Goodbye Petersfield Musical Festival 2020

A personal message from the Festival Chairman, Philip Young

A hundred years ago, the singers and instrumentalists involved in the Petersfield Musical Festival were making final preparations for the 1920 Festival – the fifteenth Festival, and the first to be held since its concerts were suspended during World War I. In the century since 1920, the Festival has continued without interruption, even running a reduced programme through the years of World War 2.

Not this year, however. The coronavirus pandemic finally brought the Festival to a standstill. It was a close-run thing. Through the first two weeks of March, preparations were still in full swing, with choirs, orchestras and schools putting the finishing touches to their performances, programmes being printed, and the choir seating, lighting and audio systems being put in place on the Festival Hall stage. Tickets for the Youth Concerts and the Petersfield Orchestra had long since sold out, and the other concerts were filling up, though a slow-down in sales suggested that audiences were waiting to see what would happen.

The Festival’s first weekend continued as planned with three very successful events. Not everyone who had booked chose to come, but those who did were thoroughly entertained. ZRI, though sadly missing a player who couldn’t come from Athens, opened the Festival on Friday 13th in spectacularly entertaining style – with a racy soundtrack to Charlie Chaplin’s The Adventurer interspersed with traditional East European gypsy music and popular songs.

On Saturday local choral singers, including Petersfield and Rogate Choral Societies and Midhurst Music Society, joined forces with Southern Pro Musica, Highfield Chapel Choir and soloists Catriona Hewitson and Morgan Pearse, all under the inspiring leadership of conductor Paul Spicer. Richard Blackford’s Mirror of Perfection and Andrew Carter’s Benedicite – two upbeat choral works celebrating the natural world – came over with tremendous energy and impact and Dag Wiren’s popular Serenade for Strings completed a programme that was much enjoyed both by the performers and the audience.

Then on Sunday a very different audience of families with young children shared the Family Concert by Basingstoke Chamber Orchestra, in a whistle-stop tour of every means of transport from horse-drawn buggy to space ship. Narrator Sarah Scotchmer even arrived in the auditorium on a scooter!

By Monday, however, things were changing. Schools were putting in place restrictions on out of school activities, and the Youth Concerts had to be cancelled – but not before four junior school choirs had faithfully turned up for the morning rehearsal. The children took to the stage, imagined the packed audience they might have had, and filled the empty hall with Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

Later that day, the new social distancing guidance came into force, and by Tuesday the Town Hall and Festival Hall had been closed to the public. We never heard the Petersfield Orchestra’s programme of Brahms, Beethoven and Mendelssohn, which had promised so much audience appeal, not the two recitals at St Peter’s Church that were also part of the Festival’s tribute to Beethoven in his 250th year. We didn’t see the enterprising Merry Opera Company in their contemporary take on Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and singers from Petersfield and Fernhurst Choral Societies lost their chance to present exuberant music by Vivaldi and Haydn alongside the local string players of SouthDowns Camerata and Petersfield’s own young virtuoso trumpeter, Lucy Humphris.

The Festival would like to thank all the musicians, both amateur and professional, who have been preparing for the concerts, and the committee, technical team and front of house staff who remained so positive and supportive and continued to see that everything was in place for the performers and audiences up to the very last minute.

With amateur groups now in abeyance and professional engagements cancelled across the country, live music-making is sadly on hold. We can only hope the current measures will be successful and that all will be up and running again in time for the 2021 Festival – plans are already in place!

See: Petersfield Musical Festival: 2020 open choral workshop: Mozart – Mass in C minor – on 26 September

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