Where words end, music begins

My mother-in- law began the Newbury Spring Festival 39 years ago. It is an international music festival with some 59 different events spread over two weeks around this area, using churches and houses, as well as theatres, to listen to outstanding orchestras, choirs, violinists or quartets.  One of our contributions is to host a concert here at the Castle. Mark Eynon, the festival director, had persuaded the Sacconi Quartet to come and play for us and, in turn, I had persuaded my great friend Karine Hagen, of Viking Cruises, to co-sponsor it with us. We were honoured that the Festival’s Patron HRH the Duke of Kent was also able to attend.

The concert takes place in the Saloon and it is one of my favourite evenings. It is utterly magical to sit and listen in this beautiful central space in the Castle. The more I read about the process of the design of Highclere, the more fascinating I find it. The view into the Saloon from the staircase is framed by four classic “quinto acuto” arches. It is the same principle of construction as that of Brunelleschi’s Cathedral Dome in Florence and its virtue is that it visually allows as much space as possible inside the Saloon, whilst best absorbing the stress of the weight of the floors above. The walls of the Saloon are lined with real leather panels, gilded, painted and embossed. They date from 1661 and were made in Cordoba, Spain. The acoustics in the room are excellent and it seems so tranquil as the light falls in the high arched space.

The German poet and writer Goethe described Chamber music as “four rational people conversing” and, of course, traditionally chamber music was a small number of musicians playing in a great house. Ben, Hannah, Robin and Clara played Mozart, Haydn and Shubert, the timing seamless as the tempo and moods engaged us. It was a world away from the ceaseless interruption of digital and computer communications of the day.

Apparently, Chamber music is not strictly supposed to have a soloist but we did. The quartet were joined by Mark Simpson, a clarinettist and composer who became the first ever winner of both the BBC Young Musician of the Year and BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer of the Year competitions. We then had a further treat as he played what was technically the world live premiere of one of his own compositions. He is an extraordinary musician and I look forward to watching his career.

Nobody will be surprised to hear that delicious champagne appeared during the interval and we all sat down afterwards to a scrummy supper, including Mark and the Quartet. Coincidentally, a friend of mine had a special birthday that day so, to her surprise, the quartet played “Happy Birthday” at the interval and a surprise cake appeared at supper with another encore.  An elegant charming lady, Daphne took a couple of bows and declared that it was very kind and hugely appreciated but she did also have to supress a desire to murder me.

I am, however, still here and I am incredibly fond of Daphne.


37 Responses to “Where words end, music begins”
  1. Ann C. Flood says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,

    I’m writing this to you on Mother’s Day and I hope you enjoy a special and festive day with your family. I want to tell you that the concert sounds magical. I can’t think of a better atmosphere for beautiful music than Highclere. It is a wonderful idea for you to host this concert, and I must say you have a lot of inspired ideas! I hope you enjoyed this day tremendously. I am also hoping you enjoy a lovely Mother’s Day.

    Ann Catherine Flood

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      Thank you and it has been good to stop and listen rather than the everyday business of lots of digital led tasks!!!!

  2. Rita Bhatia says:

    Greetings from the United States, Lady Carnarvon,

    What a wonderful way to celebrate Mother’s Day!! Music is very soothing to the soul and so relaxing. My Mom died 6 years ago but I do celebrate her.

    I do hope someday you can do a blog on Cornwall, Northumberland and the Indian restaurant in Newbury. It is always nice to get ideas from the Locals when you are visiting from the US.

    I am so looking forward to meeting you, Alfie and Lord Carnarvon on my next visit to UK someday.

    Thank You and God Bless!!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      That is quite a mixture of ideas for blogs…but i could write a few ideas of where to go locally if that would help? Three days of lovely things to do near “Downton Abbey”?

  3. Lynn Barber says:

    Lovely review of yet another generous sharing of your home for the betterment of others. You and your husband are truly blessed and Highclere is all the better in your care. Thank you for sharing a bit of your world with us all around the world!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      I am always feeling lucky to live here and with early clear mornings and garden walks, it does not get much better..

  4. david terry says:

    Well, this does, indeed, seem to have been a wonderful evening. I do have to agree, however, with your friend, Daphne……adults (at least not any of the ones I know, or myself) like being publicly “surprised” on birthdays which they (being over the age of 10) don’t necessarily view as opportunities for public celebration. I threw one “surprise” birthday party just once……I was later told to never DO THAT AGAIN.

    I was amused to read of the saloon’s being covered in genuine 17th century, Cordorban leather panels. I know….you’re not an American…..but, if you were (and raised in the 1970″s, as I was) you’d still be highly aware of the ultra-suave (think stereotypical “Latin Lover”) actor, Ricardo Montalban. He appeared in a HUGELY successful series of commercials for Cheverolet, in which he would purringly describe how the entire interior of his car was upholstered in something weirdly (if not entirely inaccurately, and thus not subject to libel) called “Cordovan Leather”. Notice the substitution of a “v” for the “b”. This material was, basically, plastic. Later, Cheverolet (or at least its ad-guys) changed the name to “Corinthian Leather!”, once the Leather-makers guild of Cordoba (which I’ve visited many times and like very much) and the Spanish government raised a fuss.

    Rather obviously, there aren’t, these days, many identifiable, legally-recognized “Corinthians” around….so they never filed a lawsuit against Cheverolet.

    In any case, It’s nice to know that someone, somewhere actually has some real Cordoban leather lining their interior. I have a belt and a wallet from there, but that’s all.

    Thanks again for the good blog. You do lead quite the busy and productive life….so, congratulations.


    David Terry

  5. Jane Salemson says:

    You are so right in that chamber music was written for small ensembles (not necessarily only string quartet) so that adding a wind instrument is perfectly acceptable, and as they played for patrons, most often the venues were beautiful surroundings. So pleased you are continuing the tradition at Highclere. Another tradition by country house owners, was to have a chest of 6 viols (2 trebles, 2 tenors and 2 basses) so that their musical friends who for the most part of the year were visiting country houses in all parts of the country, would not have to take their viols on these long journeys. Do you have a chest of viols and have you had any viol consorts performing at Highclere? I hope so, the sonorities would be superb, I’m sure.

  6. Linda Faye Penn says:

    As I was reading this post and smiling at the photographs, I felt so many others should be seeing this. The beauty, graciousness, and lovely sly humor reminded me of being a young girl of the 1950’s, being taught proper mannerisms and politeness, watching and emulating my Southern aunts. Those days are becoming fewer, but I sow Texan Southern graciousness whenever I can.

  7. Chrissy says:

    What a Special Evening – thanks for sharing!

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      It was – it lets your mind wander and your brain rest , it is a key experience.

  8. François Désilets says:

    What a divine evening this seems to have been. Such wonderful music played in this exquisite environment which I had the privilege to have visited twice.
    I have been fortunate to stroll through the parks and seen some views of Highclere that I am assured convey the perfect setting for such a recital.
    I just wish I had been there one more time to experience it.

  9. Paula says:

    What a beautifully, inspired setting for an incredible evening of lovely music. How fortunate Daphne was to be treated to a birthday surprise. Thank you for another glimpse into your world.

  10. Ginger winger says:

    What a lovely evening you all had. Love reading your posts and keeping up with Highclere. I am currently in London for two weeks, part of a three month European visit. We sail back to the states at the end of the month on Queen Mary 2. We were not able to visit Highclere because of timing but so want to in the future. At least I ordered something from your gift shop and had it sent to a friend we met up with from Devon. Happy Spring! Ginger Winger

  11. Linda Chapman says:

    What a lovely treat to see this beautiful post! Thank you for sharing your evening with us!

  12. Linda says:

    Delightfully written. Thank you!

  13. Amanda says:

    The castle looks magnificent lit up in the evening – great pictures! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful piece of history.

  14. Linda Olds says:

    What a lovely evening, with the music, champagne, and supper! The rooms are beautiful, too. The saloon is breathtaking, and in the supper room, I’d be distracted, looking at the portraits.

  15. Jeffery Sewell says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Glad to read you are still with us and that your friend Daphe’s threat were made in jest.
    What an enchanting evening that would have been for everyone fortunate enough to attend. Such a wonderful setting. Highclere’ Saloon must have created its own special ambience. A perfect venue for Chamber music.
    I had not previously heard of Mark Simpson but in light of your blog, I will now keep a keen eye on his career. Given the recognition that he has received from the BBC, he must be an extremely talented musician.
    Best wishes
    Jeffery Sewell

    • Lady Carnarvon says:

      The musicians stayed for dinner and were such fun – it was a good evening …

  16. Joyj says:

    Sounds/looks like this was wonderful affair! Great music, company, and food. Was planning to purchase a lovely piano and two wonderful musicians ( pianist and violinist) volunteered to present a mini-recital in my home to welcome the new piano. What a lovely gesture! Your home is spectacular! I really loves the grounds and would enjoy just being there and walking and enjoying the view. Thanks for sharing your your home with us via your blog.

  17. Nicole Woodward says:

    Sounds like a glorious event. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Charlotte Cole says:

    Your description creates an image of a magical evening. Thank you! It is wonderful to support and encourage young musicians, and to honor close friends. By any chance, is there a short video that you might post? Would love to hear a snippet, and marvel at the acoustics you mention.
    Just wonderful. 🙂

  19. Brenda Hattie says:

    Thank you for sharing the photos of this lovely event. I can almost hear the music!

    Brenda Hattie-Longmire

  20. Dotty Shaffner Cooper says:

    I Loved this particular blob, Lady C!!! Thank you for keeping me on your mailing list!!!

  21. Linda S Smith says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    We recently celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary by taking a trip to the UK. On April 20, 2017, we took a tour of Highclere Castle. As a HUGE fan of all things British including Tea, Scones and Downton Abbey. It was a dream come true. The tour was so well done. I enjoyed every minute of it. The tour was a gift from my Husband since he knows how I feel about the show. I have watched the entire six seasons around thirty times. Being there in person was very emotional for me. It was the highlight of our trip.
    I have discovered my ancestors were deeply rooted in Britain, including Sir Edward Littleton in Penkridge. The Church there holds the tombs of five generations of Littletons who are all my Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. We visited there whilst we were in the Cotswolds. What an experience.
    Thank you so much. I pray we can return to the UK in the near future. It felt like home.
    Mrs. L. Sue Smith

  22. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I am so glad you had a good time – we have been lucky with he weather too!

  23. Catherine Pedroni says:

    Dear Lady Carnarvon,
    Such a festival seems rather magical! I can only imagine what it would feel like to sing in such a beautiful house, and the acoustic must be really good. Your comments on the architecture of Highclere Castle got me really interested. In september, I am going to study Architecture in Lausanne (EPFL), and I was wondering if you were thinking about writing a book on the architecture of the castle and especially about the transformation from a regency castle to Charles Barry’s castle; it would be really amazing , and it might also be interesting to see the influence of social hierarchy on the architecture of such a building!
    Thank you for sharing all these photos!

  24. Lady Carnarvon says:

    I have included elements/Barry sketches about the architecture in my latest book (At Home – Amazon plus bookshops) – have a look – extraordinary really. I wanted to know what you possible readers thought and thus gage a direction for my books!

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