Shakespeare was spot on when he described music as being the food of love, although the bard wrote it slightly more eloquently.
Music and food has always been a match made in heaven. The two go together like ham and cheese, lamb and mint sauce and roast beef and English mustard.
It’s a concept that some of the world’s greatest composers understood.
Being a musical genius can be every bit as appetite building as burning off the calories on a building site. There are scores of music loving epicureans who aren’t just remembered for what they wrote on the stave, but the lengths they often went to too stave off the hunger pangs.
Gioachino Rossini’s appetite was as epic as his operas. And his love of good food lives on to this day thanks to a number of still popular recipes that were named after him, including the opulent steak dish Tournedos Rossini topped with foie gras, black truffles and Madeira sauce, and the equally indulgent Eggs Rossini with chicken livers.
Rossini was so enamoured of food that he claimed only to have cried three times in his life: when his first opera failed, on hearing Paganini play and on witnessing his favourite treat, turkey stuffed with truffles, fall overboard while he sailed to a picnic lunch!
Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame liked the finer things in life and employed a French chef. The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, meanwhile, formed his own dining club where he would cook pasta with eels or roast fowl he had shot himself by his lakeside home.
It’s apt then that Rossini, Puccini and Gilbert and Sullivan should be among the musical delights being served up next month as a popular festival combining the classics with good food makes a welcome return.
The fourth Northumberland Music Festival gets underway on November 14 and for three weekends will bring some of the most celebrated and talented musicians and singers to perform at three venues across the county – Doxford, Eshott and Guyzance Halls.
Among the highlights will be performances of Gilbert and Sullivan classics, Puccini’s Tosca and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.
There will also be the chance to take a Grand Operatic Tour of Italy; listen to the British Philharmonic Concert Orchestra; spend an evening in the company of three Wicked Women – the Archers’ Sara Coward (Caroline Stirling) and Sunny Ormonde (Lilian Bellamy) and West End leading lady Jan Hartley - as they celebrate a clutch of scandalous real life and fictional females; enjoy the company of the Band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; go Across the Atlantic with County Durham born operatic bass Graeme Danby; tap your feet along to traditional music ensemble The Northumberland Ranters and immerse yourself in some of the greatest music ever written for the human voice with The Three English Tenors, better known as Peter Auty, Andrew Forbes Lane and Nicholas Sales.
It’s a stunning line-up. But what makes the Northumberland Music Festival all the more appetising is that each of the concerts comes with a side serving of the finest foods.
When they are not hosting gala music events, Eshott, Doxford and Guyzance Halls are three of the region’s finest country house hotels (although the latter specialises in private hire holidays, weekend breaks, weddings and fishing trips) with award-winning kitchens to match.
Eric Kortenbach, operations director at Guyzance Hall Ltd, which owns the Northumberland boutique hotel portfolio as well as Dalhousie Castle on the outskirts of Edinburgh, Ednam House in Kelso and the Tedsmore Estate in Shropshire, is proud that in the two years he has been with the group both Eshott and Doxford have gone from boasting one AA Rosette apiece to recently being awarded two.
With only 10% of restaurants in the UK considered worthy of one Rosette, getting two is a pleasing achievement.
It is, Eric says, a sign of the high creative standards achieved for food which champions the freshest and seasonal locally sourced ingredients. And in the case of the fruit and vegetables, they come from Doxford and Eshott’s own orchard and walled kitchen gardens and form the basis for most dishes.
Other favoured suppliers at the hotels’ include Ingram Valley lamb, seafood from Frank Round in North Shields, Swallow Fish of Seahouses and L Robson and Sons of Craster. Diners will also find Northumbrian beef, Blagdon reared duck and chicken, Northumberland Poultry from Longhorsley and Ringtons Coffee all on the hotel menus.
While there is any number of events these days covering everything from the classics to folk, opera, jazz, easy listening and indie, few combine food and melody in quite the same way as the Northumberland Music Festival.
And certainly no-one else in the North East unites the finest foods from two AA Rosette restaurants with the very best in music performed at three such stunning country house venues.
All too often wine, dine and entertainment packages are pedestrian affairs offering the ubiquitous soup or pate starter, bland chicken-based main course and cardboardy gateau for dessert.
The menus pulled together for the Northumberland Music Festival’s 10 concerts, couldn’t be further removed from that image. In the case of the Grand Operatic Tour of Italy taking place at Guyzance Hall on November 22, the menu has been given an enticing Mediterranean theme with refreshing mozzarella and tomato salad, fillet of pork Milanese with a parmesan and herb crust, porcini mushrooms and lemon followed by fig and pistachio panna cotta.
The vegetarian main course option is an inviting gorgonzola and olive tart with sun blushed tomatoes and baby salad leaves.
Eric says it is important that the food side for each concert “offers the best that we can. We are offering incredible value for money and we are certainly not holding back.
“It is important to us that each concert meets people’s expectations from the gourmet dinner through to the music. We are offering something in the heart of the beautiful Northumberland countryside that people would usually have to drive to Edinburgh, Newcastle, or even London for.”
The Grand Operatic Tour of Italy costs just £64 for the concert ticket and dinner. Meanwhile, the Across the Atlantic evening with Graeme Danby at Eshott Hall on November 30 costs £69 and includes the meal featuring carpaccio of venison with port reduction and beetroot salad; Ingram Valley lamb loin, roasted garlic and rosemary Dauphinoise, celeriac puree, red wine jus and roasted root vegetables followed by dark chocolate pave, pistachio mousse and raspberries.
Highlighting local produce is important. “It makes sense,” Eric explains. “If you go somewhere else in the world and if you like good food, then you want to be able to eat something that represents that region.
“There is absolutely no point in offering people something they could get at home; it doesn’t make any sense at all.
“It is only right that we show people what the region has to offer in the way of good foods. And for us the Northumberland Music Festival is a showcase in all senses of the word.
“It’s about showcasing the best music and performers as well as the best local produce, whether that is the lamb and beef, the fish from the coast or the vegetables grown in our own garden at Eshott or fruit from our orchard at Doxford.”
Eric also feels strongly that music and good food go hand-in-hand. But it has to be the right music. “It would be totally wrong to dine on good food in a setting like Eshott or Doxford and then go to a U2 concert. It’s not the right fit and I don’t think that scenario would enter most people’s minds.
“But classical music, opera and jazz are all styles that lend themselves to having an enjoyable evening of entertainment and food. And sitting down to a relaxed meal adds to the peacefulness of the experience.
“Why do classical music and food work so well together? I think because it gives you a sense of sophistication and classical music just fits so well with fine dining.”
Be pleased that the Northumberland Music Festival isn’t featuring the work of the French composer and pianist Erik Satie, however.
His spare, unconventional and often witty piano pieces may have been popular, but the colourful figure had some particularly unsociable eating habits.
For reasons best known to him, he only ate white foods, which included eggs, sugar, cheese, coconuts, rice, certain fish and shredded bones!
Now, that would be an interesting concert menu to harmonise.
For further details on the Northumberland Music Festival and to book tickets for any of the concerts go to www.northumberlandmusicfestival.com
Accommodation offers are available at both Doxford Hall and Eshott Hall hotels during the festival. Doxford Hall: 01665 589 700. Eshott Hall: 01670 787 454.