BREMF: ‘We believe that the arts should be a meritocracy’

Clare Norburn
Clare Norburn

Brighton Early Music Festival prepares for its 15th outing this October – the latest chapter in a story of remarkable success.

Festival co-artistic director Clare Norburn said: “I think we have been successful because we take quite a different approach to other classical music festivals in the way that we work with artists, and that’s becoming clearer and clearer every year.

“We have now started calling ourselves a development agency for early music. We don’t just take off-the-peg programmes from artists. We do that, but what is so distinctive about what we do is that we are also about commissioning work.

“We have always commissioned works, right from the start, but in the first 10 to 12 years, we commissioned works and they were performed at BREMF and that was it. But what is exciting now is that one of our 2013 productions is now on tour. We put together a tour of 13 promoters.”

The piece explores the life and music of the Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo and is being performed by The Marian Consort: “It has really accelerated their development, which is great for everyone. I think that is the kind of model we want to be working on.

“Brighton is at the forefront of creating new work with artists that then goes on tour, and this year we are commissioning at least a couple of works that will definitely follow that model. For one of them (recorder consort Palisander, November 12), we’ve already approached promoters, and their performance will be the first performance of a tour if they can get their Arts Council funding.

“We are increasingly helping artists in a much more holistic, long-term way rather than just giving them a platform in Brighton. Increasingly we have had promoters that have given engagements to artists, but now we are much more proactive in helping them be much more forward-thinking. We are aiming to put our energies more into things that go on to have another life. It is great that we get the premieres in Brighton, but we want to support the artists further.

“The fact is that it is incredibly difficult for young performers to get started. It has never been harder for young groups to make headway. Young people coming out of college might know a lot about music, but they probably don’t have any administrative experience or contacts, and that makes it terribly difficult. We passionately believe that the arts should be a meritocracy, that you should have an audience, that it shouldn’t just be about who you know.”

This year’s Brighton Early Music Festival takes the theme Nature & Science and runs from October 28-November 13, with flagship events including a new play with music about the life and work of Galileo (Oct 29 and 30). Set during his final days, the play will relive key moments in Galileo’s life including his trial, excommunication and house arrest – illustrated by music that Galileo would have known, including pieces written by his father, performed by vocal ensemble The Marian Consort and The Monteverdi String Band.

“Another 2016 Festival production is Gaia (Nov 12) – a modern take on the intermedi spectaculars of the 16th century. Gaia brings together music and drama from the 16th and 17th centuries with 21st-century effects such as film, projections, lighting effects, mime, yoga and dance to tell the story of the Earth and how humans have perceived it through the ages. The music ranges from Antoine Brumel’s earth-shattering Earthquake Mass, to beautiful pastoral madrigals and motets celebrating the Queen of Heaven. Performers include the English Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble, Lacock Scholars, BREMF Consort of Voices, and the BREMF Community Choir.”

Other programmes include L’Avventura London showcasing the work of 17th century musician, alchemist and polymath Athanasius Kircher; and chamber orchestra Spiritato! exploring the development of the natural trumpet.

Tickets go on sale on September 5 at or 01273 709709.

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