Swaledale Festival: Malcolm Creese’s 10th year as Artistic Director

In October 2007 Malcolm Creese took up the post of Artistic Director of the Swaledale Festival.  Under his stewardship the Festival has received several local, national and international awards, and ticket sales have grown by three times.  Malcolm has bought a number of innovations to the Festival, including the Young Artists Platform, numerous children’s art and music projects, the annual Reeth Lecture (in Reeth, of course!) and the Stationary Walk - designed for those who want to enjoy and learn about the landscape and history of Swaledale but are unable to go on a long hike.


Whilst focusing on presenting art and music of the highest quality, Malcolm has broadened the programme to include music from as far afield as the Middle East, Japan, Korea, Africa, Eastern Europe, North and South America and Australasia, as well as drama, astronomy, archaeology, puppets, film and comedy. These days Swaledale Festival is considered by artists, visitors and the media to be amongst the finest rural arts festivals in Europe.


As well as being a Festival Director, Malcolm is a much sought-after double bassist, and he occasionally appears onstage at Swaledale with groups such as 21st Century Baroque and his own trio Acoustic Triangle.


Malcolm has brought an impressive list of world-class artists to the Festival, many of whom are personal friends and colleagues. Highlights include pianist and composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, violinist Alexander Markov, guitarists John Williiams and Anthony Forcione, pianist Peter Donohue, the Skampa and Heath String Quartets, folk artists Niamh Ní Charra, Kathryn Tickell and Lau, avant-garde theatre group the People Show, playwright Alan Plater, art historians Brian Sewell and Andrew Graham-Dixon, comedian Barry Cryer, and poets Jenny Joseph and Don Paterson. Last year Malcolm made history by bringing the Hallé to Swaledale Festival for the first ever professional symphony orchestra concert in the region.


On behalf of the Festival, Malcolm has commissioned new music from Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Hugh Wood, David Blake, Alexander Goehr, Sally Beamish, Roxanna Panufnik, Tim Garland, Heather Fenoughty and Jonathan Dove, amongst others. He commissioned a permanent sculpture by Michael Kusz to commemorate the visit of the Tour de France to Swaledale and he ‘borrowed’ the iconic steam locomotive ‘Bittern’ for a unique day on the Wensleydale Railway during the Festival.


Local choirs and traditional brass bands have a permanent place in the Festival each year, and Malcolm’s programming and commissioning of new works reflects and celebrates the special landscape as well as its history, legends and characters. All this makes for a unique Festival which could only happen in the Northern Dales.


Malcolm is passionate about ancient buildings, remote Dales churches in particular, and by expanding the number used as Festival venues he has undoubtedly helped some of them to stay open in these difficult times. The Festival events take place in more than fifty churches and village halls in around 900 square miles of breathtaking North Pennines landscape.


During Malcolm’s tenure the Swaledale Festival has won an impressive number of awards, including the Ability Media International Award for Inclusivity and Artistic Excellence in 2009, Dalesman Magazine’s Top Award for Artistic and Cultural Achievement in 2011, Richmondshire District Council’s Community Group of the Year in 2012, and the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award for education and outreach work in 2014. In 2015 the Festival was awarded the new EFFE (Europe for Festivals - Festivals for Europe) label in recognition of its artistic quality, its involvement in its local community and its values of openness and inclusivity.


Malcolm’s programme for 2017 includes appearances by the vocal group VOCES8, pianist Stephen Hough, the London Mozart Players, the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Red Priest, the Unthanks, Urban Folk Quartet, Northern Monkey Brass Band, the cellist and reigning BBC Young Musician of the Year Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and a trio of world-renowned guitarists: John Williams, John Etheridge and Gary Ryan. “I’ve been fortunate to secure a fantastic line-up of world-class performers for 2017, and there really is something for everyone” says Creese.  “It’s my strongest programme yet”.

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