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Cambridge Summer Music Festival has the community at its heart

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Cambridge Summer Music Festival director Juliet Abrahamson Picture: Keith Heppell
Cambridge Summer Music Festival director Juliet Abrahamson Picture: Keith Heppell

There are few better ways to spend the summer than listening to live music in a great venue. And that's exactly what the Cambridge Summer Music Festival delivers.

With young musicians, world, jazz and choral music, music outdoors and music for families, this year’s Cambridge Summer Music Festival has the community at its heart.

The 2017 instalment of the 16-day festival is proudly supported by the Cambridge Independent. It opens on Thursday, July 13 with lunchtime and evening concerts taking place at more than 20 venues across Cambridge – with many of the musicians directly connected to the city.

Last summer the festival was attended by thousands of people and provided nearly 40 classical music concerts, making it one of the most successful and long-running of its kind in the UK.

This year it will welcome the cellists Laura van der Hjeiden and Graham Walker, tenor Alessandra Fisher, pianist Ashok Gupta and harpist Anna Lapwood.

The highly successful partnership with the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden will continue with the Sounds Green series on Wednesday evenings in July. Around 7,000 people enjoyed music in these beautiful surroundings last year and the organisers expect as many in 2017.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent, festival director Juliet Abrahamson said: “There was a recent article in The Guardian that said classical music is not dead and is very much alive – it’s about having music put in front of us and not making it seem exclusive.

“So that’s what we do; along with evening concerts we put on lunchtime concerts and we put on free events.

There’s an opportunity to hear live music in very natural surroundings, and you don’t have to feel that you have to keep quiet – and then if you really enjoy the experience, you can move on to something else or something more formal.”

The festival celebrates its 40th anniversary next year and continues to go from strength to strength.

“It’s such a varied job”, added Juliet, who returned to the director role she held between 1994 and 2014 in January. “You run all different types of concerts, and get to meet varied people in Cambridge and use many different wonderful venues.

“From using just two or three chapels at the beginning, we now run anything up to 25 venues.”

She continued: “Our strapline is classical music in spectacular places.

“And for a lot of people they don’t get the chance to hear music in the summer in these places. We’re not just talking about tourists, this isn’t just our market, it’s very much a local thing.

“It is a music festival above all, and to us music means everything. That means music with children, it means jazz, folk and all the rest of it. The only thing is doesn’t mean is pop, since it is better heard in the big venues such as the Corn Exchange.

“We have had all sorts of extraordinary people to play and sing over the years.”

Music by Beethoven and for the piano are key themes this year. The Aurora Orchestra – formed and conducted by Nicolas Collon – play Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony entirely from memory, while Freddy Kempf performs his fourth and fifth piano concertos with the five-piece ensemble Wiener Kammersymphonie.

The French pianist Patrick Hemmerle plays the entire 48 Preludes and Fugues by Bach, while Ivana Gavric not only plays a piano recital in the Fitzwilliam Museum, but also Schumann’s wonderful piano concerto with the young Outcry Ensemble.

“The diversity is there. It’s reaching all the different audiences but we don’t necessarily want to be something we’re not.

“We need to be diverse, not looking backwards, but looking forwards to just introduce people to all kinds of music, and we do that quite successfully, both in Sounds Greens series and Music for Kids’ series, as well as in concerts by artists of an exeptionally high standard.”

Many of the performers taking to the stage this year have a connection to Cambridge, some have studied here and some are still here. It is also giving a platform to young musicians.

“It shows what talent there is in Cambridge and what talent there has been.

“These people are not just quite well known and they’re not just local performers, they’re people who have gone off and made a career and come back to perform here,” said Juliet.

Festival organisers hope this year’s instalment will bring delight to audiences throughout the summer.

“I think there should be lots of opportunities to get lost in the music,” added Juliet. “For example, Tenebrae concert – the sound of the group is just gorgeous.

“They are brilliant and then just following that with something completely different, Tim Kliphus Sextet which will be our finale event.

“The last time they played I can remember speaking to people when they came out and they were all beaming and asking me to have them back next year, so we are delighted that they will be here.”

Juliet, who is also chair of Linton Music Society, continued: “We’re very much concerned about being a festival for the community as well as being a festival for Cambridge’s many visitors.

“We have a wonderful festival chorus who come from all over the region with members from between 12 and 20 different choirs, like Huntingdon Chorus and the Bury Chorus, plus those in Cambridge itself. Stephen Cleobury conducts and we sing in King’s College Chapel. That’s the only amateur thing we do.

“But it’s a very, very high standard. It’s got four young and expert soloists. The Mozart Requiem we sing will be very special.”

The festival runs from July 13-29. Ticket prices vary for each event.

For more, visit: cambridgesummermusic.com. Box office 01223 357851 or cambridgelivetrust.co.uk.

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