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The Hertfordshire Festival of Music

PUBLISHED: 10:14 06 June 2017 | UPDATED: 10:14 06 June 2017

Pianist Clare Hammond

Pianist Clare Hammond

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A new festival brings world-class musicians to Hertford this month with the aim of putting the county on the UK cultural map for classical performances

Carducci string quartetCarducci string quartet

It is perhaps surprising given the cultural depth of the county that Hertfordshire has not had a dedicated classical music festival. But that is about to change.

The Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM) held this month in venues around Hertford is the brainchild of Tom Hammond, conductor and director of Hertford Symphony Orchestra, who was amazed to find there was no large-scale classical festival in the county.

‘I was struck by how much music-making happens in Hertfordshire, from youth level and amateur choirs through to orchestras and concert series featuring professionals. So many other parts of the UK have major classical music festivals. Why not Hertfordshire?’

Tom, who is collaborating on the project with James Francis Brown, a composer and music publisher, came up with the idea two years ago and last year organised an inaugural concert by the acclaimed English violinist Tasmin Little.

Harpsichordist Nathaniel ManderHarpsichordist Nathaniel Mander

Part of Tom’s mission is to bring great classical music to the county at a time when he says the government is reducing its importance in the school curriculum.

‘It’s often only in the private sector or – as is the case in a number of Hertfordshire state schools – where headteachers refuse to let the importance of music be diminished, so it can continue to flourish,’ he says.

‘In many ways Hertfordshire is a leading light for the UK in this, maintaining as it does superb ensembles via Hertfordshire Music Service. We want to support this via HFoM as much as possible, starting this year with a free masterclass for young singers and pianists with soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, hosted at Haileybury college in Hertford.’

Thanks to the support of Harpenden Music Foundation, under-18s and full-time students will benefit from reduced ticket prices – at just £2 – for all performances at the festival. ‘The price of a small latté to hear amazing musicians perform live,’ comments Tom.

Violist Sarah-Jane BradleyViolist Sarah-Jane Bradley

The appetite for classical music is strong in Herts, Tom says, citing the four sold-out concerts he has conducted this year in Hertford and St Albans. And adds the music is not elitist, but something everyone can enjoy.

‘Classical music really is for everyone, despite the rhetoric we so often hear. The huge rise in popularity of computer game music, which is essentially orchestral classical music, proves this to me. Hertfordshire has a multitude of choirs, orchestras, chamber music series and youth groups. It’s really not a dead art form!

‘For me and my co-artistic director James this is an opportunity to help music thrive, but for Hertford and Hertfordshire this could prove a major draw for cultural tourists.’

For Tom and James the festival is about making music not money. The organising team of four have worked entirely voluntarily to bring this year’s programme together.

Soprano Dame Emma KirkbySoprano Dame Emma Kirkby

‘We have had some wonderful and heart-warming support from people in the county and the superb support of our sponsors this year, Longmores Solicitors.’

To further help finance the project the team is building a network of ‘Deer Friends’ (a play on Herts), a crowdfunding scheme in which people pledge support for the festival in return for rewards. The ‘practical and moral support’ of Haileybury independent school has also been crucial to the project, Tom explains.

So what is the group’s vision for the festival? ‘An ambition is that Hertford and Hertfordshire become as famous for its classical music as Hay-on-Wye is for books and literature,’ Tom declares.

At this year’s festival there are eight events over three days, but the aim is to quickly expand the festival to a full week of events and performances.

‘We would also like to be responsible for bringing brand-new pieces of music to life at the festival through our Featured Living Composer scheme, and undertake large-scale community engagement projects working with county residents of all ages, and all levels of musical experience.’

Each year’s festival will have a theme, an artist-in-residence and a featured living composer. Emma Kirkby is artist-in-residence this year, Matthew Taylor is the featured composer and the 2017 theme is Hidden Hertford – The Haydn Connection. The Habsburg composer lived at the home of banker Nathanael Brassey in the village of Hertingfordbury, close to the county town, in 1791.

Artists performing this month include pianist Clare Hammond, harpsichordists Nathaniel Mander and Heather Tomala, violist Sarah-Jane Bradley with pianist John Lenehan, and sought after quartet, Carducci. There is also a 90-minute musical walk through the town and talks with performers.

Picking out what he is most looking forward to, Tom says, ‘The chance to hear Haydn sung by Dame Emma Kirkby in a church he very probably visited will be special, as will the utterly magical atmosphere and acoustic of the Friends Meeting House in Hertford.’

The festival runs from June 9 - 11. For full details of concerts and events and to buy tickets, go to hertsmusicfest.org.uk or call 01992 531500.

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