Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Norfolk and Norwich Festival

Norfolk & Norwich Festival is an arts organisation based in Norwich, England which is primarily responsible for the eponymous international arts festival held in annually every May, with events also held throughout the wider county of Norfolk.

The Norfolk & Norwich Festival is one of the oldest city festivals in England, having been held since 1824 and tracing its roots back further to 1772. It was initially conceived as a fundraiser for the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. For most of its history was a purely classical musical festival which saw performances by many famous artistes, composers and conductors. In recent years the festival has moved away from this focus, and has diversified to include a variety of circus, dance, visual arts and children's events.[1]

The Festival organisation works on creative learning schemes across Norfolk with support from Arts Council England and Norwich and Norfolk councils and has received funding to become a "bridge organisation" for Arts Council England from 2012.[2]




The festival was established as a triennial event in 1824 to support the ongoing construction of the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital, and grew out of earlier musical fundraisers for the hospital dating back as far as 1772 including the annual performance of an oratorio at Norwich Cathedral.[3]

In its early days, the festival was mainly held in St. Andrew's Hall and St Peter Mancroft. These events consisted primarily of oratorios and other large scale choral works performed by the Norwich Festival Chorus, then 300 strong.[3] Noted premieres from this time included The Last Judgement by the German Romantic composer and conductor Louis Spohr.[4]

20th century

The triennial festival continued to develop a reputation throughout the Victorian and Edwardian period, and saw the premieres of significant classical works including Edward Elgar's Sea Pictures in 1899 (sung by Clara Butt), E.J. Moeran's Rhapsody No. 2 for the 1924 centenary concert (based on a Norfolk folksong)[5], Frank Bridge's Enter Spring in 1927, Ralph Vaughan Williams's Job: A Masque for Dancing in 1930, Arthur Bliss's Morning Heroes also in 1930 and Benjamin Britten's Our Hunting Fathers in 1936.[4]

An oft-recounted story from the 1936 festival is Vaughan Williams's intervention to stop the orchestra mocking the 22-year-old Britten's work. Vaughan Williams told them they were "in the presence of greatness" (referring to the young composer) and that if they did not want to play Britten's work they would not play his (RVW was premiering his own Five Tudor Portraits at the same festival).[6]

As a musical festival, it also attracted prestigeous musical directors including Henry Wood, the founder of The Proms, Norman Del Mar and Vernon Handley. As a result, many famous conductors such as Malcolm Sargent and Thomas Beecham also travelled to Norwich for the triennial festival.[4]

The festival became an annual event in 1989. Under the direction of Marcus Davey, now director of the The Roundhouse London, the scope of the festival was changed from classical music to cater for a larger variety of music, theatre, dance and other visual arts.[4] As part of the widening of the Festival's scope, a new art initiative called "First Norfolk and Norwich Festival Visual Arts Week" was begun in 1994, which has now evolved into Norfolk Open Studios, an open gallery event.

21st century

A significant change in 2001 was the moving of the Festival from October to May.[4] From 2004-2010 it was under the direction of Jonathan Holloway, now Artistic Director of the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia. Composers who visited the Festival during this period include Philip Glass, Ute Lemper, Michael Nyman, John Cale and Laurie Anderson. The 2010 programme featured the Michael Clark Company, les 7 doigts de la main, Ontroerend Goed and Forced Entertainment and 2011 featured Artichoke's Dining with Alice, Chouf Ouchouf, Mariano Pensotti, Mariza and Kronos Quartet amongst others.[7] Recent musical commissions include Dan Jones's Music For Seven Ice Cream Vans.[8]. It is now under the direction of William Galinsky, formerly the organiser of the Cork Midsummer Festival in Ireland.[9]

Creative partnerships and bridge schemes

The Festival was the main East Anglian participant in the creative learning schools’ programme, working with 49 Norfolk schools. The Creative Partnerships scheme has been cut by the government, but from 2012/13 the Festival will receive a total of £1.35 million annually from Arts Council England to enable it to become a bridge organisation for developing arts opportunities for children and young people, acting as a bridge between the arts and education sectors.[10]


  1. ^ Legacy Trust newsletter,
  2. ^ Arts Council Bridge Organisations Briefing, Arts Council England 2011
  3. ^ a b A. D. Bayne, A comprehensive history of Norwich, Jarrold and sons, 1869, chapter XXII
  4. ^ a b c d e Through the Years, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Accessed 11 October 2011
  5. ^ Moeran Serenade in G, Orchestral Rhapsodies, Chandos Records 2004
  6. ^ Simon Heffer, Vaughan Williams: Uneasy Listening, The Telegraph, 5th December 2007
  7. ^ [ Norfolk and Norwich Festival brochure 2011
  8. ^ Music for Ice Cream Vans, PM blog, 21 May 2010
  9. ^ New Festival Director & Chief Executive William Galinsky's appointment, BBC News
  10. ^ Arts Council Bridge Organisations Briefing, Arts Council England 2011

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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