The small music festival with very big ambitions

    One of the world’s most famous bass baritones, Sir Willard White, will be performing at Frant Church this Friday. Here, the concert’s founder, Paul Barber, tells us how this small village came to welcome such a big star

    MY WAY Sir Willard White sings Sinatra

    “WE HAVE been very fortunate over the years to have had many world-class singers and acclaimed musicians perform in our church in Frant,” says Paul Barber when discussing the success of the village’s annual music festival, which he started ten years ago.

    He goes on to list a stellar line-up of stars who have visited the small but impressive and historical St Alban’s Church, which is home to the Frant Music Festival. Dame Felicity Lott, Sir Thomas Allen and Nigel Kennedy are just a few of the big names Paul mentions before adding that this year may well be the ‘best one yet’.

    “We have one of the world’s finest singers, Sir Willard White, performing this year, as well as the UK’s number one jazz singer, Claire Martin, with jazz piano star Joe Stilgoe, British clarinettist Emma Johnson and guitar virtuoso John Williams, who will be playing here for the third time.”

    This coming Friday [March 31], Sir Willard White – the Jamaican-born British baritone who made his professional debut at the New York City Opera when he performed in La bohème in 1974, and has since gone on to perform in the world’s most famous and prestigious opera houses – will be singing at St Alban’s along with the Brodsky Quartet.

    Paul explains that the concert will ‘pay homage’ to the working relationship between the Hollywood Quartet and Frank Sinatra during the 1950s, which resulted in the classic ‘Close to You’ album.

    “The programme has a strong American theme,” explains Paul. “There will be songs by Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Kurt Weill, including ‘Summertime’, ‘Honey Man’, ‘P.S. I love You’, ‘Close to You’, and many other beautiful songs from ‘The Great American Songbook’.

    It was Sir Willard himself who asked if he could perform at this small but obviously much respected festival.

    “He actually asked to be included in this forthcoming concert,” Paul reveals. “I believe there are more of these [Close to You] concerts around the UK, and as I had already invited the Brodsky Quartet, and Sir Willard was looking to perform the ‘Close to You/Sinatra’ repertoire with the quartet, it led on from there!”

    It promises to be a very entertaining evening…

    The Sir Willard White and Brodsky Quartet concert takes place at St Alban’s Church, Frant, this Friday [March 31]. Doors open at 7.30 pm and the concert starts at 8pm. To buy tickets, which cost £30, visit Frant Stores, Brittens music shop in Tunbridge Wells or call 01892 864304 or visit www.wegottickets.com