Friday, 22 February 2019

The hills are alive for arts festival’s founder

The hills are alive for arts festival’s founder

A FEAST of choral music is in store when the Chiltern Arts Festival returns to Henley next month.

Now in its second year, the festival — which covers the area in and around the Chiltern Hills — is the brainchild of music graduate Naomi Taylor.

The 26-year-old, who is married with two young children and lives in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, has been working in event management since her student days at the University of York

But it turns out that her track record of organising concerts goes back even further.

“It was only sort of halfway through university that I realised that event organisation was actually a job,” she says.

“It was during my GCSEs that I organised my first fund-raising concert and I did several of those over the next few years, raising funds for various different groups that I sang or played with. I would just get groups of friends together and organise concerts and things.

“So I knew I had an interest in event organisation and I tried to do as much as possible when I got to university — and from there it was just that sort of realisation that ‘Oh, actually this can be a job, I can get paid to do this.’”

Naomi’s big break came when she was hired by the Ryedale Festival in North Yorkshire while still a student.

“I was very lucky with the Ryedale job,” she recalls. “I sort of accidentally met someone when I was deputising in a concert. I met the current event manager and she said she was leaving. And I said, are they looking for a replacement? And she said, well, yes, actually, and put me in touch.”

It turned out that Naomi’s combination of enthusiam and experience was just what the festival organisers were looking for.

“I was in my final year, and the way the course works at York, instead of writing a dissertation you do what is called a solo project. You can basically do anything as long as they approve it — and I ran a festival. It was just 10 events over three months and it was a choral festival at various locations in the city and at the university.”

Shortly after graduating, Naomi wed her partner Alex, an engineer whom she had met when they were both singers in the Hertfordshire Chorus. “We got married in the September after I graduated and I continued working for Ryedale and I also did some ad hoc work with the university — I managed some music conferences and things like that with one of the professors there.”

Eventually, however, the couple decided the time was right to return to their Hertfordshire roots.

“We moved to Berkhamsted in 2015 to start a family — and a festival!” laughs Naomi.

“I saw moving away from York as an opportunity to start something because I always knew that I wanted to run my own festival, my own event series or whatever.

“But living in York it was very difficult to see how that would ever happen because there was so much going on and I was so closely connected with everything that it would just have been a huge conflict of interest and I would never get anywhere and it would be the wrong thing to do. So I saw moving away from York as an opportunity to make my own mark.”

How did her vision for the Chiltern Arts Festival come about?

“When I got down here I started looking at what’s around, what festivals are on and what events are running throughout the year. And initially I thought maybe I would just do a kind of Berkhamsted Weekend or something.

“But I started to explore the area and realised that there’s just so many gorgeous places in the Chilterns. And actually there’s nothing that really encompasses the whole area — nothing that tries to connect the dots — and it seems a shame not to exploit these beautiful venues. If I’m going to be organising something, I might as well go big or go home.”

The Chilterns are certainly that, however you define them. “It’s a slightly grey area as to exactly what the Chilterns encompasses,” nods Naomi. “But they’re absolutely enormous, so it will take us a while to reach the top and the bottom. I think Hitchin is the furthest point up and then Goring is the gateway down at the bottom end.”

The 2019 festival opens at St Peter’s Church in Berkhamsted on Saturday, February 9, with an evening concert by the City of London Sinfonia. Other events over the next seven days are taking place at venues in Great Missenden, Hughenden and Pipers Corner.

Closer to home, baritone Roderick Williams stars in a world premiere performance of Hugo Wolf’s “An Italian Songbook” at All Saints’ Church in Marlow on Tuesday, February 12, at 7.30pm.

Then on Friday, February 15, St Mary’s Church in Hart Street, Henley, is the venue for a choral concert by Renaissance choir Stile Antico, who are regarded as one of the world’s finest vocal ensembles.

Titled “Queen of Muses”, the 7.30pm concert features a programme inspired by the musical gems of Elizabeth I’s reign.

The festival returns to St Mary’s the following day at 10am for a “Come and Sing” event with the acclaimed composer and conductor Bob Chilcott that runs until 4pm.

Tickets for Stile Antico are £25 and Bob Chilcott £20, but the festival is offering a £40 “Choral Lover’s Combined Ticket” for both.

For full details of all festival events, visit
festival or for more information call the box office on 01442 920303.

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