Islands of imagination at Salisbury

SALISBURY International Arts Festival returns this year, after a Covid-induced, two-year hiatus, from 27th May to 18th June, with a programme that is in part inspired by islands, from our experiences as island dwellers, the drama and danger of islands and the mystery of remote isolated places.

The festival, running for about a week longer than usual, has a wide range of performing, visual and community arts events, across the whole city, including many free activities.

The festival is the biggest event under the umbrella of Wiltshire Creative, which also runs Salisbury Playhouse and the Arts Centre. Artistic director Gareth Machin says: “Fascination, fear and love of islands has long fired our collective imagination. After 300 years we are still reading Robinson Crusoe and after 75 years and more than 2,000 episodes, Desert Island Discs is still going strong.

“However, our interest in islands runs much deeper than their dramatic potential. In our highly connected world, we are increasingly craving the isolation and tranquillity that islands can offer. Even with modern amenities, islands consistently draw us in as holiday locations and meccas of fun and leisure.”

The festival opens with the world première of Stone Songs composed by, and under the musical direction, of Howard Moody, with the Festival Chorus joining La Folia musicians in a celebration of the history of Salisbury Cathedral. Originally intended to open the 2020 festival, Stone Songs is a new choral work inspired by the medieval chants that have resonated from the Cathedral’s stones since the 13th century. The piece will feature a large community chorus, five soloists, brass musicians, a percussionist, violinist, an organ, and even a working stone mason.

Violinist Harriet Mackenzie, the festival Associate Artist, will be performing throughout the programme, including the world première of a new violin concerto by Julian Joseph, commissioned by Wiltshire Creative. She also performs with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at Salisbury Cathedral with a concert celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

Other highlights of the Jubilee weekend will be a colourful celebration of street theatre, dance and spectacle filling the city streets with life, colour and culture.

Events for families and young people will include  Bemerton Beach Party, Tidworth Family Fiesta and a Treasure Hunts. As part of the offering for young people.

As part of a new collaboration with Canadian theatre company Mammalian Diving Reflex, the festival hosts Nightwalks with Teenagers, inviting adults to enter a world where the tables are turned and the teens are in charge. Mammalian Diving Reflex will work with a group of local teenagers to create performances presented on 10th and 11th June. Teenagers will plan, design and lead public walks through the city at night, exploring the neighbourhood with members of the community.

Bringing the festival to an end in exuberant island style, there will be food, live music, dancing, local craft stalls and demonstrations, inspired by a traditional Greek island Panigiri festival.

Pictured: Composer Howard Moody; violinist Harriet Mackenzie.