Highgate International Chamber Music Festival inspired by diverse origins

for michael white's music page

for michael white's music page - Credit: Archant

This time last year, when the Highgate International Chamber Music Festival first launched, I was bemused by the name – which sounded impeccably old-guard, established and a touch grand for what was actually a brand new venture running over a weekend and set up by three young musicians who happen to live off Highgate West Hill.

But it turned out to be entirely appropriate and hit enough of the right buttons to succeed. Which is why the festival is back for a second season, bigger than before, and so assertively international that it has performers flying in from across Europe and America for what’s now a week of concerts, December 8 to 15.

As before, the festival is run by those three musicians: violinist Natalie Klouda, cellist Ashok Klouda and pianist Irina Botan. And this year’s programme is flagging internationalism with a declared theme, From Our Homelands, which signifies that much of the music reflects the varied backgrounds of the three organisers.

For the record, this means Britain (for Natalie), Romania (Irina), and a strange assortment of other places claimed by Ashok who is, as he tells me: “Half-Indian, a quarter Irish and a quarter Czech – though I was actually brought up in Kentish Town.”


Finding chamber music from what’s now the Czech Republic wasn’t difficult (think Dvorak), and the British and Romanian elements were fairly easy too (Britten, Vaughan Williams and Enescu). But India and Ireland were another matter that required some digging around. So what the organisers have come up with are scores by Naresh Sohal (a composer who went quiet after early success with BBC Proms commissions but returned to the spotlight with another Proms platform this year) and by Charles Villiers Stanford (a walrus-moustached master of High Victorianism, best known for his Anglican church music but conveniently born in Dublin).

If any of this strikes you as too esoteric, fear not: packaged round the homelands theme are mainstream chamber music standards – Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert – played by instrumentalists who have them firmly under their fingers. Of the 22 participants in the festival, nearly all are leading members past or present of established chamber groups – though the intention is, as Ashok Klouda says, “to give their experience a fresh context”.

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He said: “These are players you’d find regularly at the Wigmore Hall or other major venues with their regular collaborators. But for our Highgate festival you get the chance to hear them in other groupings. And it will be interesting to hear what difference of approach that brings.”

Something that binds the participants together, apart from their stature, is that nearly half of them are former students of the celebrated Menuhin School. And though the school is down in Surrey, Menuhin himself once lived in Highgate which, says Ashok “is a reason why having the festival here in N6 seemed a good idea. A lot of these players feel they owe him and his memory a great deal, so there’s a meaningful link”.

The concerts in the festival all happen either in St Anne’s Church, Highgate West Hill, or, in one case, Lauderdale House. And, as it’s December, you get mulled wine and mince pies thrown in. Chamber music with cheer.

n Full details and booking: www.chambermusicfestival.co.uk.