Ah, Dartington, with its green hills, beautiful gardens, hearty meals, cheerful amateur music-making. Or so I’m told, because my experience, based round Dartington’s advanced composition course was rather different; 9am to 5pm in a darkened studio (well-equipped, but nevertheless intense) amongst an expert cohort of PhD level composers, who had the rather agonising task of writing a new work in a few days to be performed in a swiftly-approaching concert. Outside these business hours, a great many of them spent working practically with members of the excellent Heath Quartet, the composers had to revise and rewrite, grab meals when possible, and engage in hand-to-hand combat with Dartington’s under pressure computer printer.
Other people at Dartington work hard too of course, none more than Summer School director Joanna MacGregor who presents a festival-sized offering of three consecutive concerts per day, for four weeks, popping up to play the piano in quite a few of them, while teaching and fielding emergencies (in our case, a string player having to cancel through illness, a few hours before we arrived, causing our projected set of string quartets to be reimagined as string trios.)
Dartington as an institution has itself spent much time in recent years fending off trouble, such as the loss of its entire Arts Council grant a few years ago, and the re-location of its College of Arts to Falmouth University around the same time. The Summer School, which arrived here in the 1950s, is such a historic part of England’s musical heritage that you just have to pray for the year-round Dartington enterprise to keep going, and to find a new, sustainable twenty-first century existence. Heroic plans are afoot, and I hope they work out.