Good times ahead at this year's Petworth Festival

Stewart
Stewart

This year’s 39th Petworth Festival is looking good for another record-breaking year (July 12-29).

The festival broke box office records in 2015 and 2016; this year, it surpassed its 2015 figures with more than two weeks to go before opening.

Artistic director Stewart Collins is delighted with the programme he has been able to bring together – his longevity in post certainly a factor.

“I realise I still have the words ‘new artistic director’ buzzing in my ears, but actually I realise this is my eighth festival. I have held the job as long as anybody which is fantastic because I love the work that we have been able to do. I love the area, and the audiences have been incredibly supportive. There seems to be a strong bond between us all.

“I think the thing about programming is about building trust with the audience. What I try to do is bring in incredibly high-quality stuff, but not necessarily things that people would expect. I think it is important that you don’t deliver the usual suspects all the time.

“But because the audiences have got to know me, they realise that if I do bring in something that is perhaps slightly less well known then it is worth turning up and seeing what is in the programme. There have been several times when I have been surprised and delighted when things that I knew were excellent but perhaps a little bit unusual have sold much, much better than I thought they would.”

Stewart added: “It is certainly a larger festival now. It has grown over the years. I was brought in with the requirement that I look to expand the range of performances and also grow different audiences. No festival can stand still. You just have to be constantly looking to find new audiences so that you have always got new people coming in, with things like world music coming in and so on, and I think that has happened quite successfully.”

Matching 2015 figures two weeks before the first event is proof enough of that: “We are never smug. We would never say that we are comfortable, but we do seem to be in good shape. And the good thing is that we have got something like 40-odd events. There are usually two or three concerts that you book and you think they are a good idea, but no one else does! But this year we are selling consistently across all our events, which is great. The festival structure is that we have a group of friends of the festival, and there are about 700 of them, people that we sell our tickets to first. They are our principal supporters, and a lot of them buy a lot of tickets, which means that we know very early on how people are responding to what we are doing. I would say that we sell about 60 per cent of our tickets to our friends.

“I think we have got one or two more events this year than in previous years. It is not dramatically bigger. We have opted to gradually extend, and we have extended gradually geographically as well. There will come a point where we are doing as much as we can do and as much as we should do, but we are gently testing that point each year. Next year will be interesting with our 40th year, and there will be some very special stuff for that. It will be a bigger festival than this one. Our aim is to grow about five per cent a year.”

For full programme and booking, see www.petworthfestival.org.uk

This year’s Petworth Festival is promising a particularly-strong classical music section.

Roderick Williams, who was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, opens the festival, along with pianist Iain Burnside, with a performance of Schubert’s song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin on Wednesday, July 12 in St Mary’s Church.

Other classical highlights will include:

The Orlando Consort: The Passion of Joan of Arc, Sunday, July 16, St Mary’s Church.

Gillian Keith and Simon Lepper: Elemental. Monday, July 17, Champs Hill.

Chloe Hanslip and Danny Driver, Wednesday, July 19, St Mary’s Church. British violinist Chloë Hanslip is joined by pianist Danny Driver.

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