22 Years of Music at Audley End House

Warm summer evenings gently cease, then autumn shows her face expertly painting the landscape into a patchwork of colour, but then it seems she is always too eager to welcome the shorter days and longer nights of winter. Nevertheless during the colder months reminiscing about warm evenings of July and August is something we all have in common.

I love to listen to music, with friends and family sitting on a blanket with good food and a bottle of something special. No place is better to do this than on a weekend at Audley End House near Saffron Walden, Essex when there’s a concert in full flow.

This idyllic Jacobean stately home does have many other events on during its opening months, showing off its extremely well maintained gardens and fine collections of English art and tapestries, but if a typical day out with English heritage isn’t enough for you, then there’s no better way to enjoy the views of this picturesque mansion than experiencing the summer concerts.

Over the last 22 years, music at Audley End House has changed a lot.

Before the open air concerts, playing popular genres of today, music at the house was limited, but could be heard inside its Great Hall, or marquees in the grounds. Classical music was usually played to a smaller, formal audience who could buy a cheaper ticket.

On July 22 and 23 1989, a Glyndebourne – style evening of formal dress and Mozart was played, by the Chillingrian Quartet. This night was named ‘The best of Austrian music’. During the interval, guests had the opportunity for a picnic outside on the lawns with a marquee on standby for bad weather.

Other entertainment at the house in this month was a two – day presentation of theatre, music and dance by a traveling theatre company called Miracle Theatre. They put on an Elizabethan weekend and instruments like the lute were played accompanied by a mezzo soprano, singing some of the top 10 hits of 1589.

On July 20th 1990, a special event known as the ‘beating retreat’ took place where 4 military regiment bands of 150 musicians performed in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund. They were the 2nd King Edwards VII’s own Gurka’s rifles, the 9th / 12th Royal Lancers, the 3rd Battalion of Royal Anglican Regiment and the Royal Highland Fusiliers. The beating retreat has its origins back in the 17th century when soldiers would gather in their regiments to ‘stand easy’ after a day’s battle and listen to the regimental bands play.

The ticket price was £5 per car and only £1 for pedestrians, 9,000 people were estimated to have turned up.

During the next few years’ music at Audley End House was very similar and hadn’t changed from historical, classical or the odd evening of jazz, but in 1994 the genre of music changed. In this year, a stage went up on the lawns behind the house for an evening of classical music, guests were encouraged to bring their own picnic food and drinks whilst enjoying the summer evening with friends and family, listening to Handel’s Water Music, Albinoni’s Adagio and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto in G major, finishing with fireworks, which now happens every year. Instead of the stage being taken down after the show finished and reassembled for the next night of music, the stage stayed where it was for a Chris de Burgh concert three weeks later.

Chris de Burgh had just released a new album ‘This way is up’ and chose Audley End for his venue to hit off his 70 – date European tour, which was his first for over 2 years. Fireworks finished this extremely successful evening. 8,000 people attended each paying £10.50 – £14.00. Many local people thought the change in music genre wasn’t the right decision as it would encourage a different sort of crowd to the concerts, causing problems in noise and traffic congestion because of an increase in ticket sales.

A local resident in Audley End village which is directly impacted by the concerts believes the weekend of music not to be a problem despite the traffic congestion. The local resident Said ‘It’s only a few weekends a year, and if I don’t like the music I don’t mind sticking my ipod in’.

10,000 people turned up each concert night for the next 2 years in 1995 – 1996 to watch Glen Millers band. Thousands again turned up the following night for the Last Night of the Proms, the National Symphony Orchestra played and soprano Sarah Poole was also there singing Rule Britannia, but a sizable number of the audience treated the whole event as a sociable occasion making far too much noise and not paying attention to the music, apparently ruining it for those who wanted to listen. This was a first for the Audley End concerts; in the past the evenings were always a lot calmer.

Up until the end of the 90s the concerts were organized by English heritage but IMG the events management company took it over, promising to keep the same style of evenings as before.

Since this company has been organising the concerts the demand and price for tickets has risen because of the popularity of the acts. Adult tickets are now £32.

In the last decade, audiences at Audley End have had the pleasure of listening to Tom Jones, Jools Holland, Music from the Movies, James Bond Night, Bjorn Again, The Rat Pack, Status Quo, Van Morrison, James Morrison, Jamie Cullum, Simple Minds, West Life, Bryan Ferry, Buena Vista Social Club, Gypsy Kings, Katherine Jenkins, Scouting for Girls, Will Young and many more, with the last night of the proms always finishing on the last weekend with a fantastic firework display.

The earlier years still had some very memorable moments. In 1996, Carolyn Grace flew her famous Grace Spitfire over the crowd whilst the National Symphony Orchestra played Walton’s ‘Spitfire Prelude’. In 1997 a nationwide appeal for strawberries was launched because of a low yield caused by heavy rainfall. Eventually 1 ton of the little English red fruit was found in nearby Hatfield Broad Oak Essex and delivered to guests for free. Britain ruled at an evening in 1999, when a sold-out night at the last night of the proms caused 10,000 people to sing along and wave Union Jacks to Rule Britannia and Jerusalem.

Every summer, the concerts have always been a huge success, entertaining a large variety of people - they never seem to disappoint.

Electronic music is probably a long way off and would defiantly challenge local residents further, but is there a possibility of another genre of music moving into the summer line-up?

Whatever happens let’s just hope they keep entertaining people in the years to come.

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About William Addison-Atkinson

William Addison-Atkinson currently lives and works in Cambridge. When he’s not working full time repairing boats he studies English Literature with the Open University. He’s always looking for new ways to develop his writing and after graduation wants to write full time. Travelling is more of a passion than an interest. For two years he lived and worked in New Zealand as well as a year in the Scottish Highlands. He has visited many countries over the last decade; his favourites also include Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Zimbabwe and America. His other interests are books, music, theatre, art and food. In his spare time he writes about all of the above or plans the next travelling adventure.
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