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.