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The 7th Highgate International Chamber Music includes Beethoven 249 – an early celebration of the composer’s 250th anniversary

21 November, 2019 — By Michael White

Festival founders Natalie Klouda, Irina Botan and Ashok Klouda

Back in 2012 three young musicians sat in a pub in Highgate, where they lived, and fantasised about the possibility of starting up a chamber music festival on their own doorstep.

One of them, the cellist Ashok Klouda, introduced a note of scepticism. “My response,” as he recalls, “was – who’d be doing all the work? It was already May, and the suggestion was to have this festival in late November – hardly time to get things off the ground”.

But the other two – Klouda’s violinist wife Natalie and pianist Irina Botan – persisted. And as Ashok says, “thanks to naïve optimism, we went ahead and did it”.

Seven years later, the Highgate International Chamber Music Festival is an established London fixture with 14 concerts stretched across a week – from November 23-30 – and involving some of the finest instrumentalists around. People like oboist Nicholas Daniel, cellist Robert Cohen and (to start the season on the 23rd) the dazzling young cellist everybody wants a share of these days, Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Singling out names is actually not in the spirit of the thing – because, this being chamber music, it’s about collective enterprise. The repertoire comes mostly in the form of amicable quartets, sextets and the like. There’s always one of Haydn’s piano trios, played by the three founders of the festival.

And this year there’s a theme called Beethoven 249 – which is a sly joke on the fact that next year is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

“We thought we’d pre-empt all the other Beet­hoven celebrations by getting in first,” says Ashok. “If it works, it’s something we might try again.”

Most days, events come thick and fast with early evening concerts followed by a central evening programme, then a late-night candle-lit recital – never good for the performers’ eyesight as they strain to read their scores, though Ashok plays (he tells me) from an iPad, so he brings his own illumination.

Venues alternate bet­ween St Anne’s Church at the bottom of Highgate West Hill and St Michael’s at the top. Start times vary. And there’s a lot going on. So check the website: chambermusicfestival.co.uk

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