Festival returns with stellar programme

IF you missed Salisbury International Arts Festival last year, the news of the first festival under the Wiltshire Creative is that it’s back and it’s bigger, better, more inventive and more exciting than it has been for years.

Running for 16 days from Friday 24th May to Sunday 9th June, with more than 120 events, the festival celebrates two anniversaries, the 1969 moon landing and the 1989 collapse of Communism, symbolised by the fall of the Berlin Wall. But while these two epochal events are the major themes, the festival is also a joyful celebration of creativity in every imaginable medium, from circus to chamber music, world cinema to inspirational sculpture, orchestral music to contemporary dance.

Highlights include Melvyn Tan playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata alongside festival guest director Jonathan Dove’s Catching Fire, the glorious chamber consort Voces8 singing Dove’s Vertue, a setting of a poem by the metaphysical poet and Salisbury clergyman George Herbert, Dove’s Moon Songs, with words by Alasdair Middleton, performed by hundreds of Wiltshire school children in Salisbury Cathedral, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra playing Holst’s The Planets, Luke Jerram’s seven-metre wide global sculpture, Gaia, featuring detailed NASA imagery of the earth’s surface, hanging under the Cathedral spire crossing, retail campaigner Mary Portas, a Festival of Ideas curated by international peace and environmental campaigner Dr Rebecca Johnson, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream from The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and authors Victoria Hislop, Minette Walters and Alison Weir.

Tim Crarer, chairman of Wiltshire Creative’s board, told the launch party at Salisbury Arts Centre that the programme was very ambitious but was very important for Salisbury after a very difficult year: “Wiltshire Creative is in the vanguard of the recovery,” he said.

Artistic director Gareth Machin recalled that the Salisbury festival began in 1973 and had always been characterised by a sense of dynamism. There was a continued commitment to international work, “which is particularly important now,” reflected in performers and groups from many countries including Nepal, Russia, Syria, Belgium and Spain.

Jonathan Dove, one of Britain’s leading composers, and the 2019 guest director, has a 30-year relationship with Salisbury Festival, dating from a year as musician-in-residence, when his work included the powerful Music for Drowning. In 2012, he wrote the opera The Walk Through the Garden for the festival. This year marks Dove’s 60th birthday and he has several new works in the programme.

The opening night event will be Earthrise, by Alec Roth, a 40-part choral work, accompanied by La Folia, and conducted by Howard Moody, in the Cathedral.

Zvisdal, at the Five Rivers Health and Wellbeing Centre, is a powerful multimedia work that explores the idea of environmental desolation and personal isolation. The work, by the Belgian theatre company Berlin, depicts the lives of an elderly couple who remained in the Chernobyl area for 20 years, 20 kilometres from the nearest shop, without electricity or running water.                                ..

Other unusual venues include Zizzi’s Italian restaurant in Salisbury for a Binaural Dinner Date; a pop-up city centre secret location for Collisions, a virtual reality journey into the homeland of a remote tribe in Western Australia whose first experience of the developed world was witnessing an atomic test in the 1960s; and The Chapel nightclub for an evening of flamenco music and dance.

Our Fragile Home: A Festival of Ideas, over the festival’s central weekend will be a programme of discussion and debate about the fragility of our planet. Rebecca Johnson is a long-time campaigner and founding co-chairman of ICAN (The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Speakers will include leading climatologist Chris Rapley; the full programme will be announced in April.

Other spoken word events feature David Lammy MP, international cricketer Vic Marks, former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger and news anchor Mark Austin, naturalist Stephen Moss and retail champion Mary Portas.

The film programme includes The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, documentary Being Neil Armstrong, When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, Dr Strangelove, Ryan Gosling in First Man, Ralph Fiennes in The White Crow and Judi Dench in Red Joan.

There will be regular updates on FTR in the run-up to this year’s Salisbury Festival. Booking opens on 15th March. More details www.wiltshirecreative.co.uk

Pictured: The Gaia installation, Nightclubbing, Mary Porter and a scene from Zvisdal.