Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dartington Summer School

It was brilliant! Dartington Summer School has been around for the last 60 years or so providing five weeks of music courses for both future (or intending) stars, and people like me, ie amateurs. You can attend one week or more. It is located in the far west of the UK, nearest airports Plymouth or Exeter, and centres itself on a large estate in a bend of the river Dart, with the Great Hall set in beautiful gardens, apparently designed by Walter Gropius. Talented young people can get scholarships, or they can work as stewards or 'trogs' (fetchers, carriers and setters-uppers) and still participate in some of the classes. There is often a professional festival orchestra, and a lot of the other professionals, eg in my week we had Emma Kirkby, Alan Hacker, the gorgeous Raphael Wallfisch (whose mother gave a talk on her Auschwitz experiences, and who performed a piece written by one of his sons, with another son as the tenor soloist) and Simon Rowland Jones (VIOLA!!!) plus many others.

The day usually starts with choir or orchestra (the orchestra did Elgar, the choir did Haydn's four seasons), and then people break up into classes, ranging from chamber music to Salsa dancing, participation in masterclasses, talks, and so on. The first of the three evening concerts starts at 5 pm, and the last at 10.30 pm. It makes for a very busy day, though some people did not participate in that many events. I had signed up for the choir, salsa course and salsa dancing. Unfortunately the salsa course took up all day, not allowing time for the dancing, too - bit of a shame that, especially also considering that the viola actually has no part in it, and the violin part which I followed did not have much more. But it was great for the rhythm - when you walk your feet on the beat, and clap your hands and sing two different off beats, it's excellent practice! I suspect the chamber music players were also very busy, both in formal sessions and also playing ad hoc.

The food was brilliant, especially after the previous week's stay at Durham university where it was very school meal(ish). And being Devon, with lashings and lashings of cream - so I had to keep running every morning, and still put on a few pounds. I was amazed, though, by the effect of the temperature (around 10 degrees early in the morning) on my running - I thought I was struggling fitness wise, but it was just the high temperature in Tbilisi that had caused the problem (as was confirmed by the high temperature in Vilnius this morning).

The combination of music and a peaceful rural environment makes for a lovely week or two. I met someone who was staying for four weeks - don't know how she has the stamina....

I would highly recommend it to anyone, both aspiring young musicians (especially also in terms of networking), as well as older amateurs who enjoy a week's music making.