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The Suffolk Festival - Music of Tudor & Stuart England

Seven private concerts, mostly of English music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Liturgical music is performed in some of the most magnificent parish churches in England.

Two operas by John Blow and Henry Purcell, concert performances in a Tudor mansion and a Georgian theatre.

The Tallis Scholars, world leaders in vocal music of the time, provide four of the concerts. La Nuova Musica, exciting young Baroque specialists, bring the operas and a programme of funeral music.

Admission is exclusive to a hundred or so who take a package which includes accommodation, most meals, lectures, transport and much else.

  • Bury St Edmunds, mid-19th-century lithograph.
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Overview

A golden age of English music

The seven concerts of this festival provide a rare immersion in the vocal music, liturgical and theatrical, of the Tudor and Stuart periods.

The 16th and 17th centuries were a golden age for English music, with a constellation of composers working for cathedral, chapel, court and theatre.

Despite tempestuous and often bloody relationships between Catholics and Protestants and between moderates and radicals, liturgical music reached a peak of beauty and spiritual intensity at this time. The programme includes masterpieces by John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Morley, Henry Purcell and several others.

Towards the end of the period, music for the theatre achieved heights which were not scaled again in England until the 20th century. John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, two of the earliest English operas, are heard in concert performances.

Piquancy is added by the inclusion of pieces by three contemporaries, Tavener, Pärt, and Muhly, and variety by two continental composers, Heinrich Schütz and Nicholas Gombert.


A rural setting

There are several places in England where such a festival could be located, but perhaps nowhere more suitable than this patch of West Suffolk.

There is a clutch of parish churches of cathedral-like proportions which are at least partly Tudor in date. There are outstandingly attractive towns and villages with enough hotel rooms for audience and musicians. There is gently rolling farming country with irregular fields, centuries-old hedges and an abundance of vintage trees. This is rural England at its most alluring.

It helps also that there is an exquisite Georgian theatre – the Theatre Royal in Bury – and a Tudor and Stuart mansion – Melford Hall. There are concerts in both. The chosen churches are in Bury-St-Edmunds, Lavenham, Long Melford, Cavendish and Kedington. These glorious buildings, some of the most beautiful and best preserved parish churches in Europe, are evidence of the huge wealth the region accrued through the wool trade at the end of the Middle Ages.

And for those for whom it matters, the region is only seventy miles from London – yet it feels a world apart, and an age away.


The performers

The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips, need no introduction as the world’s leading specialists in Renaissance a cappella polyphony. Their series of four concerts is lightly held together by several mini-themes – Purcell and his Anglican predecessors; settings of the Magnificat; mixing old and new; and a variety of scoring programme by programme.

La Nuova Musica is the other ensemble-in-residence and provide Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as well as Purcell’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary and Schütz’s Musicalische Exequien. Under the leadership of David Bates the group has emerged as one of the most exciting early music ensembles in Britain. A fine list of soloists is headed by Dame Ann Murray as Dido.

Two lecturers introduce the music and its context with daily talks, Jonathan Keates, among whose many literary productions are biographies of Henry Purcell and William and Mary, and John Bryan, Professor of Music at the University of Huddersfield and a member of the Rose Consort of Viols. Both have been speakers on MRT festivals before, to great acclaim.


An all-inclusive festival

This festival is one of Martin Randall Travel’s own creations and follows the format which we established over twenty years ago. Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take a package which also includes hotel accommodation, most meals, coach travel, pre-concert talks, interval drinks and much else besides.

The potency of the music is magnified both by the appropriateness of the buildings and their size, which is modest in comparison with conventional concert halls. The audience will number not much more than a hundred but nevertheless three of the concerts have to be repeated because they are too small to accommodate everyone in a single sitting. This creates an intimacy of musical communication which greatly enhances the artistic experience.

Musicians

The Tallis Scholars

Founded in 1973 by Peter Phillips, The Tallis Scholars have established themselves as the leading exponents of Renaissance sacred music. Peter Phillips has worked with the ensemble to create the purity and clarity of sound which he feels best serve the Renaissance repertoire.

In 2013 the group celebrated its 40th anniversary with a world tour, performing 99 events in 80 venues in 16 countries and including a five-concert tour with Martin Randall Travel to the places where Thomas Tallis is known to have worked. Career highlights have included a tour of China in 1999 and performing in the Sistine Chapel in 1994. In total, they have performed over 1,900 concerts and made over 50 recordings. They have also commissioned many contemporary composers.

Their recordings have attracted many awards including Gramophone magazine’s Record of the Year award, the first recording of early music ever to win this coveted award, three Diapason d’Or de l’Année awards and Gramophone’s Early Music Award three times.

Peter Phillips has made an impressive reputation in dedicating his life’s work to the research and performance of Renaissance polyphony. As a result of his work Renaissance music has come to be accepted as part of the mainstream classical repertoire. Apart from The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips has appeared with many other specialist ensembles and he gives numerous master-classes and choral workshops every year around the world. As a writer he has contributed a regular music column to The Spectator for 31 years and in 2003 published What We Really Do, an unblinking account of what touring is like alongside insights about the make-up and performance of polyphony.


La Nuova Musica

La Nuova Musica was founded by its artistic director David Bates in 2007 with the aim of bringing the highest standards of musical performance of 17th- and 18th-century repertoire to as wide an audience as possible.

The energy that the Baroque demands of its performers is LNM’s most potent tool in striving to move audiences. Their journey started with a hand-picked group of singers and instrumentalists on a residency at Snape Maltings, hosted by Aldeburgh Music (the other end of Suffolk) and they have returned year after year. Hailed by BBC Radio 3 as ‘one of the most exciting consorts in the early music field’, they have presented operatic and concert repertoire throughout the UK.

Performances have included Monteverdi’s Vespere della Beata Vergine 1610, L’Orfeo, Handel’s Apollo e Dafne, Serses, Il Trionfo del tempo e del Disinganno, Messiah, Acis and Galatea, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, motets by Bach and Conti’s L’Issipile. In 2015 LNM were Associate Artists for the Spitalfields Music Summer Festival.

In 2011 LNM signed with Harmonia Mundi USA to make five discs. Their latest release, A Royal Trio, with countertenor Lawrence Zazzo, was awarded ‘Editor’s Choice’ in the November 2014 issue of Gramophone magazine.

David Bates is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and of the Schola Cantorum in Basel. He initially embarked on a singing career but soon took to conducting. Praise has been fulsome: ‘energetic yet sensitive’ (Music International); ‘a brilliant young music master’ (Eastern Daily Press); ‘breathing life, meaning and shape into every phrase’ (The Times). In 2014 he guest conducted Cavalli’s La Calisto at Cincinnati Opera and Cesti’s L’Orontea for the Innsbrucker Festwochen.


Concerts

Bury St Edmunds
Theatre Royal

La Nuova Musica

David Bates Director

Dido and Aeneas

Concert performance of an opera in three acts with music by Henry Purcell and libretto by Nahum Tate
Dido Dame Ann Murray
Aeneas Benjamin Appl
Belinda Sophie Junker
Sorceress Rupert Enticknap
1st Witch, 2nd woman Augusta Hebbert
2nd witch Esther Brazil
Spirit Rupert Enticknap
Sailor Simon Wall

The Theatre Royal

The Theatre Royal is the finest of the three Georgian playhouses surviving in Britain. It was built in 1819 to the designs of William Wilkins, architect of the National Gallery and Downing College – and son of a theatre impresario. The horse-shoe auditorium with stalls, boxes and gallery is the traditional form of continental court theatres. It was carefully restored 2007–9.

Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell (1659–1695) ranks among the best of European composers of the Baroque era. His genius was recognised early, and he became a chorister with the Chapel Royal and succeeded John Blow, his teacher, as organist at Westminster Abbey at the age of 20. He composed in a wide range of modes and moods, from the sublimely religious to the outrageously bawdy, but as a master of emotional expression he was increasingly drawn to the theatre. Composed in 1689, the hour-long Dido and Aeneas is one of the first English operas and perhaps the finest by an Englishman before the twentieth century.

Bury-St-Edmunds

The Benedictine monastery at Bury St Edmunds was perhaps the richest in the country at the time of its dissolution in 1539. Impressive fragments remain, but now the town is predominantly Georgian, and one of the most attractive in East Anglia. The church of St James became a cathedral in 1914 and was completed in an authentic Gothic style from 1962 to 2005.


Lavenham

Church of St Peter & St Paul

The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips Director

Amy Haworth, Emily Atkinson, soprano; Caroline Trevor, alto; Patrick Craig, David Gould, Edward McMullan, countertenor; Steven Harrold, Christopher Watson, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Robert Macdonald, bass.

Thomas Tomkins (1572–1656)
‘Great’ Service Magnificat and Nunc dimittis
Almighty God the fountain
When David heard

Edmund Hooper (c. 1533–1621)
Behold it is Christ

Robert White (1538–1574)
Miserere
Exaudiat te

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585)
Te Deum ‘for meanes’

Church of St Peter & St Paul

The Church of St Peter & St Paul stands a little apart from the village, it’s mighty tower almost as high as the church is long. While the Decorated chancel dates to the early fourteenth century, the nave, begun in 1486, is one of the most perfect manifestations of Perpendicular in England, famous for its size, homogeneity and beauty. The fine furnishings include misericords, chancel screen and an exceptional pair of chantry chapels.

Programme

The scoring for four altos instead of the more normal four sopranos takes us to the heart of the post-Reformation Anglican choir. This enables tackling one of the greatest of ‘Great’ services, by Thomas Tomkins, a commanding start to the series, which is bookended with Tallis’s equally grand Te Deum ‘for meanes’. In between come some classic Anglican anthems: Tomkins’s When David heard is perhaps the most renowned, while both the White items are rarely heard but are works of genius. Exaudiat te ends with one of the most thrilling ‘Amens’ ever written.

Lavenham

Lavenham is an almost completely mediaeval town, yet it is a living, thriving country community. The wool trade led to a brief burst of prosperity from the late fifteenth century to the 1520s; the subsequent 500-year slump preserved most of the timber-framed Tudor buildings which make the little town one of the delights of England.


Long Melford
 

Melford Hall

La Nuova Musica
David Bates Director

Venus and Adonis

Concert performance of an opera in three acts and a prologue with a libretto by Anne Kingsmill and music by John Blow
Venus Sophie Junker
Adonis Benjamin Appl
Cupid Katie Bray
Shepherds and Hunters Augusta Hebbert, Esther Brazil, Simon Wall, James Arthur

Melford Hall

Melford Hall began as a 15th-century hunting lodge belonging to the abbot of St Edmundsbury. It was transformed by Sir William Cordell, Speaker of the House of Commons, during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth (the latter stayed here in 1578) and changes continued in the next four centuries. The Hyde-Parker family has been in residence since 1786, though the house passed to the National Trust in 1960. The hall where the concert takes place is an appropriate and evocative setting for the concert.

Venus and Adonis

John Blow (1649–1708) was a prolific and precocious composer, writing several anthems while still in his teens and becoming organist of Westminster Abbey aged twenty. He taught Purcell composition. Composed as a court entertainment for Charles II c. 1683, Venus and Adonis is claimed by some to be the earliest surviving English opera, though it is more usually categorised as a masque or a semi-opera. The libretto is by Anne Kingsmill, who on her marriage became Anne Finch, Countess of Winchelsea.

Long Melford

Appropriately named, Long Melford consists basically of one broad street nearly a mile long which is lined with buildings of the 15th to the 19th centuries. Formerly residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural, there is now a range of shops, restaurants, pubs and antiques emporia.


Kedington

Church of St Peter & St Paul

The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips Director

Amy Haworth, Emily Atkinson, soprano; Caroline Trevor, alto; Patrick Craig, countertenor; Steven Harrold, Christopher Watson, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Robert Macdonald, bass.

Orlando Gibbons (1583–1625)
Magnificat (‘Short’)
I am the resurrection

Thomas Morley (1557 or 1558–1602)
Funeral Sentences
Nolo mortem

John Tavener (1944–2013)
Funeral Ikos
Lord’s Prayer
The Lamb

Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
Hear my prayer
O God thou art my God

Church of St Peter & St Paul

Though an interesting compendium of several periods, it is not for its architecture that Kedington parish church is of national interest but for its contents. It retains, as practically nowhere else, ecclesiastical clutter accumulated from the Middle Ages to the Georgian era. In the words of Simon Jenkins, ‘Inside no inch is without diversion… nave and aisles contain every component of a parish church, tombs, screens, pews, altars, paintings, all tumbling out of the gloom…’. John Betjeman characterised the church as ‘a village Westminster Abbey’.

Programme

These pieces are scored for the familiar choir of SATB, which in Tudor terms usually means small-scale and straightforward. Gibbons’s ‘Short’ is a beautiful example of the style, as is Purcell’s O God thou art my God. Simplest of all are Morley’s Funeral Sentences. Expressing a spirit of calmness in worship was also one of Sir John Tavener’s attributes, which can be heard in his Lord’s Prayer, written for The Tallis Scholars, and his Funeral Ikos, premiered by them at a family funeral. Purcell’s Hear my Prayer is an exception to this mood of simplicity, being a hair-raisingly complex piece of 8-part counterpoint.


Cavendish

Church of St Mary

The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips Director

Caroline Trevor, alto; Patrick Craig, David Gould, Edward McMullan, countertenor; Steven Harrold, Christopher Watson, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Robert Macdonald, bass.

Nicholas Gombert (c. 1495–c. 1560)
Magnificat IV

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585)
If ye love me
Hear the voice and prayer

John Sheppard (1515–1558)
Spiritus sanctus
In manus tuas II

John Taverner (c. 1490–1545)
Magnificat for Four Voices

Church of St Mary

The village spreads along a broad straight road and around a tilted, triangular green. The church stands near the northern apex. It is screened by trees but its presence is announced from afar by its tower. While modest in comparison with some of the other ecclesiastical venues on this festival, it is nevertheless larger and architecturally more accomplished than the average village church. The high, whitewashed interior and large windows create an ambience of serenity, and the clear glass admits shafts of sunlight filtered through the foliage.

Programme

Although again scored for only eight singers, this concert has a quite different feel from that at Kedington. The four altos are back and sopranos banished, a grouping which seems to have excited some of the best Renaissance masters. The Magnificat settings are both virtuosic in different ways, the Taverner a riot of colour, the Gombert tirelessly subtle in its use of the different voice-parts. Sheppard’s Spiritus sanctus isn’t far behind in its long lines and challenging harmonies. By contrast the two Tallis anthems are among the most uncomplicatedly beguiling anthems in the whole repertory.


Long Melford

Church of the Holy Trinity

La Nuova Musica
David Bates Director

Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672)
Musikalische Exequien

Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary

Church of the Holy Trinity

Holy Trinity lies on the edge of Long Melford, on a rise beyond the green, past Tudor almshouses and clipped yews. It is one of the finest churches in England, and the longest, a masterpiece of Perpendicular rebuilt around the turn of the 15th–16th centuries. Large areas of glass, flint and ashlar flushwork, a castellated skyline and a great tower are impressive enough, but to this is added, uniquely for a parish church, an east end lady chapel. Inside, tombs and stained glass commemorate the wool-trading families whose munificence enabled this magnificence.

Programme

Towards sundown, a bell tolls as participants make their way across the green for immersion in some of the most potent funerary music of the 17th or any century. Heinrich Schütz wrote his Musikalische Exequien for Henry, Count of Reuss-Gera, who had planned his own elaborate funeral in advance of his death in 1635. Queen Mary II died unexpectedly at the age of 32 in December 1694. The music Henry Purcell composed for her exequies in Westminster Abbey was performed there again eleven months later for another funeral: his own.


Bury St Edmunds

Parish Church of St Mary

The Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips Director

Amy Haworth, Emma Walshe, Emily Atkinson, Rachel Ambrose Evans, soprano; Caroline Trevor, alto; Patrick Craig, countertenor; Steven Harrold, Christopher Watson, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Robert Macdonald, bass.

Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
I was glad

Thomas Weelkes (1576–1623)
Alleluia, I heard a voice
When David heard

Arvo Pärt (b.1935)
Magnificat

John Tavener (1944–2013)
Song for Athene

John Taverner (c.1490–1545)
O splendor gloriae

Robert White (1538–1574)
Lamentations I

Nico Muhly (b.1981)
Lamentations

Robert White
Christe qui lux III and IV

Henry Purcell (1659–1695)
Remember not
O Lord God of hosts

Church of St Mary

One of the most magnificent parish churches in the country, St Mary is grander and architecturally finer than an adjacent church which became a cathedral in 1914. Begun in 1424, St Mary is endowed with the harmony of a building completed in a single campaign. The nave interior has ten pairs of arches underneath an unusually wide hammer-beam roof, famously adorned with carved angels, mythical creatures and saints. Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and briefly Queen of France, is buried here.

Programme

The final concert returns to the standard Tallis Scholars line-up of four sopranos, which gives the possibility of two equal soprano parts (Purcell’s I was glad and Remember not) or two high and two lower ones (Taverner’s O splendor gloriae and White’s Lamentations). The theme of Magnificat settings continues with Arvo Pärt’s setting, one of his greatest pieces, and the theme of mixing old and new finds White’s Lamentations paired with one written for The Tallis Scholars by the New York-based composer Nico Muhly. Their musical language is quite different but the mood is fascinatingly similar. The theme of Purcell and his predecessors is also given a good outing. Tavener’s Song for Athene is the piece which was memorably sung at Princess Diana’s funeral.

More about the concerts

Exclusive access. The concerts are private, being planned and administered by Martin Randall Travel exclusively for an audience consisting of those who have taken the full festival package.

Tickets for individual concerts may be available to purchase from April 2016, if any spare places remain, to those who have registered interest.

Duration. Six concerts are about an hour long with no interval, the seventh is nearly two hours with an interval.

Seats. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want or where there is space. In the churches seating is largely on pews.

Acoustics. This festival is more concerned with authenticity than acoustical perfection and venues may have idiosyncrasies or reverberations of the sort that modern purpose-built concert halls try to exclude.

Repeats. Three of the venues are too small to accommodate the full audience and so these concerts are repeated.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues close for repair: there are many possible unpredictable circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.

Accommodation & Prices

Hotel accommodation in Bury St Edmunds or Lavenham for three nights is included in the price of the festival package. There are three hotels to choose from – the choice of hotel determines the price you pay.

We have chosen the hotels with care. For location, amenities, comfort, maintenance and service, within their respective price bands these are the best in the area.

Prices given are per person.

Rooms vary. As is inevitable in historic buildings, rooms vary in size and outlook.

Quiet? Traffic noise may affect some rooms, particularly in The Angel, given that this is in the town centre.

 

The Angel Hotel, Bury

A 4-star hotel in a historic coaching inn in the centre of Bury St Edmunds, a short walk from St Mary’s.

Rooms are modern and attractively furnished. Décor in their ‘feature’ rooms can be quirky. Some bathrooms have a bath, others a shower. Some rooms have airconditioning. Wireless internet is available free of charge. There is a lift.

The public areas are comfortable with a contemporary décor. There is a good restaurant, a lounge and a bar. Service is friendly. Car park: no need to book, and no charge.

This is also the base for the Mediaeval East Anglia pre-festival tour.

Prices

Standard double or twin room: £1,690
Superior room: £1,740
Suite: £1,820
Double for single occupancy: £1,780

 

The Swan Hotel, Lavenham

An inn since 1667, The Swan spreads through a number of contiguous half-timber buildings which date to the 15th and 16th centuries.

Rooms have been recently renovated in a pleasingly restrained manner which retains their historical character. Most bathrooms have a bath with shower attachment. Wireless internet is available free of charge. In 2015 the hotel opened the Weavers’ House Spa.

There is a bar, extensive lounges, brasserie and a good restaurant. Service is of a high standard. There is a car park opposite the hotel which is free of charge.

This is also the base for the Tudor England pre-festival tour.

Prices

Standard double or twin room: £1,880
Superior room: £1,930
Junior suite: £1,990
Suite: £2,140
Double for single occupancy: £1,990

 

The Great House, Lavenham

A small, five-bedroom hotel situated on the market square, The Great House is the smartest place to stay in Lavenham. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and the façade added in the 18th century. A French couple converted it thirty years ago and still run it.

Rooms are smart, contemporary and comfortable with all mod cons including fresh fruit, a minibar and tea and coffee making facilities. The historic nature of the building means that creaky, uneven floorboards and low doorways are a feature.

The French restaurant is excellent. Public areas are limited – there is no lounge. Wireless internet is available free of charge. There is free parking in the market square.

Please note that if you take part in one of the pre-festival tours, you will need to change hotel if you choose The Great House as your festival accommodation.

Price

Standard double or twin room: £2,220

Arriving early

If you would like extra nights in Bury or Lavenham before or after the festival, please ask us or contact the hotel direct. This would be better done sooner rather than later.

What the price includes

Concerts. The package includes access to all seven concerts.

Talks. Four lectures by leading specialists, Jonathan Keates and Professor John Bryan.

Accommodation. Three nights in a hotel from a choice of three (the main determinant of price variation).

Meals. Breakfasts, one lunch and three dinners.

Transport. Private coaches for travel to concerts, dinners, hotels and railway station.

Tips. For restaurant and hotel staff, drivers etc.

Festival staff. A team comprising staff from the MRT office and experienced event managers will be present.

Programme booklet. A publication containing a timetable, practical information, programme notes and much else is issued to all participants.

Festival Practicalities

Joining and leaving the festival

Starting, Monday 13th June. The festival begins with a talk at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, at 4.00pm. The first concert follows immediately afterwards.

Finishing, Thursday 16th June. The last concert at St Mary’s, Bury St Edmunds, will be over by 4.30pm. Coaches are available to take you to Bury railway station or Lavenham.

Extra nights

Please contact us if you would like extra nights before or after the festival in your chosen hotel.

Getting to and from Suffolk

Coach from London. Coaches have been chartered to leave central London on Monday 13th June at 10.30am and to return to London on Thursday 16th June c. 7.00pm. The cost is £28 each way. You can request this on the booking form.

By train. There are trains to Bury St Edmunds from London, Manchester and elsewhere, most necessitating a change at Cambridge or Peterborough.

Coach transfers between Bury station and the hotels are provided on Monday 13th June at 11.45am and at 12.45pm, and on Thursday 16th June to arrive at the station by 5.30pm. There is no charge for this service.

Driving. Parking is available free of charge at all hotels.

Fitness for the festival

There is some walking involved in this festival, to reach venues and get around towns and villages visited. Only one of the hotels has a lift. Participants need to be averagely fit, surefooted and able to manage everyday walking and stairclimbing without difficulty. We ask that all participants take the fitness tests described on the booking form before committing to a firm booking. 

Meals

Three dinners and one lunch are included in the package, as well as breakfasts. Included meals are in the hotel in which you are staying and in The Black Lion, a hotel restaurant in Long Melford.

Walking option

Guided country walks of three or four miles are being planned for mornings or afternoons when there are no concerts. If you are interested in joining the walkers please indicate on the booking form. Details will be ready towards the end of the year. There will be a charge for the package of four walks, which are likely to require participants to stay in Suffolk on the night of Sunday 12th June.

Pre-festival tours

Tudor England, 8–13 June 2016 (MC 713) and Mediaeval East Anglia, 9–13 June 2016 (MC 717).

'This was the holiday of a lifetime.'

'Sincere thanks to the inspired organisers. You have succeeded admirably in matching music and place.'

'I don't know how you did it! Organisation superb. Staff are helpful and standard of music very high.'