A Festival of Classic Proportions


That’s not all. There’s a family angle to the event, too. “Normally you don’t think classical concert: children. But we’re putting together a fantastic children’s programme, with Andy and Mike from CBeebies coming down with the Royal Academy of Music playing in there.” I’m starting to see how the ‘festival’ idea is really taking shape, with everyone catered for.

And there is one element that is common to all festivals, whatever the music and sideshows on offer. The camping. But, in Serenata’s case, they’ve taken the traditional festival idea of mud and boots camping and given it a bit more grace. “It’s not something you’d normally associate with classical concerts,” says Lesley. “So we’ve raised the bar a bit. You can still come along and pitch a tent but then we’ve got ‘glamping’ [glamour camping]where you’d have a hotel bell tent put up for you. Then there’s the Serenata boutique camping and that really is as if the hotel has come to you, with double beds, fine linens, a pavilion overlooking Kimmeridge Bay and, naturally, butler service.“

If it sounds all-encompassing, it really is. It sounds like an established festival that’s been going for years, I’m still amazed this has come together in such a short space of time, where does one start? “One of the things I thought was, I’ve never a run a festival before, I need to go and find the best in the business. So we went out and found Stewart Collins, who’s the Artistic Director for Henley Festival, Holder’s Festival Barbados, and he’s also on every sort of committee you can imagine so his experience in the business in phenomenal. As our artistic consultant, he decides how the festival day flows. It may look like it’s just popped up but, in fact, every minute of the festival is mapped out and that’s what he does. Spontaneity has to be thoroughly planned!”

Ultimately, though, it’s all about the music and, with that in mind, I ask Lesley how the line-up came together. I had a sneaking suspicion her previous work with Russell Watson and Katherine Jenkins helped but there’s more to it than that. “The talent has always been at the heart of it,” Lesley explains. “It was the seed idea that we had to have the talent for this and then blending the different elements. And I said to Stewart right at the beginning, we need to have a broad repertoire here. We wanted headline artists but we also need a serious core classical element if we’re going to make this claim about being Britain’s first classical ‘festival’, we can’t simply be a classical crossover festival, we’ve got to have the full spectrum and Stewart got that immediately and went out to source the right artists to give us that broad spectrum.”

Press-ganged into a soundbite and clearly in the middle of a meeting at a nearby table, Stewart is quick to point out the collective decision-making when it comes to deciding on the repertoire, “Fortunately, it’s not a single person’s decision. The whole coming together of the group of artists, the festival ‘family’ as we like to put it, has been a collective decision. Timothy Redman, the Artistic Director, has done a lot of work of this nature with top artists and has a lot of experience when it comes to knowing what works, what the audience wants and, of course, what’s possible, because in a festival format you don’t have a huge amount of time to prepare things, it has to be practical. That’s not to say you’re limited but you do have parameters.

“Collectively we’ve come up with a programme that touches a lot of the areas of music that I know Lesley always wanted us to include, from the core classical including Mozart, Gershwin and Mendelssohn, but also the more popular, more contemporary artists. That’s the balance that has been created and how the whole programme has come around. I’ve sat there watching very contentedly as all these influences have come together.”

That balance is evident across the three days of the festival and Lesley’s enthusiasm spills over for each of the acts in question, in spite of my lazy journalism in pressing her for a favourite. “Blake were doing a press event for us on the beach the other day and performed for us and they were completely spell-binding, they sounded amazing. With Faryl [Smith] and Geoff [Sewell] and Emma Johnson playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, we have a very vibrant opening night on the Thursday. Friday we have Ruth Palmer playing Mendelssohn and Katherine Jenkins, who needs no introduction, and then we’re closing the festival on Saturday with Russell who’s such a showman, such a powerful entertainer.” Also playing is former winner of the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor. I can’t help but submit a request, asking for Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto. “Funnily enough, we’ve asked for that,” Lesley tells me, “but the playlist is still being finalised so you’ll have to see.”

In the brief time we’ve chatted my interest is piqued. Did I say how much I liked music festivals? I’m mentally dusting down my tent, scraping mud off my boots and looking forward to another excuse to visit the Dorset countryside. Just before we leave, Jonesy points out that classical concerts in Mozart and Beethoven’s day were riotous affairs, with the crowds cheering throughout, not unlike today’s gigs, in fact. Come the day, I secretly hope the timpanist puts his foot through his drums and the percussionist stage-dives into the crowd.

Serenata runs from 26 – 28th August. To win tickets, please enter here. For more information, please visit the Serenata website.

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