Shipley Arts Festival 2018 Launch

Shipley Arts Festival Director, Andrew Bernardi, at Sedgwick Park House
Shipley Arts Festival Director, Andrew Bernardi, at Sedgwick Park House

The 2018 Shipley Arts Festival season promises to once again bring musicians and composers of national and international standing to Sussex. At the heart of this extraordinary celebration of music is its artistic director and founder, Andrew Bernardi.

I meet Andrew Bernardi at Sedgwick Park House where the festival launch is being hosted by Clare Davison in the company of the High Sheriff of West Sussex, Lady Emma Barnard. Andrew enthuses “This will be one of the finest festivals to date. It’s a great reflection on all of us that we’ve grown so much together.”

The long term relationships which Andrew has fostered with his audiences and musicians through the Shipley Arts Festival are rare and have enabled an extraordinary renaissance in the patronage of music and creativity in our County.

This is expressed in the commissioning of new music for the festival. The famous composer and baritone, Roderick Williams OBE, is working on two major compositions this year. The first is a piece commissioned for the Shipley Arts Festival which has been inspired by the turtle doves on the Knepp Castle Estate here in West Sussex. The second is for the BBC Proms.

Rupert Toovey with the High Sheriff, Lady Emma Barnard

In 1965 the great patron of the arts and Dean of Chichester Cathedral, The Very Revd Walter Hussey, commissioned the choral work The Chichester Psalms from the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. The Chichester Psalms were first performed in this country at Chichester Cathedral. 2018 marks the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth and I am excited, having encouraged and spoken about this project over a number of years with Andrew, that the festival has commissioned a series of new choral settings for Psalms to commemorate this anniversary. They will be performed at Steyning Parish Church on 3rd June to coincide with the Steyning Festival. This new choral piece has been composed by Malcolm Singer the former Director of Music at the Yehudi Menuhin School and current Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. These two commissions have been made possible by the generous patronage of Mr John Snelling who has keenly supported the festival from the beginning.

Andrew says “Sussex has a rich artistic history for music especially in the early 20th century, a tradition I am keen to keep alive. We’re following in the footsteps of Sir Edward Elgar who for a time composed at Fittleworth, Ralph Vaughan Williams who gathered many of his famous folk songs and tunes from the fields around Horsham and of course John Ireland who lived at Rock Mill, Washington.”

One of the things I most value about the festival is how it remains outward facing with its String Academy for the county’s young musicians. Andrew and I believe passionately in supporting our local community and charities. This year there will be a concert and charity auction in aid of the children’s hospice Chestnut Tree House.

Andrew Bernardi and the festival are attracting national and international attention as the Shipley Arts Festival continues to grow and mature in stature. As the longest standing sponsor of the Shipley Arts Festival I am delighted that Toovey’s and myself remain at the heart of this remarkable celebration of music and community. Together with our fellow sponsors Kreston Reeves, NFU Mutual, Nyetimber and Rossana, we look forward to West Sussex continuing to be at the centre of our nation’s musical life thanks to the determination and talent of Andrew Bernardi.

For more information on the forthcoming Shipley Arts Festival concerts go to www.shipleyartsfestival.co.uk.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.

Borde Hill Gardens at the Heart of the Arts

Andrewjohn and Eleni Stephenson Clarke open the 2015 Borde Hill Garden ‘Sculpture in the Garden exhibition’

This last weekend I found myself returning to Borde Hill Gardens, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex, as the guest of Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke and his wife Eleni. These generous custodians have worked hard to put Borde Hill and its famous gardens at the heart of the arts in West Sussex. Borde Hill Gardens are celebrating their 50th Anniversary of being open to the public.

Andrew Bernardi and the ‘1696 Stradivarius’ at Borde Hill

Much has been written about the importance of the gardens and plant collection. Between 1893 and 1937 Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke sponsored many of the Great Plant Collectors’ expeditions. They returned with rare specimens brought back from their travels in the Himalayas, China, Burma, Tasmania and the Andes. Many of these plant species are still at the heart of the collection which make up the seventeen acres of formal gardens we enjoy today.

As the Friends of the Shipley Arts Festival gather at Borde Hill Andrewjohn welcomes us in the panelled Drawing Room. He explains that his family have owned Borde Hill since 1892 and says “Although my family extended the house and this room I think my great-grandfather was more interested in the gardens than the house. When he came to Borde Hill the land gave him the opportunity to plan, layout and plant the garden.” Andrewjohn speaks with a gentle pride and understanding of his own place in the story of Borde Hill. As he does his love for it and the desire to share it with others is apparent.

Andrew Bernardi, Artistic Director of the Shipley Arts Festival, leads a trio of remarkable musicians which includes the cellist Jonathan Few and pianist, Maria Marchant. The concert opens with two Debussy pieces written at about the time that Andrewjohn’s grandfather purchased Borde Hill. There is an intimacy in this setting as the delights of the concert unfold.

‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner
‘Respond 1’, by Angela Conner

The textural melodies and rhythms of the music take me back to the week before when I joined my friends Andrewjohn and Eleni at the opening of their 2015 Borde Hill Sculpture in the Garden Exhibition. We gathered in the Italian Garden for the opening, as sculptor Angela Corner’s ‘Respond 1’ rose and fell responding to the forces of nature and the flow of water. The piece brings your senses alive to the play of light, sound and movement as you respond to the sculpture and the setting.

As I continued around the gardens the sight and scent of banks of bluebells, contrasted against the bright new leaves on trees, the giant rhododendrons and magnolias, made me feel more fully alive. The sculptures, like Guy Portelli’s ‘3 Blue Pokers’, are framed beautifully by the plants and gardens in this ever changing setting.

The Gardens extend into traditional parkland and woodlands, where the variety of micro-climates have contributed to the best collection of ‘champion’ trees (the tallest and largest girth) on privately-owned land in Britain. These ‘champion’ trees, together with many other exotic specimens, provide a canopy for spring flowers in Warren Wood, which is over 100 year’s old, and Stephanie’s Glade.

Andrewjohn and Eleni have placed Borde Hill Gardens at the heart of our community and the arts and their generous spirit and dedication is deserving of our thanks and support.

You must treat yourselves to an outing to Borde Hill Gardens. The 2015 Sculpture in the Garden runs until 1st September 2015 at Borde Hill Gardens, Borde Hill Lane, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, For more information on opening times and forthcoming events go to www.bordehill.co.uk or telephone 01444 450326.

For information on The Shipley Arts Festival concerts click here.

Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 13th May 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.