Plan your Buxton Festival day out

buxton festival logoAs if we are not lucky enough, living in this beautiful county, we are also blessed with the annual arts feast which is Buxton Festival.

Now hailed as not just a local, regional, or national event but a truly international affair the festival is a marvellous celebration of music and literature.

There is an amazingly diverse programme of concerts and talks all at venues within a few paces of each other.

But while we have the advantage of being able to enjoy the events without having to travel too far or even stay the night it is much more fun to be able to soak up the wonderful atmosphere of the occasion by staying for a whole day.

The team which curates the festival makes sure there is a fantastic mix on offer each day starting from as early as 9am and usually finishing with an opera or late night music.

Last year artsbeat chose a sunny Saturday to hit the town and we started the day in a relaxed fashion at 10.30am by listening to Margaret Drabble talk about her latest novel The Pure Gold Baby at the Pavilion Arts Centre. It was fascinating to hear her give such a personal account of her work.

When we arrived, Buxton and the Pavilion Gardens were already alive with the morning joggers and dog walkers, but by the time we emerged from the theatre into the bright sun it was buzzing.

We had just enough time for an ice cream before heading to St John’s Church, which was the perfect setting for the noon performance by The Fibonacci Sequence.

Our afternoon treat was the matinee performance of HK Gruber’s Gloria – A Pigtale with Gillian Keith in the title role. Dancing hotdogs, singing sausages, oxen in sunglasses, outlandish costumes and even croaking frogs were all part of this strange burlesque opera. It was certainly fun and very memorable.

We took time out for dinner in the early evening before opting for some entertainment from the Fringe programme.

Terry Christian’s Naked Confessions of a Recovering Catholic sounded like it would be a good laugh but it turned out not to be our cup of tea. What we should have gone to see was Bill Woolland as Comedy Dad.

To finish off our day we then stopped off to listen to the sounds of Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman in the Pavilion Café. Of course it was then that we didn’t want to have to go home and we wished we had booked B&B.

If you want to give a day out at the festival a go why not try one of our recommendations below. We have made sure that each of the operas is included in at least one of the days.

Of course you can choose your own by going to the or picking up a brochure. To add in Fringe events go to

Sunday July 12

Start the day with a stirring talk by Andrew Roberts about the mind, life and political and military genius of Napoleon which is on at the Pavilion Arts Centre between 10.15 and 11.15am.

You will then have a chance to have a mid-morning coffee or light lunch before listening to baritone Roderick Williams and Susie Allan on piano as they perform Vaughan Williams, Howells, Torry and Elgar.

Williams is returning to Buxton after a triumphant appearance at the Last Night of the Proms.

He is presenting a programme of songs celebrating those left behind by the Great War.

For the afternoon you have a choice; you can either listen to Claudia Renton talking about Mary, Madeline and Pamela – the three Wyndham sisters between 2 and 3pm followed by an early meal before the opera, or you can have a leisurely lunch and then go to listen to The Schubert Ensemble performing Schumann and Faure between 4-5.30pm.

Whichever you choose try to make sure you enjoy the free Song at Six at the bandstand followed by the pre-opera talk. The opera of the day is Lucia di Lammermoor, conducted by Stephen Barlow, at 7.15pm.

Monday July 13

Begin at 10.15am with a talk by Christopher Simon Sykes about his second fascinating volume on the life and work of Hockney.

Next up is pianist Eudald Buch between noon and 1pm. You then have an hour to grab some lunch before enjoying a talk by Helen Macdonald author of the bestseller H is For Hawk, which has already won the Costa Book of the Year and the Samuel Johnson Prize.

We suggest that you then listen to the Maria Camahort Quintet at St John’s Church between 3.30pm and 4.30pm,  presenting a concert of music by Spanish composers.

You will then have time to relax and eat before the Song at Six in the bandstand and the pre-opera talk.

The opera is Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in a co-production between The English Concert and Bristol Old Vic. The celebrated South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza plays the abandoned Queen of Carthage and rising star David Stout is the Trojan hero Aeneas.

Sunday July 19

Mark Bostridge talking about Vera Brittain and the First World War is your start to the day. He has written copiously on Brittain and his latest book ties in with the film Testament of Youth for which he was a consultant.

You will then be able to listen to a concert of English songs by tenor Ben Johnson, who plays Carlo in the festival opera Giovanna d’Arco, accompanied by Sebastian Wybrew on piano.  This finishes at 1.15pm so you will probably want to have lunch and skip the pre-opera talk at 1.30pm. Your afternoon will be spent at the opera matinee of Louise – a concert performance conducted by Stephen Barlow.

It tells the story of a Parisian seamstress in love with a young poet and forced to choose between love and family duty.

The opera finishes at 5.30pm so you will have time for a stroll or something to eat before choosing between a 7.30pm start at either the Huddersfield Choral Society performing in St John’s Church or an evening with novelist Kathy Lette and her posse of Love Goddesses Ronni Ancona, Maureen Lipman and Meera Syal for a hilarious frank and free-wheeling chat about their lives, loves, careers and cake.

Friday July 24

You have a chance to start the day with a couple of talks – Lewis Dartnell discussing how civilization would be rebooted in a dystopian world following a disaster at 9am in the Old Clubhouse, or Sinclair McKay talking at 10.15am in the Opera House about the human story behind the RAF triumph in the Second World War.

However, we suggest that you have a later start and have an early lunch in preparation for a packed afternoon of culture.

First on the agenda is a performance by one of the world’s leading concert pianists, Stephen Hough, in the Pavilion Arts Centre at noon.

Then author Matthew Dennison traces the extraordinary life of Vita Sackville-West in a talk about his book Behind The Mask between 2pm and 3pm.

At 3.30pm it is over to St John’s Church to listen to award-winning guitarist Laura Snowden.

There is then time to enjoy a walk around the town or have a meal before the Song At Six, pre-opera talk and the opera Giovanna d’Arco at 7.15pm.

This is Verdi’s interpretation of the story of Joan of Arc and has Australian soprano Kate Ladner in the title role.

Before going home you might be able to soak up some of the sounds of the jazz being played in the Pavilion Café if you go for a stroll in the gardens.