Hidden Hertford

By Tom Hammond  -  29 March 2017

I had no intention of starting a music festival when I first visited Hertford to work with the town's own non-professional, but very good, symphony orchestra who found themselves in need of a conductor at short-notice. In fact, I'd never been to Hertford before and didn't even know where it was! 

I think we all have certain expectations about small towns close to London, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that only 45' from central London by train (20 miles from Charing Cross, as the crow flies) there's a place that feels like you've certainly left London - on the cusp of countryside, plenty of independent shops, unusual and interesting architecture - but is superbly connected by rail and road to London, and other metropolitan centres.

But I'm a musician, not an estate agent, so the thing that really struck me as I got to know the town and the orchestra, is just how buzzing a local arts and music scene exists. The orchestra promotes six concerts a year to pretty much full-houses, plus there are chamber music series, a large and innovative choral society, and a very successful theatre scene too. Hertford is not a big place, but it boasts a very impressive cultural calendar, and some fascinating history too.

And then there's the wider county. Hertfordshire is largely rural, with only a few major population centres (St Albans, Watford, Stevenage) yet every town and city seems to have a pleasingly large amount of music going on! There are masses of choirs, orchestras, concert clubs - and the county music service boasts excellent ensembles for young people.

So, when thinking about how Hertford Symphony Orchestra might stretch its wings and perform outside of its home venues, and maybe not have to self-promote every performance as it does now, I thought we should look to play in someone else's festival elsewhere in Hertfordshire. With all this music being made, surely there would be at least one annual festival with chamber, orchestral, choral music?

Nope. There wasn't. At least not on the scale I was thinking. And from that thought, HFoM was born and I am now running - with others - a Festival I had no intention of starting.

The amount of work involved had left me slightly wishing I hadn't at times, but then when I look at the line-up of musicians we have attracted in this our first full year of festival activities (Tasmin Little, Dame Emma Kirkby, Clare Hammond, the Carducci quartet, John Lenehan, Sarah-Jane Bradley...) I can't help but think it has been really worthwhile.

The ambition now is to become an annual, week-long festival each June, and to make Hertford and the wider county known as a place where you can enjoy lovely countryside, fascinating history (did I mention Haydn?!), great restaurants and hotels - and world class music. All easy to get to, and if you're under 18 or in full-time study, you can come to hear these amazing musicians for just £2.

To find out what's on at this year's Hertford Music Festival, click here

Friday - Sunday June 10-16 2018

About Tom Hammond

Tom Hammond is Co-Artistic Director of sound collective and is currently Music Director of the Essex Symphony Orchestra, Hertford Symphony Orchestra, Sinfonia Tamesa and - from the 2016 season - the St Albans Symphony Orchestra. He is also a Principal Conductor at the Ingenium Academy International Summer School, Guest Conductor of the Palestine Youth Orchestra, and Music Director of the award-winning Yorkshire Young Sinfonia.

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