Young violinist steps in after quartet members falls ill as Swaledale Festival finishes with a flourish

Mathilde Milwidsky (left) performs with Doric String Quartet and Brett Dean. Photo: Gray Walker - Scenicview Gallery & Studio.

Swaledale Festival finished with a dramatic finale on Saturday after 15 days of  music, arts and walking in the Dales.

The final concert in Grinton Church was supposed to feature the world-renowned Doric String Quartet playing music by Haydn and Berg, followed by a Beethoven quintet with the addition of the viola player Brett Dean.

However, the festival’s artistic director, Malcolm Creese, received a telephone call at lunchtime from their agent who informed him that the first violinist was ill and the quartet would not be able to attend the festival.

Malcolm and his team had only a very short time to try to rescue the concert, so some quick thinking and frantic phone-calling ensued.

The young violinist Mathilde Milwidsky was about to perform a duo concert in Wensleydale with her pianist Annie Yim as part of the festival’s Young Artist Platform in the afternoon, and – after some delicate negotiation about repertoire – she agreed to play first violin in the final concert with just a few hours’ notice.

The other members of the quartet, who were keen to resurrect the finale, agreed to travel up and it was decided that the musicians would perform the Beethoven Quintet in the first half, and a quintet by Brahms after the interval.

Not only had Mathilde never played either piece before – she hadn’t even heard the Brahms.

The music had to be found online, downloaded, printed and taped together.

Mathilde, who has been named one of Classic FM’s ‘30 under 30’ Rising Stars, gave a virtuosic ‘Young Artist platform concert’ in the afternoon, which included music by Telemann, Arvo Pärt and Elgar as well as Ravel’s fiendish Tzigane.

Moments after she put her bow down she received the music for the evening concert, and after a hair-raising car journey over the high moor from Wensleydale to Swaledale, arrived at the ancient St. Andrew’s Church in Grinton in time for a quick run-through with the other players before the audience poured in.

Malcolm said: “It was sad to have to alter the original programme, but the change led to something extraordinary, the audience having a rare opportunity to hear musicians working together for the first time – a process which is usually confined to the rehearsal room.

“We all went on a musical journey together, with no idea what would happen, and the result was dynamic and thrilling.

“Hats off to all the musicians for pulling it off, and especially to the extraordinary Mathilde for bravely and brilliantly saving the Festival finale. Needless to say, she’s already agreed to come and play for us again next year.”

The concert was the last in a programme of more than 50 events taking place in the area’s unique venues – from charming churches and village halls to the stunning Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond.


Swaledale Festival – Wallace & Gromit with WFEL Fairey Band
Photo: Gray Walker – Scenicview Gallery & Studio


Other performers at Swaledale Festival this year included flautist Eliza Marshall, guitarist Craig Ogden, the WFEL Fairey Band, cellist Natalie Clein, jazz singer Claire Martin, local folk group Fourum in their last ever performance, comedian Andy Hamilton, and Antiques Roadshow expert Ronnie Archer-Morgan.

As well as public performances, the festival runs an extensive community and education programme which this year saw world class musicians performing in numerous local schools and care homes.

One of these was given by Michael Messer’s Mitra, a unique collaboration between an innovative British blues guitarist, a Hindustani slide guitar maestro from India and a London-based tabla master. The three musicians performed to around 100 secondary and primary pupils, and talked about their respective cultures and careers.

Stephen Boyd, lead teacher for music at Richmond School and Sixth Form College, said: “The musicians brought a completely new sound to our students this morning. A fusion of blues and Indian Classical music seems unlikely, however the players’ incredible musicality and dexterity made for seamless transitions between the two genres, creating a unique experience for our students.”

In Talk of the Land: Ancient Sound Waves, pupils from Risedale School had the opportunity to work with professional artists Rachel Antill and Patrick Green, culminating in an exhibition at The Station in Richmond which was attended by the Prime Minister and MP for Richmondshire, Rishi Sunak.

Swaledale Festival will return in 2024 from Saturday 25 May to Saturday 8 June.