Petworth Festival Special unveils autumn programme

A strong line-up in Petworth this autumn will give us a taste of the summer festival that never was.

Petworth Festival artistic director Stewart Collins
Petworth Festival artistic director Stewart Collins

This summer’s Petworth Festival, along with festivals the length and breadth of the country, was forced off the calendar by the COVID pandemic.

But to ensure that this year doesn’t pass entirely festival free, organisers of the Petworth Festival have come up with a special season of highlights, adding a week of performances to the start of what will be Petworth’s tenth literary festival, all under the banner the 2020 Petworth Festival Special.

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Events will happen live to small audiences of sponsors and friends – but will be streamed, giving the public the chance to buy tickets and attend the events online.

Tickets go on sale today (September 17) from the festival website.

A special festival for our times, it will kick off on Friday, October 16 at 8pm with the London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley (piano) and conclude on Sunday, November 1 at 7pm, Robert McCrum –Shakespearean.

Petworth Festival artistic director Stewart Collins is delighted to be able to keep the festival momentum going.

The online festival will need to be a success before he can seriously start thinking about next summer; and there is still the winter to get through with all that the pandemic might bring.

“But this is all about keeping going a festival that has been heading very much in the right direction for a number of years and also bringing some of our audiences together and also hopefully raising morale.

“But we do need the finances so work out so that we can continue – not necessarily as we were before, but certainly undamaged.”

The invited live audiences will help generate the atmosphere Stewart is looking for: “It is also a way thanking the sponsors who have enabled us to make this happen.

“The first week is a performance week that is fundamentally the best of the summer festival that never was. There were due to be 40 events, and we have whittled that down to nine that we feel the most confident about telling tickets for and where we have been able to find the sponsors.

“One of the most fantastic things about our survival is that our sponsors have been very keen to stay with us and are very keen to proceed with the autumn festival – though we still need a substantial chunk from the box office to make up.”

The difficulty inevitably is that it is impossible to know what to expect – or what to plan for.

“We had 3,000 views of our summer concert that we put on, and that was brilliant, but that was for an entire fortnight. We would like to think we have got the kinds of events that would attract the kinds of numbers we get our our venues, but with the programme that we have got, which is of international standing, we would like to think that with the internet it will go far and wide.”

But for the moment, it is just imposssible to say. The Petworth Festival really does find itself in uncharted waters.

“Whether we get 50 viewings or 5,000 or 500, we just don’t know. It is literally a finger in the air.

“It is a big unknown, but we are hoping this will be seen as a very positive step forward for the longer term. Usually people will travel between five and 20 miles for an event, but obviously with this, those restrictions don’t apply!

“But we do need the income,” Stewart stresses. “We are able to put this on, but we are still very vulnerable.

“We have a preliminary skeleton line-up for next year’s (summer) festival, but there are so many ifs and buts, and it cannot become a reality until we have seen how we have done (with the autumn festival) and then it will be the awful wait to see how things go on the vaccine front and on the whole global pandemic front over the winter. But the important thing for the moment is to keep the momentum going.

“We have got a great line-up. It’s the feeling that life continues. We are putting our head over the parapet, and we hope it will be the kind of experience that people will enjoy and get used to.

“It will be like watching the Petworth Festival on TV. That’s how it will come across.

“And it will certainly mean that we have got the technology for continuing with this additional (online) element in the future if there is an appetite for it.”

Tickets are available from the Petworth Festival website.

Events include:

Friday, October 16, 8pm, London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley (piano).

Saturday, October 17, 8pm, Sheku & Isata Kanneh-Mason (cello & piano).

Sunday, October 18, 8pm, Mitsuko Uchida (piano).

Monday, October 19, 8pm, Special Summer Concert: Harry Rylance, Vóreios Trio & Harry the Piano (repeat screening).

Tuesday, October 20, 8pm, Tasmin Little with John Lenehan (violin & piano).

Wednesday, October 21, 8pm Clare Teal & Trio (jazz).

Thursday, October 22, 8pm MILOŠ (solo guitar).

Friday, October 23, 8pm, Patti Boulaye – Aretha & Me.

Saturday, October 24, 12 noon, Joanna Trollope Mum & Dad; 8pm, Charles Owen with Katya Apekisheva (piano duo).

Sunday, October 25, 3pm David Nott War Doctor; 7pm, AN Wilson The Mystery of Charles Dickens.

Monday, October 26, 12 noon, Nicholas Coleridge Magazines, Museums and Selective Memories; 7pm, James Naughtie On the Road: Adventures from Nixon to Trump.

Tuesday, October 27, 12 noon, Kate Fall The Gatekeeper; 7pm, An Evening with Michael Morpurgo.

Wednesday, October 28, 12 noon, Vanessa Branson One Hundred Summers; 7pm, Anthony Horowitz Moonflower Murders.

Thursday, October 29, 12 noon, Kadiatu Kanneh-Mason House of Music; 7pm, Lev Parikian Into the Tangled Bank/Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?

Friday, October 30, 12 noon, Jonathon Porritt Hope in Hell; 7pm Martin Bell War & Peacekeeping.

Saturday, October 31, 12 noon Kenneth Baker On Assassinations; 7pm, William Boyd Trio.

Sunday, November 1, 3pm, Ariana Neumann When Time Stood Still; 7pm, Robert McCrum Shakespearean.