N&N Festival Diary: May 10-11

Ian Collins A middle weekend in any Norfolk and Norwich festival always offers some of the tastiest jam in the gala sandwich, and this year is no exception.Our 2008 family day event, in Norwich from 11am today, Saturday, takes the form of an artistic treasure hunt.

Ian Collins

A middle weekend in any Norfolk and Norwich festival always offers some of the tastiest jam in the gala sandwich, and this year is no exception.

Our 2008 family day event, in Norwich from 11am today, Saturday, takes the form of an artistic treasure hunt. Just pick up a treasure map and start to hunt out some of the 50 free performances hidden all over a city transformed into a gigantic carnival.

The programme, ranging from groovy bands to Spanish circus acts, will spill across streets, parks and shopping malls, above your heads and beneath your feet…

Thanks to special funding from the Arts Council, there will be four world performances on today's billowing bill.

Expected crowds will be augmented by promoters and professionals from festivals up and down the land keen to check out the latest Norfolk innovation.

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To download a map, or to find out where you can pick one up today, you can just send an e-mail to

pensesame@nnfestival.org.uk.

You will then receive a password to unlock a secret section of the festival website.

t Back from Barcelona by popular demand - after the success of The Upside Down World, the wackiest event at last year's festival - dramatic troupe Teatro de los Sentidos are making a meal of their new show.

Book now for Saturday lunch, or dinner for any evening of the festival save for Wednesday, in a new production called Cellar of the Senses. For £35 you will be served a wonderful meal with wine from a Catalan bodega as part of a feast for all the senses.

Moving through darkness into light and life, diners then take part in a personal exploration based on the imagination and memory of everyone in the bodega. Don't worry: this banquet of a show is all very tasteful.

t Circus is definitely the key theme of this year's festival, with NoFit State Circus probably winning any poll for best event in our packed programme (then again the audience for that Earlham Park extravaganza may reach 5,000 by next Saturday evening).

A new take on the big top, and yet another action-packed act from Catalonia, comes courtesy of Circo de la Sombra (Circus of Shadows) with a family-focused show at the Theatre Royal from 5pm this Sunday.

In fact this madcap pack comprises six high-flying acrobats from Spain, France and Italy - plus splendid Le Grand Osim Orchestra from Naples. The fantastic show defies reality - and gravity.

t One of my highlights last year was sitting in on a masterclass given by veteran conductor Sir Colin Davis to under-25s on Chamber Orchestra Anglia's young musicians scheme and the UEA Orchestra. For all those players, I'd guess it was a highlight of their lives.

We thought that, on the eve of his 80th birthday, the principal conductor with world-class orchestras from London and Bavaria to Boston and New York might be bowing out.

But not a bit. He's back today (then again, he does live near Stowmarket).

By all accounts a tiger turned pussycat, Sir Colin will certainly be a joy to behold as he completes work on Elgar's first symphony begun last year - before a short performance at 4pm.

He is bound to use his baton as a flute, violin bow and clarinet - his instrument of choice - at different points and generally to inject impish fun into the proceedings.

“An orchestra is a metaphor for what life should be but almost never is,” he told me, “with everyone involved stretching themselves in company with others and doing things they thought they couldn't at the outset.”

Bravo.

t Already among the world's top vocal chamber groups, the Hilliard Ensemble are seeing, and sounding, double in Norwich tonight.

Augmented with four extra voices to form a soloist double choir, their cathedral performance will feature a selection of Bach motets and music by Arvo Part - for my money our finest living composer (alongside our finest dead one!).

They were approached to sing all seven of Bach's surviving sacred works but said that the master's motets were too long and demanding for a single concert. Never again, they said.

Never again?

Well, yes, they had once sung the lot in a single session in Italy when receiving an invitation which was more of an ultimatum.

It felt like the proverbial offer they couldn't refuse.

Fearing horses' heads in their beds if they failed to comply, they duly sang their heads off.

t The snoring sound I distinctly heard during the Russian State Symphony Orchestra's rousing concert in St Andrew's Hall was due to the Glenn Gould-style grunting of pianist Dmitri Alexeev several of us concluded.

Others are adamant that the disruptive din came from a spectator's faulty deaf aid.

Beside those familiar outside broadcasters of courting blackbird and revving motorbike, I now think I heard both grunts and whirring whines of mechanical failure and perfect concentration.