We’re just back from the Florestan Festival at Peasmarsh. What an extraordinary thing a festival is. A few hours before the first concert, the church is completely quiet, the country lanes are empty, and you can’t imagine that anyone will really come. You finish the rehearsal feeling almost despondent. All those weeks and months of preparation: will it all be wasted? All of a sudden, cars arrive in the lane, the churchyard fills up with people, people spread their picnics under the trees, dinner is served in the catering tent, a coffee stand is set up on a stone monument, and the festival is off. It remains a little hub of activity for four whole days, all kinds of people ‘playing their part’ in every sense. You never know who you’re going to bump into and what interesting things they’ll say. I just wish I had a little more time to sit on the grass and chat, but with all our rehearsals and concerts there isn’t much spare time.
I don’t know what the festival means to our listeners, but for me the best thing about the festival is the quality of their attention. These days, audiences in other places are often rather free with their coughing, fidgeting and rustling, as though they are so used to hearing music via iPod and radio that they don’t realise there are live musicians in front of them. Bursts of uninhibited coughing can be very distracting, to say the least, when you’re trying to concentrate. In Peasmarsh, on the other hand, it seems that our audience has magically banished all coughs and colds. They’re completely silent during our concerts, but not in a passive way; they seem to create a force field of attentiveness which inspires the musicians to play better. It’s clear to me that their ‘active listening’ is an essential part of the whole event.