Sunday, 14 August 2022

Blowing our own trumpet, festival gives young musicians a leg up

IF you’ve seen this year’s full Henley Festival programme of events, you’ll hopefully agree that is

IF you’ve seen this year’s full Henley Festival programme of events, you’ll hopefully agree that is a thing of beauty. In fact, I’m really pleased we decided to go with a much fatter version this year as it gives us the opportunity to say a helluva lot more about the detail of what happens come July.

Obviously we scream from the rooftops about our headliners as the buzz that goes around town each year is invariably about who we’ve got on the floating stage but, as the real Henley Festival audience knows, the true festival experience is about the myriad of mini- experiences that form the bulk of the evening...

The encounter with a slightly dotty piece of street theatre, the extraordinary piece of sculpture on the lawn, the invariably mesmerising spectacle we attempt to lay on to accompany the fireworks and so on. What I’m particularly pleased about this year is that we’ve chosen to highlight one of the elements of the festival that can get missed among all the brouhaha of the bigger attractions – the fact that we have consistently provided opportunities for really bright young talents at a stage in their career and when exposure at a festival like ours will give them a vital extra notch on their musical bedpost. If you look at our programme, you will see that each day we have highlighted a young talent who we are backing to have a bright future and who we are proud to give a genuine leg-up with a slot at the festival.

Of course, what gives me additional great pleasure is seeing young performers who we have given this kind of support to over the years breaking through into the mainstream.

A lot of you will remember that very early in her career the violinist Nicola Benedetti appeared at the festival. Very early in his career, the unbelievable talent that is jazz musician Joe Stilgoe took to one of our stages, just as last year we gave an opportunity to the young George Montague who I am convinced will be breaking through very soon.

Very much in this vein it is brilliant to be welcoming back another performer this summer who at a very young age we supported in this way – the trumpeter Alison Balsom.

Perhaps a couple of hundred of our supporters will remember a festival event very early in her career when she pretty well blew us away â?? well, that career that has now gone stellar.

Do you remember the recent BBC music promo of the Beach Boys’ hit God Only Knows, which starred pretty much everyone in the musical universe? Well, check it out online, but the featured trumpeter swinging in the birdcage was none other than Alison and, of course, it is Alison who stars in the hugely exciting Gershwin evening at the festival this year, alongside the genuine man-of-the-moment singer Gregory Porter, Laura Mvula, the mighty Philharmonia Orchestra and so on.

I say “and so on”. It’s probably worth adding we’re also managing to throw the spotlight on another exceptional young performer in that concert, the Chinese pianist Ji Liu, a genuine talent and a half.

What we probably won’t see from Ji is a rather different side to his musical character – a spot of break dancing. He’s every bit as good at spinning on his head as he is in trilling a bit of Mozart or Haydn but we should be getting a cracking performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue. Very special.

So do check out the early evening slots in our atmospheric Bedouin Tent. You may well see tomorrow’s stars starting to climb the ladder. Very exciting!

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