Christopher Morley previews the Presteigne Festival.
Arts festivals in the Welsh Marches seem to go in for longevity, such as those held in Ludlow, at Leasowes Bank Farm in Ratlinghope, and at Presteigne, launching its 30th festival today.
How does artistic director George Vass manage to keep the Presteigne Festival so fresh?
“We’re not only celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Festival, but it’s also my twentieth year as artistic director and, in all those years, I’ve made it my number one priority to keep the Presteigne Festival as fresh and vibrant as ever,” the Walsall-born conductor tells me.
“Obviously our various commissions and premieres keep the Festival vivid in everyone’s mind, but I’m constantly developing new repertoire strands and trying to achieve a good balance between contemporary works, 20th-century classics and masterpieces from the past.
“Having the input of a different composer-in-residence each year helps a great deal when programming – this year it’s the turn of Sally Beamish and I’m very much looking forward to performing what is truly beautiful music.”
The appointment last October of Alison Giles as Festival Producer has brought exciting changes to the Festival, as George explains.
“Alison’s interest in the visual arts and literature has meant quite a different look to the non-musical element of the Festival this year. We have no fewer than three exhibitions including important work by John Craxton, the outstanding British neo-romantic painter, and a very special exhibition of work by Sidney Nolan at The Rodd.”
George tells me how he is continually scouting out for new blood to bring to the Festival.
“I spend a great deal of time listening to performances of new music, and I try to get to as many young artist recitals and showcase events as I possibly can. Living in London does make life a little easier! I also take the advice of my fellow professionals John McCabe and David Matthews, who often point me in the right direction in choosing artists new to me.”
Many stalwarts return to the Festival year after year. How does George account for this loyalty from “regulars”?