A very English concert

Some members of the Dartington Community Choir in the grounds of Dartington Hall.

Some members of the Dartington Community Choir in the grounds of Dartington Hall. - Credit: Archant

This year’s Dartington Community Choir summer concert will celebrate the music of England

The municipal road sign welcoming visitors to Totnes was defaced not long ago, so that for a short time it read “Totnes: twinned with Narnia.” Local people smiled, because there is something otherworldly about Totnes, with its alternative shops, its aging hippies, its idealistic arts and crafts and its ancient buildings; arriving there is like stepping into a different world. And Dartington Hall, on the outskirts of Totnes on the banks of the Dart, also has a kind of English enchantment about it.

The extensive grounds and gardens, open to the public, are English landscaping at its best. At their centre is a magnificent 15th century Great Hall, surrounded by a courtyard reminiscent of an Oxbridge quad, open to everyone. All this is a gift to the public in trust from the philanthropic visionaries, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, who bought and restored Dartington in the 1920s to form a creative community of arts and skills and social projects.

Among many outstanding artists, the Dartington project has particularly attracted great musicians, such as Britten, Stravinsky, Menuhin, Rattle, Rubinstein, du Pré, Barenboim, Ravi Shankar and Maxwell Davies. Imogen Holst, daughter of Gustav Holst, was inspired to start a choir in 1942, which is still going strong as the Dartington Community Choir.

Its patron currently is the sublime soprano, Dame Emma Kirkby. The choir is lucky enough to rehearse all year in Dartington’s beautiful Great Hall, and is giving its regular summer concert there on Sunday, 29 June.

Each year the choir concentrates on music from a particular country for this summer performance, and this year the choice is English music. The programme will centre round the part songs of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Sir Charles Stanford, and the soprano soloist Heloise West will be joining the choir in Stanford’s Bluebeard. And this year, for the first time, cream teas will be served outside to concertgoers after the performance, on the Terrace in the large Private Garden. It would be hard to imagine a more magical English idyll – English June, English music, English gardens and a Devon cream tea.

The Dartington Community choir is an amateur one, drawn from the local community, though it always has distinguished professional soloists at its three annual concerts. But thanks to Dartington’s outstanding Music Director and conductor Jonathan Watts, its standards are remarkably high. Watts is a distinguished organist and keyboard performer, and Artistic Director of Devon Baroque, the leading orchestra in the South West specialising in baroque and early classical music, played on period instruments.

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His method is a combination of wit and passionate insistence on detail rehearsals are demanding, but inspiring, fun and funny as well. The general view is that a collection of local amateurs – there are no auditions, though there are many experienced musicians in the choir - is astonishingly lucky to have a director of Jonathan’s exceptional ability.

But that is part of the original purpose of Dartington - to bring the very best of music and art into the wider community. That will be the spirit of the concert on 29 June, along with cream tea in an old English garden – something of Glyndebourne-on-the-Dart, perhaps.

Dartington Community Choir Summer Concert : Dartington Great Hall, Sunday, 29 June 2014 at 3pm

Tickets: £15, students &U16s: £5, Cream Teas: additional £5.50 (in advance only) from Dartington Box Office 01803 or online at www.dartington.org/artsDartington Community Choir Christmas Concert: Dartington Great Hall, Monteverdi Vespers, Sunday 14 December

For more information contact Sue Bottomley at suembottomley@gmail.com or visit dartington-community-choir.co.uk