Musical mash-ups at community arts festival

Inspiration, creative aspiration and top-quality performances are all part of the latest music festival to be incorporated into the Ipswich cultural calendar.

The Ipswich School Festival of Music is now in its third year and is making sure it does not lose the momentum established in the first two years by booking such diverse headlining acts as Courtney Pine and soprano Emma Kirkby, along with outlandish early music ensemble Red Priest, below.

As ever, the festival director is William Saunders, Assistant Director of Music, who says the festival is an important part of the school calendar, forging links with the community as well as offering opportunities for pupils to take part in workshops and masterclasses with some of the best musicians in the country.

Mr Saunders said they are building on the experience gained over the past two years and this year the emphasis is very much on family audiences.

“This year we are looking to entice family audiences along. We want to make the festival more fun and entertaining than it has been already. We very much see it as a way of introducing people to a wide range of high-quality music.

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“One of the wonderful concerts for families will be Animal Magic, which will feature the ZooTube Orchestra performing Saint-Sa�ns’ Carnival of the Animals, and we have a new work, Animal Parade, by Ian Farrington.

“He originally wrote it for the organ but has subsequently rewritten it for the same collection of instruments as used for Carnival of the Animals.

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“It’s going to be a fantastic show because there are going to be lots of different things happening on stage at the same time, and we are going to be involving our drama department, so there will be plenty to see as well as hear.”

He said one of the areas that made the festival different from other events was the wide range of workshops and masterclasses that meant Ipswich School pupils were involved in the music-making as well as being audience members.

The public are invited to watch the young musicians getting first-class tuition and will have an opportunity to hear some future stars take their first steps towards a possible career.

“We are a

school, so it makes sense for us to use our skills and expertise to make the experience come alive.” He said it was an important that the youngsters had a role in the music-making, and the masterclass situations helped them improve their technique with coaching from some of the world’s best players.

“It’s very exciting to see young musicians play with some of the leading names of their generation. It brings out the best in everyone.

“It’s not someone sitting out the front and lecturing; it’s actually an engaging process. It’s about breaking down those boundaries which surround classical music and making it more accessible.

“And also, from a school’s point of view, it is a way of reaching out to the community, saying ‘Come in; see what we do.’ We are part of the community and we want to bring people into the school and take part in events. The festival is a great way to draw people in.”

Workshops are designed to be fun and the festival kicks off with a visit from the stars of the West End show Stomp, who also took part in the Olympic closing ceremony.

They will be bringing their trash cans and dustbin lids to make some noise while on the following day the school will be playing host to the wild and wacky Travelling By Tuba, which will introduce primary school children to the weird and wonderful world of brass instruments. The workshop also features a lunchtime concert.

“It’s also a case of nurturing young performers and letting them have a taste of the thrill of performing in front of an appreciative audience. Also, if you are lucky enough to perform with some of the great names of the musical world then that is inspirational – that remains with you for the rest of your life.

“Emma Kirkby, one of our greatest sopranos, is giving a masterclass for a number of gifted singers. This is going to be fantastic. The great thing about working with professional musicians is that you get to feed off their passion for music. It’s infectious and what is even better is that as the faces of the pupils light up you can see that the professionals are really enjoying themselves as well. It’s definitely a two-way exchange.

“And the pupils get to ask those awkward questions, such as ‘Why do you do that?’ and the musician has to dig deep, back in their memory to find the answer.”

He said this year’s festival has a more jazz/swing feel to the programme but this was more by accident than design. “It’s very much dictated by who is available as much as anything. We have Courtney Pine, who is the big name, but we also have Dave Newton and Alan Barnes – a fantastic jazz pianist and saxophonist; and then on the last night we have this traditional battle between our Big Band and the Musicians’ Union Big Band – and that’s another example of where professionals are performing with students – but that is then balanced with recitals with pianist Danny Driver and our festival evensong in the chapel, and the popular afternoon tea performances with Chroma Chamber Ensemble and the lunchtime concert with The Gainsborough String Quartet.

“So it all balances out.

“In terms of entertainment you can’t do better than Red Priest. They are hilarious: the only early music group to be compared with the Rolling Stones, Jackson Pollack, The Marx Brothers and Cirque du Soleil. They have to be seen and heard to be believed.

“I suppose that most of our headline acts are jazz acts this year but that’s just the way it has gone. Next year it will be something different.

“Overall we are trying to get a balance, trying to stage a broad range of music, and I think we have achieved that. It would be wrong to suggest that we sit down and try and programme to a theme.”

He said their main aim was just trying to get people enthused about a wide range of music. It was about breaking down artificial barriers which separated different types of music. As they gained more experience they could shape the way the festival delivered different aspects of the programme.

“The festival continues to evolve. This is only our third year but already we are adding things to the programme, tweaking the way we do things, making it a better experience for our audiences and offering a greater breadth of music for people to enjoy.

“As we continue to do this, things get easier to organise. People know what to do, what is required and how to go about getting all the various elements in place that a festival requires if it is going to succeed.

“Simple things, like making sure we have enough volunteers booked for the various nights, are very important to get right and can’t be over-looked.”

This year’s festival will be something of a milestone event because it is William Saunders finale as director. He is leaving Ipswich School and heading south to become head of academic music at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook.

Despite his departure he will be back onsite during September to oversee this year’s event. “I have to say I love organising the festival. It’s been very close to my heart and I am very grateful that I have been given permission to see it through right to the end.”

He added that, although he was moving on, there was a firm commitment from the school and the governors for the festival to continue. “Just because I am moving down the road doesn’t mean the festival will whither and die or just be forgotten. From the school’s point of view, it is a major event in their calendar and an important way of reaching out to the community and inviting them to take part in the life of the school.

“We are very grateful to the school, who make a substantial financial commitment to the festival each year. Music at the school forms the largest part of the outreach work we do. We were involved in the Olympic Voices event recently – 1,300 people singing their hearts out – terrific stuff. That’s part of the big events, along with the festival, but, on a smaller scale, each week we have small groups, singers and ensembles going out to nursing homes and feeder schools.”

So, as this is his final year, does he have any favourite events that he is particularly pleased to have landed?

He thinks for a moment before answering. “I think the Carnival of Animals performance is going to be rather special. We are looking at trying to attract a big-name narrator, so we’ll see how we get on with that.

“Also, I think Courtney will be fantastic. Courtney will be playing tracks from his latest album, Europa – that’s fairly hardcore jazz, so I hope we attract some real serious jazz fans along to that. It’s the sort of thing that you would only get at Ronnie Scott’s or at a Southbank venue.

“Red Priest will be great. They will prove to everyone who thinks that classical music is really dull and serious that it’s actually great fun, and Emma Kirkby is going to be amazing – first in the masterclass and then in a concert in the school. She’s chosen a programme to suit the building and the festival. That will be quite a treat.

“I think this year, perhaps more so than any other year so far, we have got a really good combination of music. We mustn’t forget acclaimed pianist Danny Driver, who will give a lunchtime recital on the school’s stunning new Steinway grand piano, and the popular big band finale which sees the Ipswich School Big Band and the Ipswich Musicians’ Union Big Band inspiring one another – it will make an exhilarating end to the festival.”

The festival runs from Thursday, September 20 to Wednesday, September 26 at Ipswich School in Henley Road, opposite Christchurch Park.

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