Last night we had a meeting for our volunteer stewards – a fantastic bunch of about 100 people who contribute their time to help us make our events happen, primarily by welcoming audiences, showing them to their seats and generally making our venues safe and happy places to be. We couldn’t do it without them and last night was our pre-festival training session.
I talked them through the programme so that they can answer questions about the artists and programmes knowledgably and as I did so, started to reflect on what I’m particularly looking forward to in the festival. With one week to go, following months of preparation, it feels like time to start enjoying it!
Our opener on Friday 11 June promises to be a real treat – Rumpelstiltskin by David Sawer, directed by Richard Jones and Stewart Laing. It’s a music theatre retelling of the Grimm tale and the London premiere by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and dancers opens our festival. Beautifully expressive and gently unsettling, it sits somewhere between dance, physical theatre and mime, retelling the story in a most captivating way.
One of the series I’m most looking forward to has been put together by James Weeks, whose conducting and composition I’ve known for about eight years and really admire. He is one of our two Associate Artists (the others are The Sixteen and Harry Christophers) and his series takes place in local galleries – contemporary music and contemporary visual arts explored together. In the same way that the shows focus on a single artist, his concert programmes are also ‘portraits’ – two of which are artists who are rarely heard in the UK: Chris Newman and Aldo Clementi. These events promise the opportunity to briefly subsume in a particular musical world.
I can’t wait for the mid-point in our festival – a day of contrasts – firstly a visit to the world famous Whitechapel Bell Foundry (makers of Big Ben), then a day of workshops, talks and events around the extraordinary percussion piece by Iannis Xenakis called Pleiades, followed by a beautiful programme in Christ Church given by the Academy of Ancient Music and Clare College. Pleiades promises to raise the roof of Spitalfields Market as six virtuosic percussionists perform 40 minutes of the most compulsive music written, and Clare College promise a more reflective mood in a programme which remembers famous lives.
It’s good to have something to look forward to at the end and our final evening event is on my highlights list – the London Contemporary Orchestra make their Spitalfields debut in Village Underground, one of our new venues this year. The programme centres around a performance of music for the Brothers Quay’s Street of Crocodiles and promises to be a real visual and sonic treat. A perfect way to end. Except that won’t be the end – they are followed by a bonus event put together by our young programmers group, Circulate, who have come up with something to take the evening through until late and finish the festival off with a bang!