Hastings has a fine reputation for celebration and an increasingly strong standing for its classical music events.
To this we can now add Hastings Early Music Festival thanks to the initiative of Jane Gordon, an international violinist in her own right but also an entrepreneur and very practical organiser when it comes to starting things from scratch.
We met on a café on St Leonards sea front, close to where she has lived now for over a year.
‘My work takes me all over the place, but I realised some time ago that Hastings was an ideal base and one which was increasingly important in terms of the music which was on offer. There seems to have been a minor explosion of performances recently, and all of them well received and well supported.
The opening of Opus Theatre as a new venue for classical music, together with the magnificent Phoenix piano, has created a venue which is ideal for the sort of chamber music I have been involved in now for many years.
I suppose it was many of these realities coming together, plus my long term interest in early music which made the idea of an Early Music Festival come to fruition.
We are starting this year with just three events – two at Opus Theatre on Friday and Saturday, followed by a matinee of medieval music at Kino Teatr on Sunday. However I hope we will in future years be able to involve many more events and venues. It would be wonderful to take live early music onto the pier – much early music was intended for outdoor performance and it would sound magnificent there.
We are also trying to establish a different approach to events. We wanted to get away from evenings where performers walk on in silence, perform and walk off again with no real contact between audience and player.
So we are having open rehearsals and question & answer sessions before the events themselves to build a closer rapport with our potential audiences.
The range of music is also important. On Friday night we are playing works by Mozart, Beethoven & Haydn. Purists may balk at this on the basis it is not strictly early music though the approach will be historically based and we will be including extracts from Mozart’s letters at the time to give a clearer context. The evening will have a clear narrative – not quite theatre but drawing on the strengths of the spoken voice alongside the players.
On Saturday we have a feast of baroque music with an ensemble of ten players, drawn from soloist working with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, with familiar works by Vivaldi, Handel and Bach, and will be joined by soprano Charlotte Beament.
Sunday afternoon takes us back to the medieval period with a concert by The Telling which will begin to get us in the mood for Christmas. Both Saturday and Sunday performances will be by candlelight.
Looking forward, I would love to see us presenting events closer to the Ale House sessions rather than formal concerts, where the interaction is easier for all, though the quality is never in doubt.
Anybody who has experience of dropping into a pub in Dublin and suddenly being faced with fantastic players for whom there are no barriers between audience and performer, and no unnecessary formality beyond the respect for the professional musician who is entertaining us, will get an idea of what we are aiming for in the longer term.‘
As the evenings draw in and the cold bites, it will be good to look forward to a few bright nights to while away the time between Guy Fawkes and Christmas – and what better way than the exhilaration and enthusiasm of early music performers?
Events this weekend - Friday November 24 and Saturday November 25 open rehearsals at Opus Theatre 4-5pm; Artists in conversation 6.15-6.45pm; concerts at 7.30pm, details at www.opustheatre.co.uk.
Sunday November 26; The Telling at Kino Teatr 3pm www.kino-teatr.co.uk
More details at www.hemf.co.uk or email@example.com. By Brian Hick.