Record-breaking year for Swaledale Festival

Photo: Guy Carpenter.

The award-winning Swaledale Festival has finished for another year with an overwhelmingly positive audience response, say organisers.

The festival, which has grown significantly over the last decade, attracted more ticket buyers than ever before – in excess of 8,000.

Around 90 events took place across Swaledale, Wensleydale and Arkengarthdale, including classical, folk and jazz music, family theatre, world cinema, masterclasses, dance, poetry, art exhibitions, talks, guided walks and more.

Events took place in over 30 different venues, from charming village churches and chapels to large halls seating several hundred.

The superstar cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his friends performed to a sell-out crowd at the Garden Rooms at Tennants in Leyburn, and the current BBC Young Musician of the Year, 17-year-old pianist Lauren Zhang, astonished a packed audience in Richmond’s Influence Church with her flawless technique and exquisite musicianship.

World music played a big part in this year’s Festival: the legendary Spanish guitarist Paco Peña stunned the audience at St. Andrew’s Church in Grinton with his evocative flamenco music.

St Andrew’s also hosted global music explorers Kabantu, violinist Jennifer Pike who performed with three top Indian musicians and Antonio Forcione’s sensational Italian, African and South American fusion.

World cinema also played a part, with films from Spain, Palestine and Chile shown in small venues in Leyburn and Hawes.

One of the more unusual highlights saw pianists Richard Uttley and Kate Whitley performing Stravinsky’s masterwork The Rite of Spring on one Steinway, and then accompanying an historic 1924 silent film by René Clair with a score by Erik Satie.

Audience member Douglas May said: “It is difficult not to go into hyperbole about it; the programme was innovative, the playing and musicianship astounding and the combination of film and Satie was an extraordinary treat”.

Professor David Crystal, described by one audience member as “the Bruce Springsteen of the linguistics world”, delivered a riveting talk on English accents at the Congregational Church in Reeth.

Tickets sold so quickly that Crystal agreed to give the talk twice on the same day. He also recorded an interview featuring local Swaledale farmer John Waggett which will be available to listen to on the Festival website.

Continuing the local theme, the Festival invited a trio led by concertina player Harry Scurfield to celebrate two old-time squeeze-box legends from Swaledale – Kit White and Sam Fawcett. The performance featured live music, early recordings, discussion on the musical traditions of Swaledale and some spontaneous communal dance.

Young people played a significant role in the programme this year. Young abstract painter Nel Hume from Gilling West had her first solo show at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority gallery in Bainbridge.

Her exhibition Lighter than Thought comprised a collection of vibrant expressionist paintings inspired by Dales landscapes and the Northumberland coast. Hume, together with her mother Kirsti and her friend Edie Heringman, also ran an inspirational art workshop for children at Dales Countryside Museum.

One parent remarked: “Both my children loved this workshop. It’s so refreshing for them to have the chance to be experimental, playful and free through art.”

The Festival’s Young Artist’s Platform gave talented artists at the beginning of their careers a valuable stage. One of the world’s great violinists, Tasmin Little, conducted a masterclass for five young Dales violinists.

Family shows from Mimika Theatre and Trouvère Medieval Minstrels delighted audience members from 6 months to 80.

The Festival’s under 25s ticket price of only £3 was taken advantage of by 20 A-Level English Students from Richmond School, who came to hear Professor David Crystal’s talk.

Swaledale Festival’s extensive Wandering Minstrels programme easily broke its own record for the number of schools visited: 23 local primary and secondary schools benefitted from free concerts and workshops led by top international musicians – all in the space of six days! 400 Risedale Sports and Community College students put together an impressive art exhibition on the theme of Endangered Instruments at The Station in Richmond. Musicians also played mini concerts for the residents in four local care homes.

Northumbrian pipes and fiddle legend Kathryn Tickell and her group brought the Festival to a rousing climax in a sell-out concert at Tennants Garden Rooms on Saturday, and the Festival closed with a cool late-night jazz session led by the talented young saxophonist Alexander Bone in Tennants’ Cloister Room.

Next year’s Swaledale Festival will run from 23 May to 6 June 2020 and the programme will be revealed in early spring.