Like any youngster growing up, Brinkburn Music Festival has had obstacles to overcome. In July, though, it comes of age with the 21st festival offering some rare musical treats.
The Queen’s Six, who perform regularly for members of the royal family, will travel to Northumberland to perform for the first time at the 12th Century Brinkburn Priory.
The six professional male singers live within the walls of Windsor Castle and sing about eight services a week in the chapel. This demanding schedule means they get little time to perform elsewhere.
They are coming to Brinkburn, though.
On Friday, July 4 they will open the three-day festival with a programme of traditional choral music and arrangements of more popular songs.
Dr Gulliver Ralston, the festival’s new creative director, says: “It’s quite a coup to have The Queen’s Six opening this year’s festival. They are also coming to work with pupils at Northumberland Academy as part of the festival’s new education programme.”
The Queen’s Six are counter-tenors Daniel Brittain and Timothy Carleston, tenors Nicholas Madden and Dominic Bland and bass baritones Andrew Thompson and Simon Whiteley.
They are neither as ancient nor as stuffy as they might sound. True, their name honours music-loving Elizabeth I and the notable six musicians of her reign – Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Thomas Morley, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Weelkes – but they only established the group in 2008 (the 450th anniversary of the accession of Elizabeth I) and are keen to entertain across a broad spectrum.
On their website the lads express no displeasure at being affectionately dubbed Q6, and boast of their versatility.
At Brinkburn we might even hear their version of Smells Like Teen Spirit by American rock band Nirvana. In August, they plan to embark on a tour of Germany and Austria.
The Saturday programme opens with a concert by Mahan Esfahani, the Iranian harpsichord player who has notched up some notable firsts.
In 2008 he was the first early instrument specialist to be appointed as a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and, in 2011, he gave the first solo harpsichord recital at the BBC Proms.
The harpsichord should sound brilliant at Brinkburn Priory with its time-honoured acoustic, and this young man has been hailed as the instrument’s leading champion.
Also on the Saturday there will be a concert by violinist Jennifer Pike who, in 2002, won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the age of just 12. She was a New Generation Artist contemporary of Mahan Esfahani.
At Brinkburn, accompanied by her father, she will perform Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and Elgar’s Sospiri.
The Royal Northern Sinfonia will perform Mahler’s Symphony No 4 on the Saturday evening and will be back the following evening to join the Hilliard Ensemble on their farewell tour. This programme will include a performance of The Dream of the Rood by Northumberland composer John Casken.
On the Sunday morning the Dean of Durham Cathedral will preach and there will be music from the choirs of Durham Cathedral and the Northumberland Church of England Academy.
Dr Ralston said: “I think we have a good balance this year between the old and the new.
“The Royal Northern Sinfonia has built up a strong connection with our regular audience so it’s a pleasure to have them back again. Mahan Esfahani and Jennifer Pike are dazzling players at the top their games and the Hilliard Ensemble is world-class. It’s a rich three days of music from international artists.”
The manor house beside the priory is to become a public space at this year’s festival for eating, drinking and catching up with friends.
For programme details and to buy tickets go to www.brinkburnmusic.org or call 01665 798007.