Why is a small seaside town in Devon home to a great music festival?
– the history of the Budleigh Music Festival
The vision for the Festival came from Budleigh residents Roger and Brenda Bowen, whose inspiration to create Festivals in Budleigh Salterton caught the imagination of local people. In 2005 the Budleigh Salterton Festival of the Arts was launched. The title reflected their aim to include a variety of art forms – from art exhibitions to jazz concerts, drama, but especially classical music. Roger and Brenda’s achievement in establishing the Festival is significant as it took great energy, strength of character and foresight to set up such an operation on sound foundations.
In those early years local people voluntarily and generously gave their time and expertise, which ensured that the Bowens’ initiative succeeded. The financial risk was huge!
The model for this new and exciting venture was the Cheltenham Festivals which included a similar variety of genre, along with music for the younger generation. The hope was to attract national and international artists to Devon, but also to feature young, local talent in free lunchtime concerts. Over time, it was the clear success of the classical music programme which shone through all the other activities as Roger Bowen and subsequent Chairmen, working with Artistic Director Nicky Marshall, attracted some internationally famous names to Budleigh Salterton: Sir Richard Rodney Bennett with Claire Martin; Emma Kirkby; Wu Qian; Emma Johnson; Roderick Williams; Mark Bebbington; Natalie Clein; The Kings Singers and many more.
In 2009 an independent Jazz Festival was established under separate leadership, though sadly this event closed in 2017. Similarly, the literary events, initially developed under the Festival’s umbrella, also became independent in 2009 and is now the highly successful Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival.
These developments were part of the changing face of festivals in the town, which meant that the Budleigh Music Festival became more clearly focused on high quality classical music with the occasional twist of something less conventional, such as Red Priest. Amongst the initiatives that came to characterise the Festival was Nicky Marshall’s development of strong connections with the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, which led to each winner in turn playing at the Festival. In 2018 Festival audiences flocked to see Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the 2016 winner who had recently performed at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The organisers were overwhelmed by the massive demand for tickets so the 2018 Festival had a very happy Treasurer! But there have been many other initiatives, including a Christmas carol competition, a community opera, a festival orchestra and choral workshops.
Providing opportunities for local young people, and rising stars more generally, has always been a strong feature of the Festival. A series of free lunchtime concerts showcasing young musicians became a popular part of the Festival programme, until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change to booked seating.
The 2019 Festival saw the retirement of Nicky Marshall after 14 years as Artistic Director and welcomed the arrival of Jason Thornton as his successor. As Music Director of Bath Philharmonia, Jason brought an understanding of professional programming and expertise in making music accessible to young people and the wider community.
In 2020 the Festival was cancelled for the first time in 15 years, but made a successful return under strict COVID conditions in July 2021.
Right from the start the Festival has received widespread backing from Budleigh Salterton and beyond. The enthusiastic support of our many Festival Friends has been instrumental in bringing financial stability to the Festival. The Festival is only possible with the help of our willing volunteers, our generous Friends and a dedicated committee, and with that winning and creative combination we hope to bring many more years of inspiring musical events to Budleigh.
Learn more about some of the artists who have performed at the Festival over the years.