A big festival for a Sussex village

BingBing Li SUS-140618-081427001
BingBing Li SUS-140618-081427001

Should you wonder where on earth is Etchingham, go along the A21 as far as Hurst Green, turn left at the crossroads in the village centre, and a couple of miles or so along a winding road, just beyond the station and the level crossing you will see the village church.

Atop of the spire of Etchingham’s fourteenth century church is a brass weather-vane.

Many churches have weather vanes. Etchingham’s has its own claim to fame. Dating from about 1300 it lays claim to being the oldest weathervane in the UK.

A weather-vane which reigned supreme. Photographs appeared in guide books. People arrived with cameras. A film unit put in an appearance.

Until 1987. Because then Etchingham’s finest decided that henceforth there would be something more interesting than a strip of metal to attract visitors.

So now it is famous for another reason, being the home of one of the smallest, yet most vibrant Music Festivals in the UK.

The group of friends who got together decided, rather than attempt to compete with the Royal Albert Hall and Covent Garden, the Festival Hall and Glyndebourne they would give a platform to the most promising new performers in varying branches of the arts.

So was born Etchingham’s Arts Festival. For a week in high summer the church became a performance area, the artists from the academies and local schools. Music, dance, plays, drew audiences as much for the novelty of the venue as for the variety of the performances.

Gradually the format of the programmes developed. As well as the best of what the

Academies produced, a core of professional performers expressed an interest, at times somewhat dropping their fees for the novelty of a ‘different’ item in their date-book.

Schools became more arts conscious. The small local school expressed an interest. The patronage of a number of regular members could be relied upon as a core audience. Etchingham’s reputation grew as those who had strutted their stuff in the performance area at the rear of the church regaled their colleagues back in Covent Garden or Charing Cross Road.

So today the programme is presented by youthful artistes who have ‘minds of their own’ when it comes to programme content.

They are sufficiently skilful to be able to marry such items to works which have stood the test of time, the Bachs, Beethovens, Mozarts and the rest.

Two years ago the Heath Quartet was nominated by the London Philharmonic Society as Young Artists of the Year. On Sat July 5 at 7.30 they will demonstrate their skill in works by Haydn, Beethoven and coming closer to today, Bela Bartok with his Quartet no 6.

On Sun July 6 at 7 p.m. pianiste BingBing who proved such a favourite two years ago returns to introduce the Rubis Piano Trio playing Schumann’s Piano Trio no. 7, Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No 2, and Shchredin’s Three Funny Pieces. BingBing herself will play a solo on the Steinway concert grand, the title to be announced at the time.

On Sat July 12 at 7.30, the musical side of the traditional Etchingham Supper Concert (‘Music Whilst You Eat’) a greatly-anticipated feature every year, titled Moments in Time Captured in Opera and Song, comprising songs from childhood to old age including lesser-known works by Mozart, Schumann and others. Pianiste Libby Burgess, an Etchingham favourite, provides the accompaniment, with TV and radio baritone and opera performer Marcus Farnsworth leading a choir of accomplished singers.

The always-delicious supper is again to be provided by Vernon and Julie Lewis. to whom we are ever grateful.

On Sun July 13 at 4 p.m. The Festival closes with something in which everyone can join. Singing for Fun – A Summer Melody is a feast provided by Crowborough’s Choral Group doing just that – singing for fun with melodies from throughout the ages, from madrigals to Les Miz and serenades to Sound of Music.

So ends another year of planning and arranging, of wondering what everyone liked best – and what do we do next year?

There is of course one item not yet been mentioned, that every festival needs a patron. Etchingham is incredibly fortunate in having a patron of worldwide renown, the first British artist to play in Russia after WW2, who even after all this time still practises every day (and don’t we all hate him for it?) who on the evening of Thurs July 10 will play some much-loved items, Mozart’s F Major Sonata, Beethoven’s Grande Sonate Pathetique, Debussy’s Etampes, and it goes without saying, something by that composer the performance of whose music knows no equal, playing Chopin’s Polonaise Fantaisie Etchingham Festival’s Patron Peter Katin.

Marrion Wells