I’ve just discovered somewhere that I never knew about except in terms of schoolboy geography: a revelation by the name of Ryedale – which is an extensive tract of well-heeled rural bliss, with grand country estates like Castle Howard, picture-perfect villages and poignantly romantic ruined abbeys to the north of York. The English landscape like it’s meant to be, and pretty well unspoilt.
Needless to say, I’ve been there for a music festival, also called Ryedale. And it’s been a total joy. Arcadia. Starting with a Monteverdi Vespers in the spare solemnity of Ampleforth, the Benedictine monastery that functions as a sort of hub for this spread-out event (42 events in 24 venues according to my maths), and followed next day with the same composer’s Coronation of Poppea in the Ampleforth School theatre. You can see that when it tours to London for the Grimeborne season.
Both were good- especially the Vespers, which were masterminded by the brilliantly mercurial Robert Hollingworth (he of I Fagiolini although teaching postgrad courses, now, at York) and had the USP of genuine Benedictine monks to sing the plainsong antiphons. Devotionally. You don’t get that on average evenings at the Southbank.
But the most impressive thing about the Ryedale Festival is the mere fact that it exists. The other year it lost not just the whole of its Arts Council funding, at a stroke, but its support from Ryedale District Council: a double-whammy that was undeserved but typical of what’s been happening the length and breadth of Britain.
Left with nothing, it was tempting for the festival to throw the towel in, and accept defeat. But it did nothing of the sort. It worked like crazy to replace the public funds with private ones, some of them from corporate donors like UBS and Handelsbank (a Swedish outfit working on a Yorkshire presence), but largely from individuals writing small-to-medium cheques.
It’s a story of survival on the brink of death, and the kind of radical response to crisis that a number of other festivals like Bath (which has just lost its funding) are going to have to do. But it’s also a good-news story, that proves such things can be done if there’s the will.
In Rydedale I guess you can put it down to Yorkshire spirit. But the determination to carry on isn’t unconnected with the fact that this festival has something real to offer. The programming is good, the artists well-chosen, the locations fabulous: an unbeatable package. If you’re in that part of the world, it runs on to July 27th. If you’re not, it’s worth the journey.