Live Premier of a New Concerto Inspired by Sussex

Andrew Bernardi and the 1696 Stradivarius preparing for the live premier of Paul Lewis’ new Violin Concerto © Malcolm Green 2020

This week I am in the company of Andrew Bernardi bathed in the dappled light in his garden. The Shipley Arts Festival has commissioned a new Violin concerto by the acclaimed Sussex composer, Paul Lewis.

I ask Andrew about this exciting new commission. He replies “Paul Lewis who’s been a friend now for well over 10 years and a part of the festival is a composer who lives in Sussex. He’s written a wonderful violin concerto. The minute we began to rehearse it we knew it was going to be a hit.

We’re going to be playing the whole concerto which is very cleverly written. The opening movement is titled 1696 Stradivarius. The intervals at the beginning are one-six-nine-six after the year the Stradivarius was made.”

The second and third movements are titled Shipley Idyll and Chinese Adventure.
Andrew says “This [concerto] is a real story that comes out of Sussex. Paul’s very cleverly also continued our journey which, as you know, has gone across Asia, so the concerto ends with Chinese Adventure.” Andrew’s important cultural dialogue with China has continued throughout the pandemic as have his performances with the Shipley Arts Festival embracing the opportunities of online concerts during lockdown. Andrew is delighted by the opportunities the technology has provided and to be performing in front of audiences once again now restrictions are easing.

I remark that he is rooted and sent from Sussex. Andrew smiles and agrees. Shipley has such big place in his heart I ask him what it is like to play the Shipley Idyll movement. He pauses to reflect and says “It’s very beautiful, very witty, brilliantly written and very challenging to play I might add.”

He continues “It reminds me of going down the river from here at our house which carries on to the church and goes through the Knepp Estate and eventually ends up in the sea. And that kind of describes what music does. That idea of something small becoming something huge. I think the river system brilliantly reflects this. So that’s what I think the Shipley Idyll reflects. You go out and find all these beautiful places and then you meet all these wonderful people on your journey and then you’re part of the sea, this amazing thing that you never knew was so large.”

As Andrew talks it seems to me that this could also be a metaphor for the growing national and international reputation of the Shipley Arts Festival here in Sussex.

Andrew plays me the Shipley Idyll movement. It is deeply moving, hope filled, shimmering descriptive, like the changing seasons, it seems to capture the passage of time and love – the pilgrimage of life in a Sussex landscape.
Andrew describes how for him the character of Sussex is born out of its people.

He concludes “My friends, the people here in Sussex are really warm hearted, hospitable, open and sharing, like the countryside. That’s what it’s all about.”
Andrew Bernardi’s generosity of spirit is at the heart of the Shipley Arts Festival with its community of musicians and supporters. Paul Lewis’ beautiful Violin Concerto’s live premier will be at Nuthurst Church on 18th July 2021. To book tickets for this and other concerts in the 2021 Shipley Arts Festival season visit

Marking Valentine’s Day

A 19th century sailor’s shell valentine of typical octagonal form, the glazed case enclosing a geometric pattern of various shells within coloured card borders, width 37cm © Toovey’s 2021

Music is so evocative often reminding us of points of love in our lives and I am looking forward to Andrew Bernardi’s online Valentine’s Day concert this Sunday.

Over the centuries people have found ways to mark love on Valentine’s Day. Amongst my favourite expressions of love are Sailor’s Valentines.
Sailor’s Valentines were made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Shells from the Caribbean were glued to cotton batting in intricate patterns. Contained within glazed octagonal frames they would be gifted to loved ones by the sailors when they returned home from their voyages.

At the centre of these designs you find love hearts, anchors and nautical emblems and, as you see here, flowers. It is often said that these love tokens were made by the sailors but they were actually made in the Caribbean where a cottage industry grew up, particularly in Barbados.

Amongst the best known retailers was Belgrave’s Curiosity Shop in Bridgetown which was run by the English brothers Benjamin Hinds and George Belgrave.
The brothers organised local women to create the designs using seashells. The design of the Sailor’s Valentine you see here is centred around a central flower head made from bi-valve sunrise tellin shells. The compartmentalised design includes olive shells, cowries, limpets, moon shells and small purple sea snails.
Barbados was often the last stop before the voyage home. Sailors could be away from home for years so although they purchased their valentines rather than making them the sentiment behind these exotic examples of shell art were expressions of genuine affection.

The feast of St Valentine, celebrated on 14th February, was inaugurated by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD. The day became associated with romantic love in the 14th and 15th centuries.

These shell tokens of love are still made today but early examples like the one you see here are highly prized by collectors. This one was sold at Toovey’s for £2600.

If you haven’t got a Sailor’s Valentines up your sleeve for this coming weekend perhaps you might celebrate love by joining Andrew Bernardi who will be holding a Valentine’s Day concert in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society this coming Sunday 14th February 2021. The concert will be streamed live from Leonardslee House. Andrew will be supported by pianist, Maria Marchant, cellist, Jonathan Few and Classic FM’s John Suchet. Our musicians, museums, theatres and art galleries have all faced enormous challenges because of Covid-19 and deserve our support.

At Toovey’s we strongly believe in the value of building communities through the arts and heritage here in Sussex. They are vital to the life of our county and we are proud to be continuing our sponsorship of the Shipley Arts Festival, especially in these times.

This innovative online concert will bless you with stunning musicianship and a wonderful romantic program – a ‘virtual’ evening out! Tickets cost just £10 and can be purchased by visiting

Chestnut Tree House Supported at Toovey’s Valentine’s Celebrations

Rupert Toovey with Patricia Woolgar, Chair of Trustees at Chestnut Tree House.
Image courtesy of Graham Franks Photography

Toovey’s 25th Anniversary Valentine’s Night celebrations brought hundreds of people together and raised more than £7000 for Chestnut Tree House hospice.

Chestnut Tree’s community team provide care for children and young people with life limiting illnesses to families in their own homes across Sussex and at Chestnut Tree House. The hospice was officially opened on 11th November 2003 by Her Royal Highness, Princess Alexandra. It is built in the vernacular of the English Manor House on land donated by the late Lady Sarah Clutton, a person who inspired and encouraged me in so many ways. The Land was given on a 125 year lease. The rent, a dozen mixed lilies (no white ones) and a £1 coin, falls due each year on Lady Sarah’s birthday.

The children and their families have access to wonderful countryside and nature through the hospice’s remarkable wheelchair accessible, interactive Woodland Walk and Meadow Garden.

Hospices are such a bright light in our communities. They allow those with life limiting illnesses to live well whilst also accompanying and tending to their families and loved ones. And they provide the opportunity for each of us to give expression to our care for others as they depend so heavily on our donations.

Chestnut Tree House’s extraordinary services cost more than £4 million every year. With only 6p in the pound funded by government this local charity is dependent on the financial support of the people and communities of Sussex which it serves.

Chestnut Tree House is a charity close to my own heart so I was delighted that Toovey’s 25th Anniversary Valentine’s Night celebrations allowed us to come together and raise funds for this remarkable Sussex charity.

Gary Shipton DL spoke in praise of Chestnut Tree House and Toovey’s.
Image courtesy of Graham Franks Photography

Gary Shipton DL and Patricia Woolgar, Chair of Trustees at Chestnut Tree House, spoke in praise of Toovey’s and Chestnut Tree House.

Andrew Bernardi and Maria Marchant with Rupert Toovey.
Image courtesy of Graham Franks Photography

Toovey’s celebrations included a charity auction. The evening raised over £7000 thanks to the generosity of all who came and concluded with a performance of Sussex music by Andrew Bernardi and his Stradivarius Trio.

Toovey’s Directors-Tom Rowsell, Rupert and Nick Toovey
Image courtesy of Graham Franks Photography

If you would like advice on how to fundraise, support, volunteer, or to find out more about Chestnut Tree House and its work visit

Shipley Arts Festival at Twenty

Shipley Arts Festival Director Andrew Bernardi with his 1696 Stradivarius at Toovey’s Auctioneers.

I meet up with the Shipley Arts Festival Artistic Director, Andrew Bernardi at Toovey’s Washington auction rooms. Andrew Bernardi is putting the finishing touches to the 2020 Shipley Arts Festival season. This important Sussex music festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

I ask Andrew how it all began, he replies “I met Christina Maude and Ginny de Zoete at a Charity Concert at Shipley Parish Church. The idea took shape when we all met up at Gordon Lindsay’s home and the festival was born!”
Andrew explains that 20 years on the festival’s distinctive foundations remain the same saying “At the Shipley Arts Festival’s heart is the inspiration of English music, in particular continuing John Ireland’s tradition of music inspired by Sussex.” The composer John Ireland is famously buried at Shipley. Andrew continues “We continue to commission new music for Sussex and the festival from many of the nation’s leading composers and musicians.”

Commissions and works written for the Shipley Arts Festival have included pieces by Cecilia McDowall, one of one of the country’s leading female composers, Roderick Williams OBE, the English operatic baritone and composer, Malcolm Singer, the former Director of the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music and current Professor of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and the late John Lord of Deep Purple.

To mark the festival’s 20th anniversary Andrew and his musicians will be performing a number of Opus 20s by Elgar, Mendelssohn and Chopin, as well as works by Bach, Purcell, Beethoven and John Ireland.

One of the things I most value about the festival is how it remains generous and outward facing supporting our county’s young musicians through its String Academy who, together with Maria Marchant, Fuensanta Zambrana Ruiz, Victoria Greenwood, Jonathan Hennesy Brown, Bruce Martin and Christina Maude, moved us all with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings Op.20 and Bach’s Sonata Movement in C minor at the Sedgwick Park 2020 launch on Sunday evening hosted by Clare Davison.

Rupert Toovey with Andrew Bernardi

At the opening Andrew remarked “The festival has exceeded anything we imagined and hoped for at the start. There are so many magical parts to the festival and not least the Churches and great country estates which host our concerts. And all of you for being with us on our journey.”
Andrew, like me, is passionate about building communities through heritage and the arts here in Sussex.

The festival celebrates the local, national and international qualities of our nation and is building an important exchange program with supporters from China and Hong Kong.

Speaking about the festival’s sponsors Andrew says “What we have in common with our sponsors is that we care about people – that’s what we do.”
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, Nyetimber, NFU Mutual, Wakefields 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

Building and Supporting Communities through the Arts

From left to right: Andrew Bernardi, Maria Marchant, Jonathan Few and George Robinson
From left to right: Andrew Bernardi, Maria Marchant, Jonathan Few and George Robinson

The 2019 Shipley Arts Festival opened with a concert at the Grade II listed mansion at Leonardslee Gardens.

The concert, hosted by headline sponsors of the 2019 Horsham District Year of Culture, Leonardslee House & Gardens, was accompanied by an auction and a game of heads and tails which raised £2300 for the important Sussex charities Chestnut Tree Hospice and the Sussex Arts Academy.

Guests arrived to enjoy a tour of the recently reopened Grade I listed gardens and drinks before returning to the magnificent hall where the musicians, framed by the sweeping staircase, performed a program of international music which included the Argentine composer Astor Piazzola’s series of four tango compositions ‘Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’.

It was a treat to see the Stradivarius Trio with Andrew Bernardi, Maria Marchant and Jonathan Few returning to Sussex joined by a young talent, the classical guitarist George Robinson.

I arrived to find the audience gathered in the company of Shipley Arts Festival patron, the Lord- Lieutenant of West Sussex, Susan Pyper and her husband Jonathan. The music was at once exciting and sublime.

As the first session of music concluded the auction began. The audience were in generous form and the bidding rose and my gavel fell to applause.

Both of the charities benefiting from this fund-raising, care for and create opportunities for our young people.

Chestnut Tree House is the children’s hospice for the whole of Sussex, Brighton, Hove and South East Hampshire. It has in its care some 300 children and young adults from 0-19 years of age with progressive life-shortening conditions.

Chestnut Tree House Fund Raising Development Manager, Juliette MacPherson explained how important events like this are to the Hospice, not only for vital fund raising but also in building relationships and awareness of their work in our communities. It often means that families who need their help become aware of their vital services whilst others choose to make Chestnut Tree House their charity of the year.

The Sussex Arts Academy is a charity which provides access to the very best in arts and cultural education to children and young people in schools and colleges across West Sussex. They also support disadvantaged young people who would otherwise not be able to engage with these opportunities.

I have long been a passionate advocate of building and supporting communities through arts and heritage and I am therefore delighted that together with Kreston Reeves, Nyetimber, Rossanna, Wakefields and NFU Mutual, Toovey’s are once again supporting the 2019 Shipley Arts Festival series of concerts.

For more information on all the forthcoming Shipley Arts Festival concerts go to Tickets are on sale at The Capitol, Horsham box office, telephone 01403 750220 or go to Demand is always strong for these concerts so don’t delay!

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.