22 September, 2019
The Grange Festival Second International Singing Competition
Our second International Singing Competition for young singers is fast approaching. From 100 applicants representing 34 countries, 70 were auditioned. What surprised all of us making the choices, was how very high the level is this year, in comparison to our first competition two years ago. We have simplified the prizes and are now able to offer a first prize of £10,000 and a role in a future Grange Festival production, making it one of the most desirable prizes anywhere. Other prizes also include the offer of recitals and concerts.
This year we shall be in the glorious setting of Merchant Taylors' Hall in London to hear pieces from repertoire up to 1830. The final will be accompanied by the Academy of Ancient Music. Competitions are exciting for us, the audience, as we listen to young stars of the future but also for the participants who eagerly grasp the chance of recognition.
Semi Final 21 October 2019 at 6pm
Final 31 October 2019 at 6pm
21 September, 2019
The Grange Festival - Planning for the 2020 season
Many people assume my work running The Grange Festival ends when the actual Festival ends. It’s a bit like singers getting asked what they do ‘the rest of the time’ when they’re not actually performing. Of course the flippant reply is ‘having a good time’ and ‘twiddling our thumbs’ (or our larynxes) until the next performance. For every hour of showtime, there must be hundreds of hours of preparation, and the same is true of staging five separate productions in a festival.
Let me think what it takes - planning the repertoire, choosing the creative teams and orchestras and conductors, casting, planning the rehearsals, booking the rehearsal spaces, being in regular touch with well over 50 different artists’ agencies around the world, auditioning the chorus (260 applicants for 24 places), getting every aspect of the theatre ready (maintenance, improvements, upgrading - we are replacing our stage revolve, for instance, and making new grand opera curtains (’tabs’)), running the whole process of getting production sets planned, designed, built, delivered, installed, plus props, plus costumes, wigs, make-up, getting the music parts for the orchestras and singers ready……. OK I’ll stop. But this is before we have raised any money through Friends’ memberships, Founders donations, corporate sponsorship, and applications to charitable Trusts and Foundations; written, designed, proofed and printed all our booklets, programmes, mailshots to our database; worked out what our pricing structure should be for tickets, when we sell them, etc; and then there are all the other events we have throughout the year - parties for Friends and other supporters; our biennial Singing Competition; our Education projects with regional schools and colleges; and many other projects with which we either collaborate or help in less active ways.
Oh, I forgot that we also provide a full range of dinners, and suppers, and drinks for all our festival patrons, the planning and preparation for which would take another equally long paragraph to describe.
This is all to put on high quality performances, fill our auditorium and ensure that every visitor wants to return for more next time. And engage meaningfully about the power of music and drama in education and mental and physical healthcare in our region.
The 2019 festival went with a swing in its step and a smile on its face. We achieved around 95% attendance for every single performance, and got 5-star reviews for every show. In year three, I am told that’s pretty good. But I keep reminding everybody, having been on the receiving end of critics’ appraisals for nearly 40 years, that the bad reviews will come along, and don’t be either surprised or too downhearted when they do.
We are completely focussed on preparing now for 2020 (see above).
It’s fun (I really think we shouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t). It’s unpredictable. And it’s really, really satisfying when you see how palpably the audience gets profoundly and positively affected by what we produce.
18 May, 2019
A studio run-through is one of the main staging posts in the enthralling journey of a new opera production from first music call to first night. From now on it’s all about getting the technical bits sorted out, the set, props, lighting, costumes wigs and make-up, and a hundred-and-one other details, before the addition of the orchestra and the final few precious days when all is in place and still in rehearsal. It suddenly becomes an unstoppable rollercoaster, and from a performer’s viewpoint, rather scary. Actually everyone’s nerves start to jangle and jingle.
Yesterday we watched the run-through of The marriage of Figaro in an upstairs church hall in Hammersmith, west London. Lots of onlookers crammed against the wall. Richard Egarr conducted, Lisa Engelstein, from Cape Town, and our Figaro repetiteur played on a brash upright piano, assistants, Matteo our langauage coach, Peter Mumford our frighteningly eminent lighting designer, and the make up and costume teams made notes. Michael Moody, our Director of Operations filmed it on his little digital camera for detailed reference for the stage rehearsals, and the rest of us watched, listened and, frankly, marvelled.
All the thoughts, the challenges, the reactions, the precise intentions, the hurt, the fun, the naughtiness, and the joy were plain to see and hear. But there was something else, so often missing in performances of this transcendental opera: the danger. After all, this is the story which changed the world. All the way through, I had the sabre-point of Napoleon’s insight at the back of my mind of his description of Beaumarchais’ play, more than anything else, having caused the French Revolution. Martin Lloyd-Evans’ minutely observed production, set in a single day in a single house, so minutely aware of the musical sub-textural strata, unveils this profound moment of the Enlightenment: the reordering of society. Subtle, playful, often deeply moving, but more than anything else, revolutionary.