Three Festival Case Studies
Here are three contrasting festivals which I have recently directed and, in the Portuguese case, continue to do so. Within the different approaches I take in response to the particular local circumstances, I employ methods which are common to all and can be modelled specifically to suit cultural developments and artistic celebrations in almost any situation, anywhere in the world. Please contact me for discussion, further information and availability either to lead the processes and deliver the products or to advise on the ways and means of creating and growing festivals.
St Magnus Festival, Orkney ()
Between 1988 and 1993 I was one of a triumvirate of Artistic co-Directors of this unique Festival, at that time run almost entirely on a voluntary basis. My principal position at that time was as Managing Director of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, based in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and as different and distant from Orkney as a place can be. The St Magnus Festival, like some other great examples, was created by artists: the composer Peter Maxwell Davies, who came to live in the Islands, and the poet George MacKay Brown, who spent all his life there. It has maintained an ideal balance between local participants, adults and children alike, and invited international artists of the highest quality.
After a gap of more than twenty years I returned to Orkney in summer 2004 to live there for a year and direct the 2005 Festival. Having previously worked for a number of years, often voluntarily, in Bosnia and other war-torn places, organising projects and using the power of music to help the rebuilding of people’s lives, I developed the programme for Orkney, the most peaceful place imaginable, around the theme of ‘Conflict and Resolution’. Artists from Bosnia and elsewhere came to share their work and make music with the local people. The Festival opened with a piece of music-theatre largely created by two hundred primary school children from the Islands: their Notes in Time of War drew upon statements made and exchanged online by young people of their own age group (10-12 years) from Rwanda (including child soldiers), Bosnia, Iraq and Northern Ireland, their testaments forming the text and being transformed into a work of great power.
This example serves to illustrate that a festival can close the gap between amateurs and professionals, between locals and visitors, and between the grass-roots and the stars, with artistic results that are enhanced rather than compromised. The visiting stars bring inspiration to the local people but also depart with greater illumination from having been there. St Magnus is an ‘international’ festival by virtue of being ‘local’.
The City of London Festival ()
Reflecting the fact that the City of London has for centuries been one of the world’s great trading centres, exchanging cultures and doing business with places and people all around the world, it seemed appropriate to adopt an ongoing theme of ‘Trading Places’. My 2006 programme focussed on Japan and over the years that followed we visited and embraced the arts and cultures from every continent. From its inception CoLF has celebrated both the old and the new, as befits a city that has remained the same while constantly changing, and has brought to life the many historic and iconic buildings, ancient streets and interesting open spaces of the Square Mile with music and other arts.
For my last five of these Festivals I introduced and maintained an environmental theme which, by its very nature, demanded sustainability. In 2009, while focussing upon the maritime cities lying along the latitude of 60˚ North – from Kirkwall to St Petersburg via Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn – and connecting them with maritime London, the selected artists and their works addressed the subject of climate change and the threat of flooding. In 2010 the focus was on Bees (and the making of honey rather than money) which coincided with the parallel problems of collapsing bee colonies worldwide and collapsing banks within the City; in 2011 it was the turn of Birds and their important presence not only in our urban environment but also, through their song, at the heart of music itself. In 2012, whilst celebrating CoLF’s 50th anniversary, the theme was of Flowers, which in their numerous colours and varieties reflected the many peoples who live and work in the City and international visitors, especially during this year of the London Olympics. Finally, in 2013 trees provided the natural topic, not only inspiring new music, poetry and other arts but also drawing attention to the major epidemics that were starting to infect our tree populations and are still with us: my final act on departing the Festival was to open officially the first orchard to be planted in the City of London for about four hundred years, handing over the young fruit trees that had been our ‘Mobile Orchard’ during the weeks of the Festival when it served as both an arts venue and a place of repose for those living and working in the City!
The City of London does not have the obvious sense of community that can be found in Orkney or in many other smaller places but it does nevertheless have a huge and significant business community, outnumbering its resident population by a ratio of about 40:1. The Festival is for all of them and for the increasing number of visitors to its historic and cultural amenities. Business has been a crucial contributor of sponsorship and the partnership between commerce and culture, between business and the arts, is a natural but complex one in a City where both have coexisted and must continue to flourish. I have written on this topic for the Spear’s Magazine and its readership of wealth managers and high-net-worth individuals.
Festival de Música de Setúbal ()
This is a project which was grown from the ground up rather than delivered from the top down, an approach which was essential to the immediate success of the Setúbal Music Festival in 2011 and its prospects for sustainability. Setúbal has a long history of cultural and commercial success in the past but, in more recent times, has suffered a collapse in both these areas. The project began in 2010 at a time when Portugal itself had entered profound economic difficulties, which remain to this day. When invited to establish a new music festival there by the British philanthropist Lady Hamlyn, through the Helen Hamlyn Trust, and by the municipality of Setúbal, I made it clear to those involved that the easy option of merely fashioning a programme and delivering a series of events would bring no lasting benefit.
A festival can be likened to a firework display, with plenty of noise, heat and light, but when the party is over everything feels darker and colder than before – unless the bonfire is allowed to continue to burn. I therefore intended to build the ‘bonfire’ and began working with children and giving young people opportunities that they would otherwise lack. I began by consulting with local community groups, including the immigrant associations (mainly of the former Portuguese colonies, representing about 25% of the city’s population of over 100,000 people), the heads of the schools, the city’s cultural representatives and other departments within the local authority. I suggested the theme of ‘Nature’ for the first edition because of the exceptional natural environment and diversity within the population, and particularly of Birds, reflecting the local wildlife, the music of birdsong and the metaphor of migration – a bird is now the Festival’s logo. In response to local needs, and the idea of developing creativity as well as performance, two programmes of workshops were undertaken, one in drumming (based on African and South American rhythms) and the other in song-writing, both involving several hundred young people. This came first and the Festival followed, several months later, as a platform for the work created and performed by the local people and shared by some of the finest visiting musicians whom we could afford from Portugal and further afield.
Now in its fifth year, with well over a thousand young people involved in the continuing workshops, the four-day Festival has nurtured creative partnerships which previously didn’t exist between several of Setúbal’s musical organisations and educational institutions. With the support of The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and its new scheme for social inclusion in culture - PARTIS - I am developing a new Youth Ensemble to fill a gap in provision for the best young musicians of Setúbal after they leave school and head for pastures new. This ensemble uniquely combines young people with special needs, using assistive technology, drummers from the more deprived and marginalised areas of the city as well as students of classical music and jazz, reflecting exactly the groups of young people who have become engaged in the Festival since the beginning. This unique combination of musicians has, by definition, no existing repertoire so all the music has to be specially created. This is a model which can be adapted for any community where provision is lacking or the musical infrastructure is incomplete.
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