No one has been left untouched by the disruption caused by the pandemic. At worst, people have lost their lives, leaving relatives and friends grieving, and sometimes angry at arguably avoidable losses. Some have managed to survive a bout of the virus, but of these, a number are left with longterm health problems. As businesses have struggled, people have been furloughed or lost their jobs and consequently their homes; others in the freelance and zero hours contracts world have found their work and income greatly reduced, making it so much harder to put food on the table and pay essential bills. Some have become depressed in their isolation, and the UK is now beginning to reckon with the rising scale of mental illness. And everyone, including those who have so far avoided these multiple stresses, has found that their world has contracted, with no firm promises about how things will look in the coming months. With all this in mind, it has taken bravery for events organisers to plan festivals this year. Many found themselves in financial straits following the enforced cancellation of last year’s programmes, and to be willing to take the risk before the world is out of the woods is laudable. Though some events have been deferred, our Festivals supplement (see page 39) still offers much to lift the soul and sharpen the senses. Programming may be more modest in scale – large choral concerts are for the most part still unviable, for example, though chamber choirs such as Tenebrae, The Sixteen and Stile Antico are able to perform – but there is nevertheless a rich seam
of music running through this year’s schedule. Canny organisers have tried to plan for all eventualities and built in the possibility of following some concerts online as well as attending in venues that respect social distancing, thus reducing the need for people to travel great distances or cross country borders. At St Albans, for example (see News, page 9), the 2021 Organ Interpretation Competition will be held online only (the Improvisation Tournemire Prize will not take place this year); what is lost for competitors in not being able to mingle with each other and form friendships is counterbalanced by the benefit of everyone around the globe being able to follow the competition from their own home.
Festivals are leaven in the bread of classical music. Audiences tend to include a core of loyal local supporters who will turn out for programmes that might struggle to attract listeners in a normal concert season. This gives planners more confidence to build in world premieres and less familiar works of classical repertoire. There is an ethos of openness and exploration in festivals which lends a vibrancy to our musical life. But additionally, perhaps this year more than ever in the lifetime of most of us, festivals – through the power of music and a spirit of community – can play a gentle, but important, role in a global process of grieving and healing. So I would urge you to support them by purchasing tickets now, thereby repaying the courage shown in planning these life-giving events.
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