In just a few years, Whittington International Chamber Music Festival has built a reputation as one of the best provincial festivals of its kind in the UK.
The annual event takes place over six days each May, in the peaceful surroundings of the village of Whittington, which nestles in the North Shropshire countryside, close to the Welsh border and two miles off the A5.
The 2019 festival, Czech Mates, featured the music of Dvořák and his Bohemian compatriots, and was the most successful yet, with internationally-renowned musicians giving memorable performances.
Whittington International Chamber Music Festival has earned its reputation not least in the way it treats its artists as professional people wanting to give of their best, but also deserving of some personal space and refreshment.
Maintaining those principles from the start has resulted in the supreme quality of the performances our audiences have come to expect.
A brief history of Whittington International Chamber Music Festival
In 2011 cellist James Barralet suggested to his recently retired parents that they might like to work with him in the setting up of a professional music festival in the Welsh borderland area of Shropshire to which they had moved.
A successful ‘taster’ concert in 2012 revealed that Whittington church was ideal in almost every respect for such a venture, with an unrivalled acoustic, unimpeded sight-lines, Whittington Castle car park opposite, two neighbouring eating houses, a hospitable church community, and a location close to Shrewsbury, Oswestry, Llangollen, Pontcysyllte, Chirk and other tourism hotspots.
After winning the agreement of Steven Isserlis as Honorary Patron, a management group was set up which soon became a charitable Trust.
In May 2013 James invited sixteen world-class musicians to celebrate the 180th anniversary of Brahms’ birth by performing every piece of his chamber music in the space of just nine days.
This phenomenal achievement put Whittington festival on the map from the start.
The following four years remained true to the single-composer precedent, focusing in turn on Schubert, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Beethoven.
During that period, the festival established the format of a ten-day residency of around fourteen international musicians, offering six concerts and an outreach programme.
The chemistry of bringing together soloist-calibre musicians (by 2019 there had been 55 of them), who may never have played ensemble with their festival colleagues before, and who may not indeed have played parts of the festival repertoire before, was quickly noted as giving every performance a rare and exciting vibrancy.
Moving on from the single composer format
James felt that by marking the 190th anniversary of Beethoven’s death in 2017, Whittington’s ‘single composer’ USP was reaching a natural climax.
That year already established new markers with an open-air recital in the woods of nearby Chirk Castle in partnership with the National Trust, and the audience still further increased with a live webcast of the Thursday concert to an international reach of over 5,000.
2018 then set a new course with “Fantasia on a British theme”, with six concerts of British music, including an hour of Scottish folk with Donald Grant.
This theme will be picked up again in 2020 with “Folklassical”, a programme exploring the traditional genres which inspired the classical composers.
Meanwhile 2019’s “Czech Mates”, headlining Dvořák, was an evocation of the best of Bohemia, and our most popular festival yet.