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.
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, allowing James and his parents to end their involvement in the management of the festival.
Sophia Rahman took over as Artistic Director late in 2020 and signalled another change of direction with a programme that included orchestral chamber works and a world premiere. The three-day 2021 festival opened within days of the ban on live performances being lifted on May 17th, to the delight of the audience and artists alike. Social distancing rules seriously reduced audience numbers and income, despite the temporary move to a much larger church in Oswestry.
The 2022 festival returned to Whittington and continued to innovate with a programme of seven concerts over four days which included jazz, song and public masterclasses for the first time, under the title ‘Transcending Borders’. The results surpassed the expectations of musicians and audiences alike and you can read their reactions here.