THE POWER OF STOUR
A world class line-up of musicians will be descending on Kent this week for the start of the Stour Music Festival. Festival director Mark Deller spoke to Kathryn Tye about what will be in store for audiences at this year’s event.
A remote 13th century pilgrims’ church might seem an unlikely setting for one of Kent’s major music festivals. But during the final two weekends of June each year, hundreds of classical music lovers flock to All Saints in Boughton Aluph for the annual Stour Festival. Founded in 1962 by Margateborn counter-tenor Alfred Deller, principally as a festival devoted to early music, it takes its name from the River Stour, which runs along the valley between Ashford and Canterbury. The early festivals were held in a number of venues along the Stour Valley, and initially included exhibitions of paintings, organised by the late artist John Ward, who lived in Bilting near Ashford, and introduced Alfred to All Saints. Alfred’s son Mark Deller took over the festival in 1974 from his father, who died just five years later at the age of 67, and believes that the unique setting is one of the major reasons for the festival’s huge appeal. Mark, who lives in Wye, said: “It’s the largest church along the Stour Valley and can seat nearly 500 people. It is quite a remote location, stuck out in the middle of fields, but it is very pretty out there, and the church also has spectacular acoustics so it’s a nice place to perform.” Despite the remote location of the church, Mark and his team ensure that the festival experience is pleasant for performers and audiences by installing portable toilet facilities and large marquees. He said: “We serve food before and after the main evening concerts, and there are also record stalls and a bar. There is always a nice sociable atmosphere, and even if the weather is awful, our hardy audiences still turn up.” Indeed, the festival has attracted a very loyal following, with £57,000 worth of tickets sold for last year’s 50th anniversary event. Mark said: “Our audiences are always very well-informed, and performers know that they are guaranteed to get a good reception. Last year’s event was really special, but I am pleased with the line-up we have organised for this year’s festival. “I’m particularly looking forward to William Christie conducting the Orchestra of the
strings... Mark Deller
Age of Enlightenment, as he is a big name in the early music field, and also played on my dad’s last recording.” Semi-retired, part-time musician Mark, 74, who also conducts Ashford Choral Society, says he is confident that the festival will continue for many years to come, even after he decides to step down. He said: “I have three boys, and although I don’t think any of them will take on organising the event, I’m sure it will continue as we have a very good team, and so many people love it. It is a typically English event, something special.”
Swiss ensemble La Morra
Mark Deller with members of ashford Choral Society in 1970
a member of the Swiss ensemble Meridiana, who will be performing at the festival