Opera + Classical Music Features

Thirsk Hall Festival 2022: It’s not just All Creatures Great and Small

Forget about bovine dramas for a while – this market town has other claims to fame.

Thirsk Hall Festival

The Ritz Cinema (Photo: Thirsk Hall Festival)

The picturesque North Yorkshire town of Thirsk is known for having been the home of Alf Wight, aka James Herriot, who practised as a Vet here for many years, and also the birthplace of Thomas Lord, of Cricket fame. Then of course there is its exceptional location, midway between two spectacular National Parks. And with the Thirsk Hall Festival it has joined the ranks of the many local festival venues which lend the area a very special atmosphere; as a local resident pointed out, “It’ll be nice for this town to be known for something else besides vets and cricket.”

Just as the Ryedale Festival comes to a close, and in the midst of ongoing concerts at the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, the enterprising Thirsk Hall Festival featured a weekend of concerts, opera and family fun, from 19-21 August. In 2021 the gardens of Thirsk Hall hosted an exhibition of sculptures, enabling both locals and visitors to enjoy the beautiful grounds as well as the Art on display, inspiring many to wonder what else might be done with this magnificent setting. That question did not take long  to answer, since the happy coincidence of the Festival’s Director, Willoughby Gerrish, and its Musical Director Benjamin Ellin, both moving to the area, led naturally towards the ambition of creating a new Festival which would have something for everyone from the ‘highbrow’ music lover to the youngest child.

Last year’s festival introduced the concept with a weekend of events, and this year the weekend began with a performance of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro by Heritage Opera, which specializes in staging professional productions in period costume in stately homes and other venues across the UK. Sadly we did not manage to get to this one, but the impressive biographies of the cast, all with serious stage experience, and the presence of Benjamin Ellin to conduct, suggest that it was really not one to miss.

The younger members of the audience enjoyed a ‘Carnival Day’ on Saturday the 20th, including live music, fairground rides, face painting and a performance of Roald Dahl’s Little Red Riding Hood with music and a storyteller. The ‘young at heart’ could also participate in a Samba workshop, with a final parade around the grounds as the culmination.  

“…Thirsk Hall Festival featured a weekend of concerts, opera and family fun”

Thirsk Hall Festival

De Mowbray’s Musicke (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

Saturday also brought ‘De Mowbray’s Musicke’ in which three multi-talented musicians presented two very different types of music; in the first half, they appeared as Medieval singers and players of a wide range of instruments of the period around 1480, including fascinating introductions to such rarities as shawms, gittern and rebec. After the interval (friendly bar serving generous gins plus excellent pizza wagon!) they swapped those instruments for concertinas and clarinets, presenting English folk song and dance, with the much enjoyed participation of many of the audience! As one who usually runs a mile from anything deemed ‘folksy,’ it must be said that this was a genuinely fun evening.

The next day, Thirsk’s wonderful independent cinema, the Ritz, was the setting for a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s 1918 short silent film, A Dog’s Life, with full accompaniment from the Thirsk Hall Festival Orchestra who played brilliantly under their conductor Benjamin Ellin; you really don’t expect that level of performance from a ‘semi-amateur’ band, but perhaps you should! The Chaplin film is the actor’s trademark blend of slapstick and social commentary, and it was preceded by three short works by young composers from the National Film and Television School. The whole afternoon was a real treat from start to finish,and was enjoyed by a sizeable audience.

Thirsk Hall Festival 2023 will run from 18-20 August, but until then the Hall will not be silent, with many events in store, including a Cabaret on 11 September and a ‘cello recital on 20 November in Gallery One. That Gallery will also be the setting for a programme of exhibitions including works by Jeff Lowe and David Hockney.

The declared aim of the festival is to place the arts at the heart of our community and to celebrate the creativity of those within the region. We’d hesitate to say that it’s putting Thirsk ‘on the map’ since the town is already there, but the Thirsk Hall Festival is certainly a welcome addition to the things which make this place a special one in which to live or come for a visit.

• Details of further events can be found here.

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Thirsk Hall Festival 2022: It’s not just All Creatures Great and Small