Petworth Festival offers twin voyages of discovery

Artistic director Stewart Collins is delighted to report it’s pretty much back to normal for this year’s Petworth Festival which offers twin journeys, one real, one metaphorical.
​Artistic director Stewart Collins celebrates a return to normality at the Petworth Festival (contributed pic)​Artistic director Stewart Collins celebrates a return to normality at the Petworth Festival (contributed pic)
​Artistic director Stewart Collins celebrates a return to normality at the Petworth Festival (contributed pic)

The festival, running from July 11-29, offers events across a dozen venues within 15 miles. But there’s another rather more figurative journey too – across the huge range of events (

The perception remains in some quarters that Petworth is still largely a classical music festival. It isn’t. It’s 50-50. As Stewart says, for every Tenebrae – English Glories (choral), you’ve got Shakatak; for every Jack Liebeck & Ensemble, you’ve got The Wonder of Stevie; for every Dynamo Quartet, you’ve got a Joni Mitchell tribute.

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“Whether it is all completely back to normal, I will be able to tell you at the end! But it certainly feels as though we are a lot back to the pre-Covid world in most senses though I don’t think we'll ever be back to it entirely but it just feels that the box office response, the type of artists that we've got coming to the festival and the range of things that we're doing are back to where we were in 2019. Covid was horrid. We lost money. It was a really difficult time for us just as it was for everyone everywhere but I do think that the box office sales are going to be more or less back to where we were. Our target for this year is slightly lower than in 2019 but we're about to hit it and I would expect that we would outrun that by a little way which is great. But I do think the world of entertainment has changed for everyone. One of the things that we saw during the pandemic was that everybody discovered new platforms. I think that has affected the catering and dining world as well. A lot of people have discovered that they could eat just as well at home. And for the entertainment world everyone discovered Netflix and Amazon Prime and Apple TV and I think sometimes people now need to be reminded that none of that can be remotely as good as the sheer exhilaration of being actually in the same room with incredibly talented performers. I do think the younger generations are back going out to their rock and pop concerts and festivals but I do think the older generation have taken a while to get back into the habit and you have to remind them of just how great it is to see something that is genuinely live.”

Inevitably the cost of living crisis is another challenge: “But we have managed to keep our tickets at the same level as last year and in a couple of cases we have dropped them. And obviously that is a cost to us. We've done quite a lot of juggling and balancing and that's partly why we did the additional weekend in June. That was because there were some concerts that we wanted to do and this was a great opportunity to do them – and a chance to have some additional income which is what we managed.”

As for the festival itself, the programme is probably slightly larger than last year: “We are not bringing as many international artists across this year as we have done before and that's partly about the cost. But we would love to go back to that and I would think that once we do go back to having three or four overseas artists coming across to the festival, then we really will be back to normal.”

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