Ever since it started eight years ago, Latitude Festival has earned itself a reputation as a truly diverse weekend of events. Covering everything from the usual popular music of more mainstream festivals to theatre, poetry and everything in between, it has always strived to live up to its strapline: ‘More than just a music festival’.
Latitude organisers also maintain that the event’s key demographic is people of all ages and that they always strive to programme performances and events that cater for young children right up to the more senior festival-goer. In fact, so successful are they in this aim, they proudly hold the title of Best Family Festival, awarded to them at the 2012 UK Festival Awards.
Although the festival line-up has often included classical music acts – including renowned international artists such as Lang Lang who performed last year – I think I’m right in saying that this was the first time an early music group had been invited to perform. I was lucky enough to be at the festival this year, which took place at Henham Park in Suffolk from 18 to 21 July, and was thrilled to discover Alison Balsom and The English Concert had been invited as special guests to play on the Sunday.
The performance took place on the most picturesque of all stages at Latitude – the Waterfront Stage. As well as giving the performance an idyllic backdrop of the lake that dominates the festival location, with its enormous, colourful papier-mâché water lilies, performers can be seen from almost every angle. As the crowds gathered – and compared to other audiences at Waterfront Stage events, this really was a huge gathering – people were sat on the grassy verge directly in front of the stage, standing along the full length of the Writer’s Bridge three-people deep and reclining on the grass on the opposite side of the water, not to mention those being punted around the lake, who surely had the best aspect of all!
Alison took full advantage of the watery setting, arriving onstage by punt in a suitably dramatic fashion while The English Concert played a rousing introduction. The programme was formed entirely of the music they are both currently performing at Shakespeare’s Globe in the innovative production Gabriel. The play, written by Samuel Adamson, sees Alison taking a leading role in a production that mixes a series of intersecting narratives with the music of Handel and Handel .
This joyous, and mostly well-known, selection of pieces from these two composers suited very well the open-air environment of Sunday’s performance at Latitude; this was proved by the rapturous applause they received with demands for a second encore; something for which they were unprepared and had, presumably, not expected from this audienceIt may have been the first time an early music event had taken place at Latitude but I’d hope and imagine it won’t be the last, given the huge crowds and enthusiastic reception they received. I truly was a heart-warming experience to see so many people – some who certainly were already fans of the music, but many who wouldn’t have been exposed to this sort of music-making before – all listening and enjoying period performance with an open mind. It’s certainly a credit to the festival that it creates an environment where historical-informed performance can be given a chance to show people just how accessible and enjoyable it can be, appearing at the same event as Kraftwerk, Dylan Moran and Germaine Greer, and – most importantly of all – not seeming in any way out of place. Well done to Alison Balsom and The English Concert for their fantastically entrancing performanceand congratulations to the festival organisers for making the decision to include early music artists – you couldn’t have made a festival-going early music editor happier.
Gabriel at Shakespeare’s Globe runs until 18 August For more information and tickets, click here