North York Moors Chamber Music Festival promises dazzling repertoire in Epoch event

“This festival is one way in which we can escape the turmoil and touch base as a community coming together,” says North York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director Jamie Walton. Picture: Matthew Johnson

WORLD-CLASS musicians and emerging artists will head to the moors in August for the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival.

Now in its 13th unbroken year, the 2021 festival will run from August 7 to 21, presenting “dazzling repertoire” around the theme of Epoch.

“Our history is punctuated by defining moments that influence the course of humanity and its cultures,” says the festival director, international cellist Jamie Walton, who lives within the boundaries of the National Park.

“This tumultuous last year has been one of those defining epochs for most of us, one may argue: a period we would probably all like to forget while we crave for our traditional rhythms and a simpler way of life. This festival is one way in which we can escape the turmoil and touch base as a community coming together.”

Against the tide of Cassandra doom elsewhere, last year’s festival was rearranged by the resolute Walton, who found a new Covid-secure location in less than a week to still play to audiences, socially distanced to meet regulations.

“Our passionate belief in finding ways to keep music present in our lives by refusing to be silenced was somewhat defiant of course, but also a deeply moving experience,” says Jamie Walton, recalling last summer’s hastily rearranged festival

For the past decade, concerts had been held in churches across the North York Moors National Park, but like so many other arts events, the festival was in jeopardy, discourtesy of the Coronavirus crisis.

When the Government made a last-minute U-turn, postponing the re-opening of indoor performances first announced for August 1, Walton had to act swiftly, settling on presenting concerts in a 5,000 square-foot, wooden-floored, acoustic-panelled marquee in the grounds of Welburn Abbey, Welburn Manor Farms, near Kirkbymoorside.

More than 50 per cent of the marquee sides could be opened, in effect making the concerts an open-air event. Good fortune then smiled on the event, blessing the sold-out concert series with an August heatwave. 

Originally, before the curse of Covid, Revolution! in Ryedale would have comprised more than 30 musicians, around 40 chamber works, in ten churches. Instead, it added up to 34 works being performed by 23 musicians at ten concerts in one outdoor location, under the concert titles of A Hymn; Time Of Turbulence; Janus; Incandescence; Mystique; Transcendental; Voices; Vivacity; Towards The Edge and Triumph!.

Last summer, Walton and his festival musicians from Britain and overseas “dared to dream despite the odds” by mounting the August 9 to 22 event with an apt theme of Revolution, “taking a gamble that took tremendous courage and sheer willpower in a climate of fear that is shutting down the arts”.

Cello, cello, its’s good to back, cello, cello: Jamie Walton out on the North York Moors, looking forward to the August concert series

“We have fought back against this Government and the disgraceful, destructive way it’s shutting down industries and, more ominously, the nation’s confidence,” said Jamie at the closing concert.

Now he reflects: “In 2020, we absolutely refused to cancel, despite the constraints of this worldwide pandemic, because we wanted to keep hope alive. Our passionate belief in finding ways to keep music present in our lives by refusing to be silenced was somewhat defiant of course, but also a deeply moving experience.

“Despite the obvious challenges, musicians flew in from more than six countries to enjoy a fortnight of electrifying music-making with a rarefied environment, incorporating vast spaces to override risk or limitations.

“Astonishingly and surprisingly perhaps, we were one of the only classical music festivals to go ahead live to socially distanced audiences at all, while not having to compromise on the length of festival nor the number of concerts. The result was a complete revelation, and we want to share this experience this summer with those who may have missed out last year.”  

This summer’s festival will comprise ten main concerts featuring a plethora of international musicians in music by many epoch-defining composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Dvorak, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Elgar, alongside the launch of an additional series of five Young Artists lunchtime recitals, showcasing talent from the Royal Academy of Music.

All rehearsals will take place at the new Ayriel Studios, a state-of-the-art soundproofed recording studio in the grounds of Millinder House, surrounded by North York Moors farmland in the heart of Westerdale. Initiated by Walton, it is due to open commercially in January 2022.

Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley: Taking part in the Epoch series of concerts. Picture: Kaupo Kikkas

“Some artists taking part in the festival will be recording there this autumn as the new facility builds its identity and reputation, putting North Yorkshire firmly on the cultural map,” says Jamie.

Among the line-up for the main festival will be tenor James Gilchrist; oboist Nicholas Daniel; clarinetist Matthew Hunt; North Yorkshire mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley; violinists Benjamin Baker and Charlotte Scott; violist Timothy Ridout; pianists Katya Apekisheva and Alasdair Beatson, plus many others from the classical music industry who regular collaborate with one another all over the world.

The Young Artists Recitals will be performed by the Salwa Quartet, Hill Quartet, Jubilee Quartet, Asyla Oboe Quartet and Trio Mazzolini.

As with last summer, the main festival concerts will take place in the specially adapted marquee in the grounds of Welburn Manor Farm. The venue for the Young Artists Recitals will be announced shortly; check the website,, for updates.

The full concert festival details can be found there too, with concerts regaling in such titles as The Conquering Hero; Rhapsody; La Belle Epoque; Breaking Free; Turning Points; A New Genre; Turn Of A Century; Through War; Post War Paris and Caution To The Wind.

Main festival tickets cost £12.50, under-30s, free. A season ticket for all ten costs £100. Young Artists Recitals tickets cost £10 each. To book, email, call 07722 038990 or visit

Exit 2020, now the marquee at Welburn Abbey will play host to the 2021 North York Moors Chamber Music Festival. Picture: Matthew Johnson