International gathering for Composers Festival

6/9/13- International Composers Festival rehearsals, Hastings.  The London Gala Orchestra.
6/9/13- International Composers Festival rehearsals, Hastings. The London Gala Orchestra.

It is possible that much of Hastings and St Leonards was unaware of a significant event taking place on their doorstep last weekend – the 2nd Hastings International Composers Festival. But if the local populace remained somewhat in ignorance, the same could not be said of many other areas of the country and, indeed overseas.

Representatives from around the UK were in attendance, along with members of the Osaka Concert Orchestra and leading Japanese composer Nobuya Monta. The festival organisers, led by local pianist and composer Polo Piatti, had also received hundreds of musical scores from around the globe.

The two day Festival last Friday and Saturday was an astonishing event, further impressive evidence – were it needed - as to how Hastings and St Leonards has become a centre for major artistic occasions. It began with a concert, given by the outstanding London Gala Orchestra under Derek Carden, in which no fewer than seven works received their world premieres! The music was all immensely approachable – one of the key requirements of all the compositions presented at the Festival – and whose composers ranged from the world-famous Oscar-winning film writer Stephen Warbeck to offerings by unfamiliar but hugely-talented amateurs or semi-professionals. The theme of the Festival this year being ‘Emotions’, many composers had responded with works of a romantic, dreamy quality resulting, perhaps, in just a few too many slow pieces, although Louise Denny’s charming Danse des Inconnue (shouldn’t that be Inconnues?), with the composer playing the accordion, brought a welcome and delightful breath of Parisian bal musette to proceedings.

Saturday proved to be a veritable whirlwind of activity beginning with the irrepressible Miss Denny recounting her quite astonishing life story, a tale of talent and driving ambition. Music for smaller forces featured in the following matinee concert, with the youngest composer/performer aged just 14 (Sophie Westbrooke). And it was a youngster, Kate Dunn, who turned in one of the most impressive works of the morning, a song for mezzo-soprano and piano, which made its mark, not by histrionics, but by extraordinary understatement – a remarkable achievement for a composer not yet out of her teens.

Through more talks, an open rehearsal in which composers, performers and audience mingled freely, a discussion on ‘emotion’ in music (which threw up some fascinating views and opinions), the Festival reached its final concert, with another clutch of world premieres, including a hugely entertaining Toccata by Robert Draper, brilliantly played by one of the Japanese visitors, Yoshiko Nishimura. And so ended an event which can truly be described by that much-abused term, unique. As far as is known, there is no other festival, or series, anywhere else devoted to showcasing the kind of music heard last weekend.

And it happened here in Hastings – another glittering jewel in the town’s rapidly-accumulating artistic treasure-trove.

The town should be proud of it and, hopefully, citizens – and businesses - will rally round and support it to the hilt in the years to come.