Viva the Revolution as North York Moors Chamber Music Festival triumphs against the odds. “Fight back,” urges director

NOT THROWING IN THE TOWEL: “Creativity will not be silenced” says cellist Jamie Walton, artistic director of the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, here performing in the open-air marquee at Welburn Abbey. Picture: Matthew Johnson/Turnstone Media

NORTH York Moors Chamber Music Festival artistic director Jamie Walton is warning against giving in to the “climate of fear that is shutting down the arts”.

“I am humbled by the sheer success of this year’s festival, a gamble which took tremendous courage and sheer willpower,” he says, ahead of today’s closing concert.

“I hope this sends powerful ripples out to motivate others to do the same. It seems tragic that we were the only live classical music festival in the whole of the UK.”

Walton and his festival musicians from Britain and overseas had “dared to dream despite the odds” by mounting the August 9 to 22 event with an apt theme of Revolution.

“We have fought back against this Government and the disgraceful, destructive way it’s shutting down industries and, more ominously, the nation’s confidence,” he says.   

The Welburn Abbey marquee lit up in blue for a 2020 North York Moors Chamber Music Festival concert. Picture: Matthew Johnson

“We seem to be living in a climate of fear, a paralysed state, which, after talking to my colleagues at the festival, I believe isn’t anywhere to be seen elsewhere in Europe and Scandinavia right now.”

In a call to the arts world to go on the front foot, Jamie says: “It’s time to fight back against this scandal in order to save our creative industries and send a message of hope, particularly for the younger generation who are, after all, our future.

“We don’t have to put up with the reality being imposed upon us and the message sent through our festival this year was a healthy start. Creativity will not be silenced!”

The 2020 festival ends today after going ahead against the tide of Cassandra doom elsewhere when rearranged by the resolute Walton, who found a new Covid-secure location in less than a week.

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

Socially distanced audience members watching a concert at this month’s North York Moors Chamber Music Festival. Picture: Matthew Johnson

And 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.

The international cellist, who lives within the National Park, settled on presenting a series of 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 can be opened, in effect making the concerts an open-air event, further boosted by the good fortune of the festival being blessed 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 has 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!. 

Those musicians have travelled from across Europe to perform over an “intense fortnight of concerts to emotional and appreciative audiences”, who came in their droves, pre-booking every single one of the limited number of tickets available in a socially distanced seating plan.

Bring us your bows: The Cremona Quartet travelled from Italy to Ryedale to perform at the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival. Picture: Matthew Johnson

Jamie says: “Some of the world’s finest musicians, including Italy’s renowned Cremona Quartet, have all been playing their hearts out. Each and every one of these artists has been on incredible form and I think it’s safe to say that the atmosphere this year is the best it’s ever been, which is saying something!”  

Walton points out the festival has been “the only and first work any of my colleagues have had since lockdown began”.

Among those artists in residence have been: Katya Apekisheva, Christian Chamorel and Richard Ormrod, piano; Claude Frochaux, Rebecca Gilliver and Jamie Walton, cello; Nikita Naumov, double bass, and Meghan Cassidy, Tetsumi Negata and Simon Tandree, viola.

Rallying to the Revolution! cause too have been: Rachel Kolly, Victoria Sayles, Charlotte Scott and Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, violin; Ursula Leveaux, bassoon; Matthew Hunt, clarinet; Naomi Atherton, French horn; Claire Wicks, flute; Adrian Wilson, oboe; Anna Huntley, mezzo-soprano, and The Cremona Quartet (Cristiano Gualco, violin, Paolo Andreoli, violin, Simone Gramaglia, viola, and Giovanni Scaglione, cello).

A beacon of light for the arts: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival goes ahead under a marquee moon.
Picture: Matthew Johnson

For the Revolution! theme in the festival’s 12th year of celebrating chamber works, the focus has fallen on and around the music of Beethoven – the “revolutionary” – and beyond to mark the 250th anniversary of the German composer’s birth in Bonn.

“Living through the French Revolution undoubtedly had a profound effect on this great composer and much of the repertoire we have chosen is to convey this triumphant spirit against all odds, which appears timely in light of recent events,” says Walton.

“It seems ironic that for such a Titan, the world has been forced into relative (artistic) silence while it tries to control the pandemic, almost as if we are in tune with Beethoven’s very own debilitating deafness.”

The programme has featured chamber music by Beethoven, Schubert, Dohnányi, Pärt, Lutosławski, Ravel, Satie, Fauré, Elgar, Bach, Mozart, Spohr, Weber, Ravel, Schoenberg, Berg, Messiaen and more.

Red sky at night, cellist’s delight: North York Moors Chamber Music Festival founder and artistic director Jamie Walton surveys the moorland landscape. Picture: Paul Ingram

“We have documented this year’s festival on film, to be embedded within our website next month and released through social media,” says Jamie. “We will then continue to film the building of a new recording studio, Ayriel Studios, which is being constructed up in Westerdale, opening next year as we head into our 13th festival.”  

“In essence, it will be a ‘year in the life’ of a creative vision which fought its way through during the pandemic and its aftermath. I’m a great believer in true art thriving through adversity and we want to demonstrate what that means. Instead of our voices being supressed, they just got louder.” 

Today’s festival-closing 3pm concert has the appropriate title of Triumph!. Next year’s 13th North York Moors Chamber Music Festival will run from August 8 to 21 and the programme will be released in mid-November.

Lucky 13? Judging by the determined spirit of Jamie Walton, success does not come down to luck, especially when a pandemic throws a curve ball. “For more information about this ground-breaking festival, visit and join the mailing list,” he urges.

3 Replies to “Viva the Revolution as North York Moors Chamber Music Festival triumphs against the odds. “Fight back,” urges director”

  1. Brilliant Jamie! I watched with delight as you fought to bring the festival to life in North Yorkshire. Well done all of you for having the courage and faith to carry on. Amazing.

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