NINETEEN years ago, Robert Plane and his wife Lucy Gould decided to hold ‘just one more’ event in the village they didn’t really want to leave.

As it turned out, their loyal, burgeoning audiences didn’t want them to leave either and so it is that this year the couple find themselves celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Corbridge Chamber Music Festival.

It will have the feel of the happiest of birthday bashes!

One of the highlights will be the ‘Come and Sing’ concert in which members of the wider community will be encouraged to get up and join in.

“Effectively we’re trying to get people to perform in the festival themselves,” said Robert.

Fauré’s Requiem will be the piece performed, under the expert guidance of renowned choral conductor Martin Neary and with the backing of the festival musicians. Soprano Charlotte la Thrope will be lending a hand too.

“Everyone who enjoys singing, whether experienced or not, is warmly invited to join in with this performance of the Fauré Requiem, using David Hill’s delightful chamber music arrangement,” said Robert.

“The purpose is to share with each other the thrill of performing this glorious work in the beautiful setting of St Andrew’s Church in Corbridge.”

Vocal scores will be available free of charge on the Saturday of the three-day festival.

The other highlight will be the unveiling of a piece specially commissioned to mark the 20th anniversary – a new work for clarinet and piano trio composed by Huw Watkins. A pianist, Huw will be there in person to accompany the performance too.

The rest of the programme is packed with classics, most notably a survey of three of Brahms’ mightiest chamber works.

Tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Benjamin Frith will investigate Dichterliebe, or A Poet’s Love, the best-known of Schumann’s song cycles. And by way of complete contrast, in a concert entitled Tango!, the musicians will be letting their hair down with a selection of toe-tapping numbers from South America.

Robert said: “Twenty years ago we could never have imagined the Corbridge Chamber Music Festival would grow into such a well-loved institution.

“Our list of illustrious guests over the years reads like a who’s who of the chamber music scene.

“We have also attracted some of the country’s leading composers to Corbridge to hear their work performed, people such as James MacMillan, Sally Beamish, Benjamin Wallfisch and Simon Rowland-Jones – not forgetting this year’s composer-in-residence, Huw Watkins, of course.”

Robert and Lucy, the founder and guiding force of the Gould Piano Trio, lived in Corbridge in the late 1990s while the former was principal clarinet with the Northern Sinfonia.

The minute they moved in it struck them that the village had the potential for a summer music festival centred on St Andrew’s Church, with its perfect acoustics and ambience.

Robert’s clarinet and the Gould Piano Trio have been the backbone of the festival from day one, when they also sold the tickets and the drinks during the interval and tidied up afterwards ...

Today, they enjoy the help of a small army of volunteers, many of whom have been turning out every year, come rain or shine.

The first festival took place over two days in 1999, with just two concerts and a workshop.

“The support from the local community was apparent from the very beginning,” said Robert. “Several businesses provided sponsorship and the size of the audience that turned up was respectable.

“It was our first experience of putting on our own concert and in the chaos of manning the box office and interval drinks ourselves, the performance itself was the least of our worries!”

Not long after that inaugural festival, though, Robert landed the job of principal clarinet with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. It was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Rob and Lucy, who were expecting their first child by then, moved to Cardiff to begin the new chapter in their lives, but encouraged by the level of support they’d received in Corbridge, they decided to return for one last festival in 2000.

With three-month-old Florence in tow, and a battery of family members helping out, it instead proved the confirmation of what has been a long-running love affair between Corbridge and the glorious chamber music that has warmed the stones of St Andrew’s Church every August since.

This year’s Corbridge Chamber Music Festival starts tomorrow. Tickets are available from the Queen’s Hall in Hexham and Forum Books in Corbridge now.