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About the Ryedale Festival

Every year, the Ryedale Festival welcomes outstanding performers from all over the world to perform a wide-ranging and distinctive programme in the many spectacular venues in and around Ryedale, North Yorkshire – an area full of history and natural beauty.

The festival enjoys a large, loyal and enthusiastic audience, the warm support of the local community, and a reputation as one of the most exciting and enterprising summer festivals in Europe.

Events range far and wide across the area, with performances given in over thirty stunning locations, including Castle Howard, Hovingham Hall, Duncombe Park, Birdsall House and Sledmere House, as well as in Ampleforth Abbey, York Minster, Scarborough Spa and in local arts centres. There is also a popular series of morning Coffee Concerts given in the many beautiful, sometimes remote, country churches of Ryedale.

The market towns and villages of the region – principally Malton, Helmsley, Hovingham, Kirbymoorside and Pickering – have a special charm. Beautiful medieval churches, major stately homes and heritage spaces abound. The surrounding countryside encompasses the North York Moors and Howardian Hills, as well as vast rolling landscapes and wooded valleys through which the River Rye flows.

Innovative and imaginative programming attracts top-level artists from all over the world. Broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 bring the festival to a wide audience and long-term partnerships have been developed with the Halle Orchestra, BBC New Generation Artists, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Opera North, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Manchester Collective, Yorkshire Young Musicians, Leeds International Piano Competition, the Kirkbymoorside Town Brass Band, the Kathleen Ferrier Awards and Manchester Collective. The festival is also well known for spotting and supporting outstanding emerging performers, many of whom feature in its renowned Young Artist Platform series.

The spirit of the festival is equally found in its many participatory events, including a long tradition of Community Operas. It is also found in the many opportunities it creates for local young people who are interested in working in the arts, helping them gain experience and develop their skills. A special relationship with the Richard Shephard Music Foundation also helps the festival bring musical opportunities to primary school children throughout the region. In 2022, this collaboration led to the performance of the Community Song Cycle Seven Mercies, described in the press as ‘an occasion that underlines what a force for good the Ryedale Festival continues to be’.

The breadth and depth of the festival’s impact is reflected at the box office, where it has achieved record-breaking ticket sales for ten years in succession. A recent five-star review by Richard Morrison in The Times recognised the ‘visionary direction’ and ‘inspired’ ambition of the festival, adding that it was ‘a canny spotter of rising young talent.’ In 2020, the festival was also a runner up the Royal Philharmonic Society Awards, who praised the ‘extraordinary breadth of programming’ of a festival which ‘should be high on everyone’s list for a future visit.’

The festival began in 1981 when four musician friends, Geoffrey and June Emerson, and Peter and Alex White, had the idea of launching a small series of local concerts. This first Helmsley Festival brought together more friends and other professional musicians and made an immediate impact on the town and its surroundings. So popular did it become that after five Festivals a broader base was called for, and the Ryedale District Council stepped in with the generous support, enabling it to grow. Throughout its history, the festival has been supported by an army of dedicated volunteers who help it thrive and create the friendly and welcoming atmosphere that draws audiences back year after year.

Among many exciting and ambitious plans for the future, the festival continues to develop its online platform RyeStream as a way to share the festival, and classical music, with an ever-wider audience, as well as promoting the region of Ryedale.

Join us soon to discover the festival’s friendly atmosphere and unique magic.