with Matthew Sharp – Tommy Foggo Superhero, July 16, Leconfield Hall. Tommy Foggo & his Cello are a superhero duo. They go on adventures and they like to sing a tune and share the fun.

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