Showing posts with label Dartington International Summer School. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dartington International Summer School. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Calling all Dartingtonites: here's the book we've been waiting for

I had many of my most important formative musical experiences at the Dartington International Summer School as a teenager and have never ceased to marvel at the thrill of its melting pot, its gorgeous surroundings, the virtually "sacred space" atmosphere inside the Great Hall and more. Its history is as astonishing as its music. Imagine my joy, then, on discovering that Unbound has taken on a new pictorial history of the summer school by the music journalist Harriet Cunningham. I've jumped in to contribute to its funding - I'll take the full-whack hardback, please! - and hope that all my fellow Dartington fans will consider doing so too. You can find it here.  All photos (c) the Dartington International Summer School.

Meanwhile, I asked Harriet what set her off on this wonderful project.

Stravinsky and his wife at Dartingon, 1957
JD: Please tell us something about your own experiences of the Dartington International Summer School? What do you think makes it such a special place?

HC: My experience of Dartington Summer School goes back way, way before I was even born. My parents met at Dartington sometime in the late '50s/early '60s. She was a student, he was a trog [Dartington's student-assistants]. So by the time I first came to Dartington, aged 4 months, in 1967, it was already in my blood. We continued to make the trip down the A303 then the M4 (once it was built) every summer. I am told that at the age of 4 I listened, transfixed, to the Amadeus Quartet playing Haydn and then demanded to learn the violin. It’s a nice story. I can’t remember it at all! My first memories of the Summer School are of wasps on danish pastries, rides on the Donkey and swimming in Aller Park pool. 

I do, however, remember sounds and artists and concerts. Like the sound of the choir warming up in the Great Hall every morning; like Jacqueline du Pré, beautiful and difficult, teaching cello; like being scared witless hearing ‘The Soldiers Tale’, and listening to the two pianists rattling out the orchestral accompaniment for the Schubert Mass. As I grew older I participated more - I sang in the choir, I worked in the kitchens, I trogged and, eventually, played in the orchestra for the conductor’s class, under the lovely Diego Masson. 

What makes Dartington special? I’ve thought about this a great deal. Of course, there’s the beauty of the surroundings, which everyone remembers, even if we gloss over the rain and grey skies in our memories. But I think it’s also to do with the mix of people, and with mixing people. There’s something about shoving a diverse bunch of musicians into a space and saying ‘play’ that can act as a catalyst for some amazing creative leaps. Or not. But there’s always the chance!

Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears at Dartingon, 1958

Why did you want to write a book about it?

I didn’t! I emigrated to Australia 25 years ago and felt happy to have left the Summer School behind me. But then it weasled its way back into my life when I was visiting my father and he showed me the archive, which he’s been curating for many years. It was quite an emotional experience, looking through all the old programmes, reading letters from artists and lists of bursary students. (All the usual suspects are there! Imogen Cooper, Simon Rattle, Stephen Hough...) My father was making plans to have the archive transferred to the British Library, and I decided that before it went I wanted to make something for my father to have, something to hold in his hands. Then, of course, I got completely sucked in by the many stories in the archive, and here we are... 

Janet Baker & Viola Tunnard, 1965
What aspects of its history have "jumped out at you” most strongly?

1950s Britain is fast becoming something of an obsession for me. Post-war Britain underwent a social, economic and intellectual revolution, and the Summer School, and Glock’s approach to music and education were very much part of that revolution. I’m also fascinated by the characters — Glock, of course, and people like Imogen Holst, Nadia Boulanger, Hans Keller and George Malcolm, so many others — who make up the story.

Which images have you most enjoyed discovering in the archives?

Silly, random things have caught my eye in the photos. The 1950s fashions — hats, gloves and, for men, jackets and ties at all times, except if you are violist Cecil Aronowitz, in which case you only wear shorts. The smoking - pipes and cigarettes. The posing, and the lack of posing. People often seem uniquely relaxed and expressive in the photos - as if being immersed in music and musicians allows you to be who you want to be. Perhaps that’s part of Summer School magic. 

I also enjoyed finding pictures with personal connections, although I don’t think I’ll ever forgive my mother for allowing me out dressed like that.

A very young Harriet in a violin masterclass with Roger Rafael

Friday, August 19, 2011

A quick dart to Dartington

Revisiting the Dartington International Summer School of Music after more years than I'd like to admit, I've had an absolute ball. I was only there for a few days, but am now experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms, just as I used to when I was a starry-eyed piano student knocked sideways by proximity to such musicians as Schiff, Keller, Perlemuter, Imogen Cooper et al. But the biggest surprise was to find myself recognising the same people I saw there in 1982. I asked the familiar-looking gentleman opposite me at lunch whether he would indeed have been there 29 years ago. The reply? "Of course. I've been here every summer for 40 years." He was far from being the only one.

Some things are different, of course. The make-up of the masterclasses is unrecognisable: instead of Americans, Japanese and Canadians queuing up to audition in droves, everything's organised in advance and Stephen Kovacevich's class involved just five students, each of whom played to him most days. They came not from the US and Japan, but Poland, Lithuania, France and Russia-via-UK. The situation in the singing class with the irrepressible Della Jones seemed similar, and involved both eager amateurs and good students. Meanwhile keen attendees of all levels, including the basic, can take intensive classes with top-level pros like Helen Reid and Gemma Rosefield.

I'm promised by the new DISS artistic director, John Woolrich, and the Dartington head of arts, David Francis, that the summer school is secure, it's not moving, it's not closing, it has funding and access to more - being dropped by the ACE has given it a 10 per cent shortfall, but they regard this as manageable - and it will continue to delight its regulars and newcomers alike in the years ahead. Composition and contemporary music remain vital, but early music won't be banished. The mix is everything - and why shouldn't it be? That's what creates the magic.

One institution that's disappeared is the tradition of morning coffee and afternoon tea-break on the courtyard lawn - now you can get your beverages in paper cups anytime and take them into classes. It's a pity in a way, though presumably it frees up the schedule. The whole summer school is also much more integrated into the year-round Dartington activities, focused strongly on issues of social justice, sustainability, literature, poetry (the original Dartington was the brainchild of Rabindranath Tagore) and much more. And let's not forget the cider press. Powerful stuff, that home brew.

But what has not changed is the atmosphere. Partly it's the place - the medieval hall, which must be haunted up to the back teeth, never mind the back stairs - and the gardens with their gigantic, ancient trees and mysterious tiltyard. Still, what makes it so very special is that the audience at the concerts are all themselves performers, and vice-versa. Everyone is there to make music in whatever way they can. When we walked into Nick Daniel's oboe recital on Tuesday night, we bumped into a friend who's a retired cancer specialist and plays the clarinet. He greeted us in great joy. "I've just had the greatest day of my life!" he declared. "I played first clarinet in the Mozart Gran Partita."

The whole thing is completely infectious and life-enhancing. I took myself to the music shop (provided by good old Brian Jordan's, from Cambridge) and bought the Faure C minor Piano Quartet, which happens to be my favourite piece and is possibly the only thing that can tempt me back to some serious piano practice after a five-year hiatus (writing Alicia's Gift proved cathartic, but it got "the piano thing" out of my system that bit too thoroughly). Tom and I came back yesterday evening and the first thing we did was bash through the thing on violin and piano together. We haven't done anything like that in years. Somehow I don't think it will be another 20 years before I go back again.

Here are just a few of the musicians we've been hanging out with.