Festival delivers despite cutbacks

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THIS year’s Bury St Edmunds Festival may have excluded some of the more traditional performances, but the high calibre of those that did go ahead remain a talking point.

Cutbacks meant there was no sign of a big symphony orchestra and no traditional Beating Retreat ceremony, which was omitted for the first time.

But the quality of the acts and the variety of unusual sights and sounds continued to please visitors.

Festival manager Nick Wells said the Beating Retreat ‘wasn’t standing out as being special’ because of the many parades taking place in Bury and that excluding it represented an £8,000 saving, while staging a symphony orchestra, even as a sell-out event, would have meant a £10,000 loss.

“There’s been more world music and I think the audience are really lapping that up,” said Mr Wells, who promised festival-goers even more next year, while staying tight-lipped about his ideas for future programmes.

“Probably more than any other year, people have been full of wonder about the quality of some of the stuff they have seen,” he said of feedback from this year’s programme.

Organising Around the World with 1,000 Voices was the one that ‘terrified’ him most and caused him to lose sleep, although it proved an ‘extraordinary’ success.

And many performances attracted larger audiences than anticipated, with ‘huge crowds’ for the street theatre.

“I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a piano recital so much,” said Mr Wells of Imogen Cooper’s performance, while he also named Ballaké Sissoko’s kora playing and Voice Squad’s vocals during African Sanctus as personal highlights.

Of the financial restraints, he said: “Finances have made me change things a bit and having The Apex has made me change things, too – it’s made me compensate and I think it’s made the festival broader and, perhaps, more interesting.”

He continued: “Last year, and this year, The Apex has enabled me to bring in musicians I wouldn’t have been able to bring in before. It’s becoming more of a pull – word’s really spreading about it and I think people are having a much better experience, musicians and audiences.”