Interview: Gina Walters on The Classical Sheffield Festival of Music

Up here at the top of the narrow stairs we don’t just listen to the latest indie-pop or obscure thrash-metal from Japan. Oh no. We like a bit of classical too. The Classical Sheffield Festival of Music is about to hit town. It will be running from 23rd to 25th October and I recently met up with Gina Walters to find out more.

This is the first time anyone’s tried anything like this in Sheffield. It’ll be the biggest and most varied celebration of classical music that the city’s ever seen. There will be over 600 performers, playing 30 concerts in 7 locations across the city. The concerts will vary from bite-sized 20 minute shows to full 90 minute performances. It’s £20 for a three day pass, or you can buy day tickets for the Saturday and the Sunday. Individual events tickets are available too, but under 18s are admitted free; you just need to register for a ticket online. There’s loads of free stuff too. Pop-up performances in the Winter Gardens and the Blue Moon cafe, so hopefully people can just stumble across us and discover something they weren’t expecting, but find they enjoy it. If you go to the website here or the Facebook page you can see just how much stuff is on.

Is it possible to pick out some highlights for us?
That’s so hard, but I think I might have to choose Platform4. They are all graduates from Sheffield University, contemporary composers, and they perform some very strange but lovely stuff. They’re performing on both the Saturday and the Sunday. It’s weird and wonderful, and not at all easy to perform, but sounds totally unique, so go see Platform 4 if you’re up for something a bit weird.

What about the locations?
All the pop-up stuff will be happening in the Winter Gardens. There are orchestra soloists in the Blue Room cafe. There are some iconic venues; the City Hall ballroom, Sheffield Cathedral, the Crucible studio, Firth Hall, all big concert venues that I don’t really know if people are really aware of. The Albion choir will be doing a gig in a secret location, and even I’ve not been told where it is yet. Up until now, there’s always been so much classical music going on in Sheffield, but it  has tended to be a bit insular and this festival is trying to bring it out into the open and say hey, we’re here as well, come and listen.

So many musicians are in more mainstream bands, but are involved in the classical world too, but people just don’t know about it. On the Sunday there are seven choirs in the City Hall Ballroom. You can stay for as long as you like, nip in and out, just sampling what’s on, in the true spirit of a festival. The Halle orchestra are on, although their concert won’t be part of the festival ticket, we do hope that they will be releasing some last-minute £5 Prom-style tickets on the day. That’s a first that’s never been done before, and as part of the festival, you can go to watch them rehearse in an open rehearsal in the city hall. I would really recommend that anyone who can go does, especially if they’ve never seen a full orchestra perform, it’s a marvellous opportunity. If you don’t want to commit to buying a ticket for the full Halle show, but want to see what it’s like, go along.

And I believe there’s a mix of professional and amateur musicians involved…
Yes, we are bringing everybody in the city together. It’s less about the people already involved and more about shouting it out to other people. Music in the Round have done festivals before, but this is different. As well as a mix of venues, the music is varied too. Jazz, contemporary, Indian classical music, 20th century, baroque, romantic classical… everything and it’s a chance to get people to completely throw themselves into it. Some people might think this kind of music is not relevant anymore, that classical music is not their thing, but for £20, which would get you into maybe one decent concert, you could get into maybe 30 performances.

I suppose you’re up against the fact that younger audience members perhaps have a shorter attention span, wanting everything to be more instant, and find the thought of sitting through a long classical concert a bit daunting.
Exactly. People today want instant everything, this is a good one not to feel the pressure to commit. You can come and go as you want to but most importantly, you can experience it. We know this is very much a first step, we’re ready to learn from this, as we’ve never done anything like it before, but there has been some real interest from all over. People have got in touch, wanting to be involved from all over the modern classical music world. I’m in a great position with my involvement in the Sheffield music scene, being in different bands for years, but also working with classical groups, and promoting the Sofar concerts. Our main aim is to get a younger audience exposed to this world and see what they’re missing.

Three day festival tickets are only £20, with day tickets available too, or individual ones for £5. It’s free for under 18s, although you do need to register for a ticket. Some of the shows, like the pop-up ones in the Winter Gardens are free for everyone, and we’ve placed it at the beginning of half term, to encourage as many young people to go as possible.

Head to for tickets and info.

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