Hampstead & Highgate Festival 2006

Written by: Colin Anderson

If a “wide variety of arts and community events” appeal, then North London is to place to be. From 11 May. Artistic Director George Vass tells more…

A microcosm of classical music in all its glorious range is what the Hampstead and Highgate Festival is all about. This year’s offering, the eighth, masterminded by conductor George Vass begins on May 11. “Barry Millington started it and worked extremely hard. I came on in year four as a general director; then Barry had other fish to fry, so they asked me to take over. I love doing it: it’s great to live here and give something back to the area. I’m working with friends, and the board of trustees is fantastically helpful.”

Welcome, then, to pastoral London – Hampstead still retains yesteryear charm. “I organise most of it, I do all the music, choose the programmes and book the artists. I do try and get players from the area, to give a sense of community.” Hampstead draws musicians like a magnet: Brendel, Kovacevich, Lill and Shelley are but four pianists to reside there. “Virtually anybody who was anybody lived in Hampstead – Walton, Bliss, Elgar, Moeran, Finzi, Medtner and Eric Coates.” The list goes on. “Elgar lived there for ten years – his house has gone now – and my first year featured his chamber music.” This year it’s Arthur Bliss’s turn. “Music for Strings is a masterpiece and Ronald Corp is doing his Pastoral with Mozart’s C minor Mass. Gradually we’re going through the composers who live here. Paul Patterson’s 60th and Hugh Wood’s 75th are for next year, when it’s my 50th.”

For George the Hampstead and Highgate Festival is about “involving local talent, young talent – apart from schemes like the BBC’s New Generation Artists, young players don’t get much of a chance, especially not in London anymore.” This year’s Festival opens with a “generous programme” that includes Mozart, Shostakovich, Schubert’s Trout Quintet and the premiere of a piece by James Francis Brown. “I do like to mix things up. I think people are being turned off music because it’s being compartmentalised. Actually I had to persuade the Contemporary Consort to play some Beethoven and Schumann! There’s also a cabaret, Melvyn Bragg is talking, and there’s a kid’s concert; we’ve got primary schools singing a couple of pieces each and then we’re using David Matthews’s reduction of Peter and the Wolf. And there’s a young composer competition. We’ve had about 20 entries. We’ll being playing the winners.”

The diverse children’s concert is on Monday May 15 from 6 o’clock. The following evening brings “a rare film. There are two Hamlets in Russian with music by Shostakovich: we’re showing the second.” On Wednesday the Allegri Quartet brings “a big-boned programme” including Webern – but not typical of him: Langsamer Satz is “one of the most delightful romantic pieces.” On Thursday, The Music Collection offers period-instrument Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

The final night (May 20) is “a great mixture of stuff” and includes the Bliss masterpiece, plus Tchaikovsky, Pärt and Shostakovich. Check out the link below for locations in “this very nice place, except for the parking! Hence the reason for bus and tube information: you’ve got to use public transport, and then you can enjoy it. It’s all very easy to get to.” The Hampstead and Highgate Festival “is a bit of a melting pot of arts in North London. There’s a bat walk and free jazz on Parliament Hill, too!”

  • Hampstead & Highgate Festival 2006
  • Box Office: 0870 033 2733
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 11 May 2006 and is reproduced here with permission

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