Amongst many interesting English places I would never have visited but for music is Brixworth. Somewhere-or-other to the right of the M1, it nestles in gentle countryside, and is home to numerous listed buildings including its parish church, which a historian has described as ‘ possibly the most imposing architectural memorial of the 7th century yet surviving north of the Alps’. Most of Brixworth Festival’s concerts take place in this building, or did do until the enforced physical closedown this year, its seventh in business.
My link to the village was Gwion Thomas, a distinguished baritone who premiered several of my own operas, including the leading role in A Night at the Chinese Opera. Gwion’s wife Chloe Wilson-Thomas, also an opera singer, was Brixworth’s vicar (they’ve recently moved parishes.) Landing suddenly in Brixworth at the same time was Vivienne Olive, an English-born composer who has been working in Nuremberg for the last forty years. Having inherited her mother’s Brixworth bungalow , Vivienne was wondering what to do there when she heard about Gwion and Chloe. With amazing synergy these very busy people conjured up a delightfully local festival which nevertheless has included some cutting-edge new music. For several years I have been a judge on their international composers’ competition, this year won by Florence Maunders.
Knowing the endless arrangements that go into an annual festival, I thought with particular sympathy about Brixworth’s cancellations last week. Nevertheless, strands of the intended programme appeared on line – particularly the ever-amazing offerings of Frances Lynch and Minerva Scientifica, who’d been looking at science through a Northamptonshire lens. And Vivienne herself speaks most interestingly, in this interview, about working at Brixworth, as well as about her own more general perspective about music. Let’s hope our wonderful country festivals will be refreshed by their year off, and come back to astonish us again in 2021.