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Norfolk's concert halls are alive with the sound of music as county festival celebrates 95th year

PUBLISHED: 17:48 29 January 2020 | UPDATED: 18:19 29 January 2020

Norfolk County Music Festival 2016. North Walsham Infant School choir.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norfolk County Music Festival 2016. North Walsham Infant School choir. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

March will be music-filled as The Norfolk County Music Festival begins a month-long programme of concerts, performances and workshops to celebrate its 95th year.

Norfolk County Music Festival in Norwich, 22 May 1965. Picture: Archant LibraryNorfolk County Music Festival in Norwich, 22 May 1965. Picture: Archant Library

It's a festival which has been hitting the right notes since 1925 and attracts more than 4,000 musicians to perform every year.

The Norfolk County Music Festival is 95-years-old this year and the annual celebration of all things musical is still as vibrant and exciting as ever.

To mark the milestone birthday, the Festival is holding some extra special events, including a Rising Stars Recital on March 1, which features two young musicians who took part in the NCMF when they were children, mezzo-soprano Annabella Vesela Ellis and cellist Andrew Harsley.

Violinist Hannah Perowne will be in Norwich March 14 for a recital and pianist James Kirby, an honorary professor at the Rachmaninov Institute in Russia, will play a fundraising concert on March 28 to raise money for a music education project which works with children from less advantaged areas of Norfolk and London. Both are former NCMF alumni.

Norfolk County Music Festival in Norwich, 22 May 1965. Picture: Archant LibraryNorfolk County Music Festival in Norwich, 22 May 1965. Picture: Archant Library

Acclaimed guitarist Carlos Bonell will be supported by young guitarists at an event billed as "a magical mystery tour from Bach to the Beatles" on March 5 and the best performers from the Festival will perform at a Finale Concert at The Assembly House in Norwich on March 28, one of several events supported by arts charity The Assembly House Trust.

MP Arthur Shorten founded the Festival in 1925 in response to a widespread fear that the introduction of radio in Norfolk would spell the end for live music unless action was taken.

His name lives on: the Shorten Cup is awarded to the ensemble which gives the best performance in the Festival the theme of which this year is 'Musical Journeys'.

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Many of NCMF's alumni have impressive journeys to share such as Mercury Music Prize nominee Kit Downes, who will host a workshop, said festival development manager Michelle Bagnell.

She added that the purpose of NCMF, a registered charity, is to provide an opportunity for young musicians and speech or drama students to perform in public in front of a professional adjudicator, and to receive constructive feedback to assist their creative development.

"The Festival is thriving with more than 4,000 people playing and singing in various venues in Norwich, including a spectacular 2,500 singers in St Andrew's Hall," she said.

"It's exciting and quite humbling to be involved with a charity that has supported and helped to inspire thousands of musicians, singers and music-lovers - young and not-so-young - over the years.

Norwich Free School choir enjoying their turn at the Norfolk County Music Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYNorwich Free School choir enjoying their turn at the Norfolk County Music Festival. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

"Norwich is a great place for music. There are some great teachers working in schools and as private tutors and there are lots of amazing opportunities for young musicians.

"There's the County Youth Orchestra based at Open, lots of exciting ensembles are run by Norfolk Music Hub/Music Service, including the County Symphonic Wind Band and we are lucky to have the Norfolk Centre for Young Musicians which is a branch of Guildhall London.

"There's also the Norfolk Young Musician Competition and the Norwich Cathedral Choir are amazing. Sistema are also doing some great work to improve the equality of opportunities locally."

Michelle explained that the Festival hoped to expand the opportunities currently offered to young people in rural and coastal areas across Norfolk in the future as NCMF prepares for its centenary in 2025.

HENSTEAD JUNIOR CHOIR AT NORFOLK COUNTY MUSIC FESTIVALHENSTEAD JUNIOR CHOIR AT NORFOLK COUNTY MUSIC FESTIVAL

* Find out more, including how under-18s can attend for free, by visiting www.norfolkmusic.org.uk or picking up a leaflet at The Assembly House in Norwich.

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