Arcadia Music Festival
Dear friends and supporters
Arcadia has reached something of a crossroads.
After much soul searching, Eleanor and I have decided that presenting an annual festival is too much of a strain on those involved in presenting it and thus our run of twelve wonderful annual festivals will now come to an end. We first presented Arcadia in 2010 and the sequence of an annual event based around an early October weekend was only broken in 2020 due to Covid. We returned in 2021 with a modest event (modest in terms of numbers of participants only,) and were back at full strength in ’22 with the largest festival we had ever mounted, but we were exhausted after that ambitious event and paused our efforts last year hoping that the necessary zest and some more help in the areas of fund raising and PR might present themselves.
However, gauging the resources available and the small band of dedicated and energised helpers and supporters, we felt it would be just too much of an uphill slog to carry on with the growth of this model.
There is some irony here, as in so many ways we had intended at the outset of the adventure to create something of an antidote to the polished PR and smooth exterior that we had seen proliferate in the Arts sector over the last 20 years or so. Our obstinate refusal to go a more conventional route in those early years must have been very frustrating to many watching on, as we ploughed our own furrow on the slenderest but most heartily given resources. But the results were remarkable; and the palpable enjoyment of music presented and received in an atmosphere of true local involvement was a joy to be part of.
Who could forget those evenings at the Sun Inn? World class professionals letting their hair down during the quaffing of local pints and giving heart stopping renditions of all sorts of things. (We usually made up the format of those evenings during the afternoon of the day of the event…)
Many highlights besides the hijinks at the Sun Inn come to mind: in only our second festival we garnered a rare 5-star review from Christopher Morley in the Birmingham Post – he voted our performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht his highlight of the year. We had presented an in-depth examination of the piece and its genesis from a world class scholar – in an event in Brampton Bryan Cricket pavilion. Arcadia in a nutshell.
One of our initial aims was to give contemporary music and particularly Eleanor’s, meaningful and committed exposure, and many performances of her music were a feature which another distinguished writer Paul Conway took joyful note of. Many of you commented on how important it was, if new music were to find a place in your affections, that we had a world class composer on hand to introduce and explain not only her own music but that of contemporaries and colleagues. Visits from Robert Saxton, Adam Gorb and Sally Beamish were notable milestones as was 2019 - a special birthday year for Eleanor herself.
You’ll be so happy to know that in contrast to when we began in 2010 that performances of Eleanor’s music are happening all over the world and show no sign of slowing down. One USA based string quartet happily told us recently that with one of her quartets, she had written a ‘contemporary classic’– it now regularly gets multiple performances across the globe.
But we also made new contexts for older music and took great delight in finding unorthodox ways of presenting music that many of you would have already had some connection with. How could we forget St Giles Downton filled to overflowing with punters literally sitting on every flat surface – stone, wood, brass – to hear a performance of Schubert’s C major Quintet.
Perhaps my own favourite was taking on the whole of Bach’s mysterious and sometimes impenetrable Musical Offering with an associated talk and played to a typically Arcadia audience; fulsome in their sharing of it as the most special of experiences. Or the three huge Beethoven string quartets op. 59, given as a whole, to a stunned and ultimately thrilled and upstanding audience.
So for now, we are not saying that Arcadia is dead, but that it might reawaken in other formats.
Thank you for your patronage, help, and support in so many ways.
Watch this space.
Tom and Eleanor
This was a concert of tremendous sweep and variety. Such was its distinction that I feel it cannot be long before the Arcadia Festival joins the long-established staples of the British music festival calendar. I await next year’s programme with great interest.
Musical Opinion Quarterly January to March 2016
"... the annual Arcadia festival is well on the way towards establishing itself as one of the major autumn music events in the lovely Welsh marches... applause at the end was huge ... and the impact of music and performance will live long here."
Rating ***** Chris Morley in the Birmingham Post, 2011