A brief history of Whittington Music Festival

In 2011 cellist James Barralet suggested to his recently-retired parents that they might work with him in setting up a classical music festival in the Welsh marches of NW Shropshire.

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, ample car parking, two nearby pubs, and a hospitable church community.

After winning the agreement of Steven Isserlis to become Honorary Patron, a management group was set up which soon became a charitable Trust.

In May 2013 James invited sixteen colleagues to celebrate the 180th anniversary of Brahms’ birth by performing his entire chamber music output in the space of just nine days. Bringing together soloist-calibre musicians who did not regularly play together, and who were new to some of the festival repertoire, was key to a rare and exciting vibrancy of performance. The following four years remained true to the single-composer precedent, focusing in turn on Schubert, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Beethoven. During that period, the format of a ten-day residency for up to fourteen international

musicians, offering six concerts in local schools and U3A groups became established.

2018 set a new course with six concerts of British music, including an hour of Scottish folk with Donald Grant and the Elias quartet, and was followed in 2019 by a programme of music by Dvorak and other Czech composers.

The folk theme was to have been picked up again in 2020 with a programme exploring the folk roots and the classical music inspired by it.  However, due to the global pandemic, the festival had to be cancelled, and this provided the opportunity for James and his parents to retire that year.

Sophia Rahman took over as Artistic Director late in 2020 and signalled another change of direction with a programme that included Debussy’s Syrinx, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, Britten’s Simple Symphony and the first performance of a trio by Jeremy Sams. The three-day 2021 festival opened within days of the restrictions on live performances being lifted on May 17th, to the delight of the audience and artists alike. Sadly, socially distancing rules meant that only 80 people were able to attend each day, despite the temporary move to a much larger church in Oswestry.