International music for local audiences

    Featuring a varied programme of established and up-and-coming artists, the Lamberhurst Music Festival showcases international acts to local audiences. To find out more, Fred Latty met founder David Ham, who reflected on over a decade of ‘culture in the country’…

    The London Adventist Chorale

    Tell us how the festival got started
    We had our first concerts in 2003, starting with six that year and selling about 340 tickets. It was all professionals who sang well-known opera arias, or excerpts from well-known operas, which made good money and made the first year quite successful.

    Why put on an event in Lamberhurst?
    The purpose of the whole venture was twofold: to provide really good quality music, world-class musicians and ‘culture in the country’ to people locally, and to raise money for the fabric of St Mary’s Church in Lamberhurst, which is over 1,000 years old.

    How is it run and organised?
    I do almost all of it myself. I select the artists, arrange their contracts and do the marketing, but I have supporters who help me when the concerts take place. It’s all voluntary and done for pleasure and services to the community.

    What kinds of acts tend to perform?
    Mostly we have classical in the church, then we have our open-air opera at Bayham Abbey, which is much lighter. Every year we have something very light in the village hall, and every Christmas we have a Christmas concert, with a seriously good quality choir.

    Are the musicians paid?
    When you’re talking about international pianists, you’re going to pay them into four figures to play; you’re paying the market price for serious quality musicians. Some of the people we have are international players and asking for international money.

    In what ways do you ensure it remains sustainable?
    It’s not the easiest thing to make money from. If you’re paying more for better quality, you’ve got to get more people in to pay for that, so there’s pressure all round. On top of that, you have to bear in mind that, in a way, we’re competing with London, so we’ve got to make sure we’re competing pricewise and quality-wise as well.

    Is there much variation in the audiences?
    It tends toward the older – the average age is probably 50s, if not 60s – apart from at Bayham Abbey, where there are a lot of younger people for the light opera. We have growing numbers at each concert, so it’s rather comforting, people do seem to be interested in coming to hear good music of different types.

    Do you face many challenges in putting it on?
    There’s always a problem in attendance. Every year I’ll have three sell-outs of seven concerts, but also three or four that don’t sell out. There’s also a problem in ensuring you’ve got improving quality. We’ve moved from being what I would describe as good British music quality to really serious international quality. The problem is maintaining or increasing the quality, being able to afford it and attracting enough people to pay for it. There’s a problem in marketing too in terms of reaching a wider representation of local people.

    With so many local music festivals and events, would you say there’s room for them all?
    There’s a lot of competition; when we started, there was plenty of scope and opportunity, but my instinct is that there’s much more competition. There’s much more competition of quality; that’s one reason we’ve got to continue increasing ours, because if we don’t, people aren’t interested in coming.

    To find out more about upcoming events at the Lamberhurst Music Festival and to book tickets, visit www.lamberhurstmusic.co.uk