|Quatuor Tana, who appear at this year's festival|
photo Vincent Beaume
John talks about longevity being important in new music, saying you cannot build an audience in three years. His devoting the Vale of Glamorgan Festival entirely to new music was partly a response to what he calls the ruses audiences use to avoid the new music elements in mixed programmes. If you attend the festival you cannot avoid new music, and John describes the decision as very liberating. Whilst he admits it has not been easy, audiences know what the festival stands for and they come for that.
|Dyffryn House, one of the venues at this year's festival|
John describes the audience as both loyal and forgiving, admitting that things do not always work out and that it is inevitable that an artistic director will make mistakes. The festival's programmes are aimed not at the specialist but at the interested person, described by John as the sort of people who would be interested to read the Turner prize short list. But he takes the perhaps unfashionable view that it is necessary to help the audience reconnect with new music. His programmes mix the wonderful with the difficult, the accessible with the less so. He talks of how occasionally a work comes along with which audiences connect in a big way and that he hopes eventually that they will join up the dots and develop their interest in all the music in between.
John candidly admits that he believes in getting more people into concerts by 'giving them sugar' on the basis that you can then help their tastes and interests develop. But he is firm that he has no interest in dumbing down. You only have to glance at this year's programme, with a 65 minute choral piece from Tarik O'Regan, a major John Tavener choral concert and a programme from Juice Vocals. John feels that it is important to flatter the audience's level of interest and to encourage them. He tries to do this by reclaiming the musical language of the vernacular for contemporary music. But he is also a fan of challenging difficult music, he just does not want to be forced into a corner with a restricted vocabulary, and wants to have access to 'every colour in the paintbox'.
John describes the audience as mostly his own age (he was born in 1946) and comments that festival directors should invest more in developing their older members of the audience, pointing out that it is the older age group which has the time to devote to listening, learning and appreciating.
The festival has developed into a significant event. Partly this is a result of the economic climate, as other people are more careful with their planning, the Vale of Glamorgan Festival stands out and has been garnering more support and has just gone through a period of expansion. For John it helps that the festival has a clarity of purpose with its devotion to living composers and music written recently. He believes this makes it easier to pitch the festival to people.
|Duncan Ward who conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at the festival|
photo Rachel Shakespeare
John was in Beijing in December judging a competition for young (under 40) composers and says that there are interesting things happening in China. John has selected one work from the competition and it will be played by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at their concert on 14 May 2014.
|Tarik O'Regan - photo Denise Ding NY Bhodi|
There are other changes afoot. Though John will continue the policy of presenting composers' back catalogues, the festival will be doing more commissioning. John talks of how the Vale of Glamorgan Festival has always swum against the tide, and now that there is less money around for commissions, the festival is moving that way.
In many ways John Metcalf is an idealist. he talks of how repertoire should be the foundation of a festival and how a festival director should be able to programme the works and then choose the performers. Whereas too often at the moment he chooses the performers who then inform the repertoire choices. But John is an idealist with his feel firmly on the ground and you feel that the people of the Vale of Glamorgan have their festival in capable but interesting hands.
The Vale of Glamorgan Festival runs from 8 May to 17 May 2014, further information from the festival website.
Elsewhere on this blog:
- Fallen Women at WNO: Puccini's Manon Lescaut
- Dramatic intensity: Lieder by Brahms and Wolf from Alastair Miles
- Happening at the Barbican: Circa and Quatuor Debussy in Opus
- Delight and charm: Paul Bunyan at ETO
- Total Immersion: Thea Musgrave at the Barbican
- Cantus Cölln at the Wigmore Hall
- Powerful performance: Rigoletto at ENO
- See it if you can: ETO in Tippett's King Priam
- Mei Yi Foo: Lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall
- Chansonnerie from Londinium
- Dance away: Ciaccona from Guillermo Brachetta - CD review
- Luminous: Vox Luminis at Cadogan Hall
- Forgotten tenor: Walter Widdop - Book review