2012 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Deal Festival of Music & The Arts. Today it is one of the landmarks of the English music festival scene and a treasured East Kent institution, bringing music and arts lovers from far and wide to enjoy concerts and other events from world-class artists in an eclectic selection of venues and settings.
It has changed quite a bit during those years, evolving into the varied and cosmopolitan programme which is enjoyed by thousands of visitors today.
The very first Festival – The Deal Summer Music Festival – was organised by the Swedish pianist Lennart Rabes who had moved to the town from London. Rabes began with a piano recital containing several premières of contemporary Swedish works with Evelyn Rothwell and Steven Isserlis giving oboe and cello masterclasses. The Festival took root and began to flourish under the leadership of a series of Artistic Directors – Roger Raphael, Steven Isserlis (1985/6) and Peter Evans (1987/8).
When a former assistant to Benjamin Britten, David Matthews, began to visit Deal, living in a small house near the sea in the historic Old Town, he was struck by its similarities with Britten’s beloved Aldeburgh. And so, when Matthews came to the helm in 1989, his vision for Deal was the Aldeburgh Festival as he had seen it in its original form, before the opening of the Maltings took it to a different level. Like Britten’s early model of Aldeburgh, the Deal Festival allowed Matthews to invite many of his musician friends to give chamber concerts for steadily growing audiences. Then came Paul Edlin, who retired in 2010 and the current Artistic Director, Matthew Sharp, a talented young cellist, singer and theatre performer with a growing reputation as a leading UK figure in classical and contemporary music and performance.
Throughout its history, and as it has grown and diversified, the Deal Festival has retained its core values - just like the original and innovative inaugural event the festival is centred on chamber music. And like Lennart Rabes, Matthew Sharp has a vision for the Festival that combines these core 'classical' activities with a uniquely pioneering outlook both within music and across disciplines. In 2012, just as in 1982, the Deal Festival will play host to new commissions, collaborations and world premieres by exciting new composers, musicians and artists from around the world.
Recognising the urgency – now more than ever – of finding and developing new audiences, as well as filling a major educational and social need, the Festival in recent years has developed a substantial programme of education outreach. Inspiring and unearthing new musical talent, all these activities have now been brought under one coherent programme – PyramiDeal – which in 2012, under the leadership of Education Director David Burridge, is set to reach more than 1,500 school-age children from all over the Deal and Dover area.
Also with the development of new audiences in mind, from its origins in Deal and Walmer - with concerts taking place in many venues, including the churches of St George’s and St Andrew’s and the lovingly restored Astor Community Theatre - the Festival has now spread its wings with the intention of becoming a major feature of the arts scene in Dover. In 2012, Dover will host major Deal Festival concerts in its historic Town Hall and at the Nye Hall at The Duke of York’s School.
The Deal Festival today is in fine health and, despite the economic environment and downturn in financial support for the arts in general, it continues to grow and with the help of its many Friends, Patrons and Sponsors, looks forward to the next 30 years.