Chamber Music and much more at Hatfield House – Elizabeth I’s Childhood Home.

Cellist Guy Johnston in the Marble Hall of Hatfield House.

Karine Hetherington caught up with British cellist, Guy Johnston, who is curating The Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival for the 11th year in a row.

On September 29, the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival sets off again. How did you first get involved with the magnificent house? Henry V111 housed his children at the Old Palace on the estate. Elizabeth I lived at Hatfield before she became Queen of England?

It is a special place. I was born in Hertfordshire where Hatfield House stands. There was a time when a number of my colleagues were establishing their own festivals. I looked around Hertfordshire and realised there was a unique opportunity with Hatfield House. I introduced myself to Lord Salisbury and said I was from the county, not far from the house. I suggested a weekend festival at first. We tried it and then went on from there. We became more established with a board, a Chairman, an administrator, an education manager. It’s been growing ever since. Then the pandemic came, and we produced a recorded festival. We had Sir Andras Schiff do an online performance at Hatfield House, which was amazing. He squeezed it between two Wigmore Hall recitals. He loved the place.

How does this unique historical venue affect your choice of programme?

We have always tried to connect with the history of the house. John Dowland was the composer in residence there.  He had known Queen Elizabeth. So, every year we try and include some music from John Dowland. This year tenor Mark Padmore is singing with a guitarist.  We have had some wonderful tenors and countertenors in the past too. Ian Bostridge, James Gilchrist, Iestyn Davies. 

As well as period music, you have new compositions being premiered

This year, more than ever, we are doing something quite different. We try and come up with a theme every year as you will see on the website, but this year was becoming quite challenging. We realised that we had musicians from the four corners of the world – and in a way it’s quite nice to celebrate the fact that we can all move again and be inspired by other cultures in the same place. We also have a mixture of local musicians like the clarinettist Julian Bliss, and then we have JP Joffrey, musician and composer, arriving from Argentina.

Playing the Bandoneon, I believe. It’s like a small accordion. Is there some tango on the programme?

Yes, there’s some tango in there. It’s not Piazzola – but it’s Joffre’s own music.

We’ve also got a Nordic folk group. People are encouraged to come with an open mind this year. We’ve also got some traditional chamber works embedded into this programme. My recital is very traditional. I’m playing a Bach Sonata followed by Fauré’s Cello Sonata in D minor. It’s beautiful and I’ll be performing it for the first time. Then some Beethoven. I’m accompanied by pianist, Mishka Rushdie Momen. Pianist, Kathryn Stott, is also playing.

Hatfield House is a very special venue and it’s attracting artists from around the world. I’m excited about the festival as I think it’s not your usual programme. There’s something about the place and the festival which allows you to do something different. 

Full Programme: https://hatfieldhousemusicfestival.org.uk/2022-festival/programme/ and ticket links.

Virtual tour of Hatfield House with Lord Salisbury and Dr Emily Burns art historian. Filmed during lockdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaO39-SGJv4

The Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival runs from Thursday 29th September to Sunday 2nd October.

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