THE Corbridge Chamber Music Festival turns 21 this summer, a milestone its founders certainly didn’t envisage that first year.

Clarinetist Robert Plane said: “No, definitely not! The first festival in 1999 was just two concerts and the performers did everything, from selling tickets at the door to serving drinks in the interval.

“But year by year our audiences grew and our passion for programming our own event – a tremendous privilege – has grown with it.”

This year he and his wife, Lucy Gould, one third of the Gould Piano Trio, have pulled out all the stops in the name of celebration.

Over the weekend beginning Friday July 26, in a programme entitled ‘To the New World’, there will be music by Dvořák, Brahms, Mahler and Ives, among others, spread across nine concerts.

A programme note explains: ‘Dvořák left his beloved Bohemia in 1892, setting sail for America to take up the position of director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York.

‘For such a humble and home-loving composer, this truly was a voyage to a new world.’

This year’s festival explores the impact of his American adventure on his own compositions and that of emerging American composers.

Lucy said: “Both major chamber works that Dvořák composed in America, the String Quartet op.96 and the String Quintet op.97, are featured – they are sunny works in which the composer revels in his new surroundings.

“We also delve into the works of composers entwined in his life; his great supporter, Brahms, and the composer/violinist Adolph Busch, who championed Dvořák’s violin concerto.”

The festival’s composer-in-residence John Casken will be performing some of his own music, while this year’s late night concert, on Saturday, will feature fiddler Donald Grant in what will be the festival’s first foray into folk music.

Born and bred in the Scottish Highlands, Grant has toured the world as a member of the illustrious Elias String Quartet, but this time round he will take centre stage with a mix of Gaelic tunes from his childhood and some of his own compositions.

The organisers themselves carry the weight of the festival, playing a tremendously varied repertoire over the three days.

“It is a marathon, you’re right!” Lucy laughed. “But over the years, we’ve learnt to programme a healthy proportion of what is new to us, and what is already in the repertoire.

“One of the differences though, compared to a concert series over a season with different artists, is the ‘edge of the seat’ spontaneity which comes from having to cope with a lot of repertoire in such a short space of time, so we try to embrace the challenge.”

Rob continued: “The quality of music making is always the bottom line for any festival. We always aim to programme a healthy balance of the familiar and the new and challenging, and feel our audiences trust us in what we offer each year.”

The festival had a real family feel, something fostered by the Saturday morning concert which was always accessible for all age groups.

This year, in a concert called Musical Magic Carpets, author and illustrator James Mayhew will take the audience on an exotic journey to far-flung lands on the big screen, to the accompaniment of music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Debussy.

Corbridge Chamber Music Festival takes place in St Andrew’s Church. Tickets can be purchased on the website at