Review: Harrogate Festival at Wesley Chapel

Jessica Wei Zhu.
Jessica Wei Zhu.

Harrogate International

Festival, Wesley Chapel,


The Wesley Chapel has again proved to be a popular venue for both literary and musical events and there was a good blend of both on offer for this year’s festival: it is just a pity that more people do not attend.

The well-known biographer Claire Tomalin, whose works include biographies of Pepys, Hardy and now Charles Dickens, was in Harrogate to discuss her new book. An enthusiastic audience were party to an always interesting, reflective and often humorous account of how she goes about actually writing a new biography.

Suzy Feay’s questions were sensible and relevant and enabled Tomalin to reveal her great knowledge of not only Dickens and his family, but of the social and political times.

The BBC’s Tom Service also gave a very interesting talk on his new book Music as Alchemy which deals with the subject of how a Conductors’ silent gestures are transformed into sound by a group of more than a hundred brilliant but belligerent musicians!

Tom went on to discuss how as a teenager, he imitated his heroes Toscanini and Karajan in front of the mirror.

He recounted how his new book follows six conductors as they rehearse and then perform a certain piece.

The pianist Jessica Wei Zhu gave a lunchtime recital on July 17 July featuring both modern and 19th century music. She drew a very good, poetic sound from the piano and was most successful in the the Miroirs of Ravel where this touch could be employed to greatest effect. Schumann’s Kreisleriana was competently played, but lacked the emotional intensity so necessary to draw the listener into Schumann’s rather strange emotional world.

The modern works by McCabe and Weir were played with conviction and a good range of contrast.

Graham Robertson