A retrospect on the 2020 Virtual Festival of Chichester

The Chichester Singers offered We’ll Meet Again to bring the 2020 Virtual Festival of Chichester to a memorable conclusion.

The real-life festival was forced off the calendar back in March as lockdown took hold.

But the festival organisers refused to be beaten – and came up with a virtual festival instead, with a new event going live each night for the four weeks the festival should have occupied.

Festival chairman Phil Hewitt said: “It felt so important to us that we actually did something, whatever the circumstances. More important than ever, in fact. We have all been through a horrible time, and anything that suggests the normality of more ordinary times was always going to be extremely welcome.

“Our festival co-ordinator Barry Smith did a wonderful job pulling everything together, and James Etheridge and Simon O’Hea on our festival committee did an equally wonderful job letting people know what was happening.

“We have got all the web stats from our virtual festival, and they are certainly impressive. But for me, the crucial thing was simply that we kept the festival flag flying in an impossible year. Even better is the fact we comfortably live to fight another day.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Chichester City Council for looking so kindly on our grant application this year. They have always been amazing in their support of our festival. Their support has always been vital. We can say with certainty that there will be a 2021 Festival of Chichester. So let’s do it for real next year!”

Festival co-ordinator Barry Smith was similarly pleased with the way it all went:

“We’ve had a hugely favourable response to the Virtual Festival of Chichester, with lots of appreciative comments from people who have enjoyed the range of events we’ve been able to make available online.

“It was such a disappointment to be forced to cancel the fantastic plans we had lined up for the 2020 live festival, but it has been a great delight to be able to put together an alternative so that we could keep the festival flag flying and keep in touch with our loyal audiences.

“In a way, this year has been a festival in miniature, with virtual events representing all the genres we normally present, giving people something to enjoy in their homes during these difficult times. As co-ordinator, I’ve been really pleased to offer a menu that has something for everybody, whatever their tastes. It was great to be able to kick off with virtual versions of the launch events which would normally have taken place on Cathedral Green on the opening Saturday – an inspirational talk from Kate Mosse, followed by the lively, toe-tapping sounds of the Stardust Sussex Syncapators jazz band.

“We’ve had a fantastic selection of classical musical events, one of the pillars of the festival, from a candlelit concert of Brahms performed by Ensemble Reza to a series from international pianist Reiko Fujisawa commemorating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven – something we had in store for live events but were still able to enjoy online. Some of our festival regulars stepped up with fine offerings – cellist Ben Rogerson with the Minerva Ensemble presenting Over the Rainbow, All That Malarkey singing a stylish Beach Boys’ Medley and super guitar pieces from Geoff Robb, Rob Johnston and Linda Kelsall-Barnett.

“And we’ve had input from across the globe as the world came to Chichester to celebrate: Russian Romantic piano from Moscow via Victor Ryabchikov, a cello concert from Chartres Cathedral by Emily Burridge and a special online gathering of Greek, Turkish and Cypriot musicians brought together electronically by Pavlos Carvalho for Waves and Bridges.

“Our festival is known for its wide spread of events and we kept that tradition up virtually this year, with a Wildlife Walk from Manhood Peninsular, a talk on humour entitled the Reluctant Teabag, poetry from a Costa Poetry Prize winner, John Haynes and a lockdown drama from Greg Mosse – such a huge range representing the best of local talent alongside visiting stars. And what a way to end, with the Chichester Singers presenting the festival finale with We’ll Meet Again, which we plan to do for the 2021 live Festival of Chichester.  Until then, all the events can still be enjoyed online by clicking onto the festival website.”

Image: Rob Johnston