Shipley Arts Festival celebrates the great English musical tradition

Bernardi Music Group at Champs Hill on the occasion of the Lord High Sheriff's Concert in aid of St Catherine's Hospice, February 27. Picture by Alexander Barnes
Bernardi Music Group at Champs Hill on the occasion of the Lord High Sheriff's Concert in aid of St Catherine's Hospice, February 27. Picture by Alexander Barnes

It all started as a charity concert in a church and a jazz evening in a pub in the year 2000.

Today, the Shipley Arts Festival is one of the most respected festivals in the country – and with power to add.

Artistic director Andrew Bernardi with a 1696 Stradivarius

Artistic director Andrew Bernardi with a 1696 Stradivarius

Artistic director Andrew Bernardi recalls his original intention was to add events at the rate of one a year. In reality, it has gained two or three a year.

And the good news is that the expansion is far from over. Looking to the future with the confidence born of loyal support and strong sponsorship, Andrew predicts the festival will continue to grow – a happy story of Sussex success on the Sussex calendar.

At its heart has always been to celebrate the English musical tradition, a tradition which owes much to Sussex, a county which has proved both magnet and birthplace to a wealth of composers, artists, writers and poets.

Andrew believes the festival is now creating something of a Sussex renaissance in the arts.

“Right from the beginning, I set out to see if we could create an international-level festival, but from the grassroots up. It has now grown to become one of the most established festivals in the country.

“It still surprises me! But I think it has done so well for a number of reasons, the most important one that we have had literally the best musicians in the country coming to us. The quality has always been there. But really importantly, we have always had the genuine mission of celebrating the people in our communities, the people who live here. They are our audiences, but there are concerts where they are invited to take part, to become part of what we are offering. There is often that aspect to what we are doing. It has never just been about bringing a bunch of top-class musicians to a church.”

Also cementing the festival’s place is the fact that it has now commissioned more than 30 pieces of music, among them a number of highly-significant pieces.

Past commissions have included Cecilia McDowall’s ‘Great Hills’, Cecilia McDowall’s ‘Descending’, Jon Lord’s ‘To Notice Such Things’ and James Whitbourn’s ‘The Voices Stilled’.

“I think what is important is always to keep things fresh and new, but always to make things as good as they possibly can be. I am right at the limit of what I can administrate while pursuing my own career as a violinist. In fact, I am beyond that limit! But I can definitely see it all expanding further.

“Our 2015 festival celebrates the Sussex community through music, our musicians, words, fine art, architecture, the 1696 Stradivarius violin, our virtuoso ensemble and pianist in residence Maria Marchant in a new renaissance here in West Sussex.

“String playing is celebrated from the outset with our nationally-recognised String Academy, the world-renowned Yehudi Menuhin School and many Sussex and Surrey young string players. I hope you will find freshness and inspiration in a truly local and international celebration, which brings together performers and communities from the age of seven to our 397-year-old Stradivarius violin!”

Concerts in the festival:

Sunday, April 26, 7.30 pm, at Windlesham House School’s Malden Theatre. The Gifted and Talented String Academy with pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School perform music to include J S Bach’s Concerto for two violins, Malcolm Singer’s Shtetlmusik and a Haydn String Quartet.

Saturday, May 2, 7.30 pm, at Shipley Church. Music for the Church, a programme to include Mendelssohn’s String Octet and concertos for flute including C P E Bach with Bruce Martin (flute).

Saturday, May 9, 5pm, at Borde Hill. The Festival Friends Concert. A trio concert that brings together this national treasure of a garden, the Borde Hill Broadwood Piano and the festival’s Stradivarius violin. Music to include Debussy Piano Trio; Faure – Elegie in C minor; Saint-Saens – The Swan from Carnival of the Animals; Saint-Saens – Introduction and Rondo Capriccios; Debussy – La Cathedrale Engloutie; Ravel – Piano Trio. Andrew Bernardi (violin) Jonathan Few (cello) and Maria Marchant (piano). l Sunday, May 10, 5pm. Warminghurst Church. Concert for a perfect piece of England: Elgar Violin Sonata, Brahms Horn Trio, Elgar short pieces including Salut d’Amour, Chanson de Matin and John Ireland Trio Cavatina for violin, piano and horn.

Sunday, June 21, 5.45pm picnics, and 7pm performance at Tickletag Farm, Hurston Lane, Storrington, RH20 4HF. Opera Holloway return to present Rossini’s hilarious opera, La Scala di Seta with the festival’s ensemble. Picnics before performance, and the Opera is housed in a huge barn for both performance and picnics in case of inclement weather.

Wednesday, June 24, 7.30pm. Christ’s Hospital Chapel. The Schola Cantorum conducted by Andrew Cleary. The Choir has recently recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio and is currently recording a CD for release later this year. The Choir was placed third in the Barnado’s National Choir Competition in 2014.

Friday, June 26, 7.30pm. The Blue Idol, Coolham. Music and words from the Time of William Penn. Programme to include Chamber Music by J S Bach, Purcell and Arvo Part. Bruce Martin (flute) and Festival Strings Sunday, June 28, 5.30 pm. St John’s Coolhurst, hosted by Mark and Tina Scrase-Dickins. A popular programme to include John Ireland’s Cello Sonata and Fantasy Trio and Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, performed by Maria Marchant (piano), Andrew Bernardi (violin) and Jonathan Few (cello).

Saturday, July 11, 6pm. Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Music for the Sickert in Dieppe exhibition. A popular French music programme among the Sickert collection in one of the UK’s premiere contemporary English art galleries. Jonathan Few (cello), Maria Marchant (piano), and Andrew Bernardi (violin).

Sunday, July 12, 6.30pm, St Andrew’s, Nuthurst. A Concert of Concertos, with an internationally-assembled group of soloists including Richard Wainwright (horn), Filip Fenrych (violin) Magdalena Filipczak (violin) Andy Laing (violin) and Andrew Bernardi (violin).

Tickets on 01403 750220 or