Wednesday 7 July 2021

A gloriously offline moment: I chat to artistic director Christopher Glynn about the 40th anniversary Ryedale Festival

Welcome to Ryedale

How do you plan a festival in a time when the rules about what might and might not be possible are constantly changing and where simply getting artists to travel can be a challenge, never mind finding venues where you can have a socially distanced audience. When I asked Christopher Glynn, artistic director of the Ryedale Festival, this question he laughed and said hard work and a determination to do it. This year's Ryedale Festival is running from 17 July to 31 July 2021 with a series of events with live audiences. I chatted to Christopher recently by Zoom to find out more about how they made it happen.

Christopher Glynn (photo Joanna Bergin)
Christopher Glynn (photo Joanna Bergin)
This year is the festival's 40th anniversary so they were determined to make something happen and the decision was taken early on to have a late-announced, one-off festival with 40 events (for 40 years) as opposed to their regular happening with around 80 events. This year the concerts are shorter and they are all repeated, as most of the venues are relatively small. Yet this is something that Christopher has found it fascinating to explore, another way of looking at the festival and throughout our chat I was struck by his creative attitude, taking the restrictions as a way of re-evaluating. The venues are all being operated at 50% capacity so every concert is being given twice.

So the big difference this year to the regular festival is that there are fewer concerts, they are shorter and there are no intervals. This latter is something that Christopher comments that they will be interested to see what happens. Whilst some people will miss the interval, he has already had positive comments from people who find having a shorter concert a benefit, meaning that you can easily fit dinner in beforehand or afterwards. 

Normally, the festival takes pride in creating events that could not be heard anywhere else, which Christopher regards as an important feature of the festival. But this is not happening this year, and they will be saving up their ideas for next year.

Larger scale events and those requiring extensive rehearsal time have proved simply too complex, this year's festival has an emphasis on the smaller scale. But there is still support for young artists, backing young performers that the festival believes in. So that on 30 July there is a Young Artist Day at All Saints' Church, Hovingham with performances from pianist Misha Rushdie Momen, and violinist Charlotte Salustre-Bridoux with Ljubica Stojanovic (piano).

Ordinarily, the festival uses around 35 venues in the Ryedale area, ranging from local venues to historic sites such as Castle Howard, Hovingham Hall, Duncombe Park, Birdsall House and Sledmere House, as well as in Ampleforth Abbey. But currently, around half of their regular venues are out of action, for whatever reason, whilst the remaining ones take a variety of differing views as to how they work during the present restrictions. This has meant that even the simplest of venues has become complex, and Christopher is grateful to the army of festival volunteers who have been busy measuring spaces and counting seats, making it all work.

Christopher and his team waited to announce details of the festival until after the launch concert on 4 June 2021 when the Benedetti Elschenbroich Grynyuk Trio gave two concerts. Any doubts that they might have had about the festival attracting audience members were immediately assuaged as both concerts sold out immediately. This gave Christopher confidence that audiences would come to a Summer festival.

Ampleforth Abbey
Ampleforth Abbey

Over the last year, the festival has developed an imaginative on-line presence, Ryestream, but Christopher emphasises that the Summer festival will be a gloriously off-line moment without any filming or streaming. Instead, they will be relishing the energy that comes from performing to a live audience, creating something different every time. Christopher comments that whilst streaming has been valuable and has enabled them to develop new audiences, there is something unique about live performance, the way you make music with the audience. And performers love the Ryedale audience and the energy that develops, something that cannot be captured on screen. This Summer, they will be reminding themselves of what it is like to have a live audience.

But, that does not mean that the festival is abandoning on-line. Whilst this Summer's festival will be a live-one event, Ryestream has had over 70,000 views with lots of new people with viewers from South American, Mongolia and more. It has been such a success that they want to continue it in some way. Both live and streamed have their place, and Christopher wants the festival to develop in a way where live and streamed events have a creative interaction.

One of the things that streaming enabled Christopher to do was explore venues that were too small to do a concert in but which worked as a film venue. And the way they filmed the events was to make the venue one of the stars of the show. Not just the venue, Ryedale itself is a beautiful locale with a friendly atmosphere, and so landscape and other footage was woven into the resulting films, anchoring them in a particular place. Christopher comments that one of the changes resulting from the pandemic is that the world is going to be more local, and for Ryedale being local is what makes it special.

When I ask Christopher about his festival highlights, he comments that this is impossible. It is his role as festival director to believe in every single event, and for Christopher each concert is special. Unusually, Christopher will not be performing at the festival, the first time he has not. But this year he has been so busy with planning the festival as well as performing in re-scheduled concerts, and he is thus taking the opportunity to showcase other accompanists.

Hovingham Hall
Hovingham Hall

The Ryedale Festival runs from 17 July to 31 July 2021, with performers including the BBC Big Band, Jess Gillam, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Manchester Collective, Miloš, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Abel Selaocoe, Kathryn Tickell, Coco Tomita (winner of the Strings category in this year’s BBC Young Musician) with Simon Callaghan, and Tenebrae, as well as Poet Laureate Simon Armitage. The festival's opening day features the Albion String Quartet, and soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton's Schubert programme, Elysium [see my review], and the closing day the Solem Quartet and friends in Schubert's Octet and music by Florence Price.

And despite the restrictions, there is an impressive list of venues including, St Mary’s Priory Church, Old Malton, St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Pickering, All Saints’ Church, Kirkbymoorside, St Michael’s Church, Malton, St Olave’s Church, York, Birdsall House and Church, Milton Rooms, Malton, Hovingham Hall, All Saints’ Church, Hovingham, St Peter’s Church, Norton, Scarborough Spa, Duncombe Park, and Ampleforth Abbey.

Full details from the Ryedale Festival website

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