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Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 18:06 UK
Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2010: Jonathan Holloway

By Zoe Applegate
BBC Norfolk

Jonathan Holloway
Jonathan Holloway has realised his original vision for the festival

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival has been mounting up press attention with key performers making national TV appearances to publicise their gigs.

Michael Nyman and David McAlmont have been spreading the word about this year's run from 7 to 22 May.

For festival director Jonathan Holloway, who this year has programmed the biggest number of events, the spotlight is more than warranted.

The 40-year-old spoke to BBC Norfolk about what the festival means to him.

It's the biggest festival in terms of the number of events, what's pushed you to expand it?

There are 350 events, which is biggest number of events by quite a long way and it's over a thousand performers. I think a lot of it comes down to public demand.

Every year the audiences have grown - last year the audience for the festival was about 80,000 people and the audience for our outreach work, community work and Contemporary Art Norwich was about another 100,000 people.

This year we reckon with the visual arts we'll have about a third of a million come in to the festival.

It doesn't seem to stop in terms of appetite so I'm pushing it to see where it fails because I think that's interesting.

You arrived in 2004 with a vision of what you wanted the festival to be, has that now been realised?

I realised the vision a couple of years ago in terms of that initial idea, of course, I refine it each time. It's still difficult, challenging and exciting.

As the artists increase in calibre - the people we can attract like John Cale, Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson - that makes that side of it more interesting.

As the audience grows, that's exciting as people want more and more what we're giving them and the challenge has changed dramatically from being survival and making it a bit bigger to just how far can you take it.

I look around at other festivals in the country and see a lot of them thriving very well, and we've moved from being a mid-ranking festival to being the fourth biggest city arts festival.

What performances are you most excited about this year?

I'm entirely thrilled about Jordi Savall's Jerusalem which brings together 38 performers - many of them from the Middle East - from Jerusalem. So there are Israeli, Palestinian and Christian performers playing the music of the Crusades until now.

There is music from each of the three main cultures in Jerusalem and just simply the idea of doing that is extraordinary and then to do the UK premiere in Norwich is brilliant.

Jonathan Holloway
Jonathan at the Spiegeltent, one of the hits of 2009

I'm chuffed to bits with the Johns: John McLaughlin and John Cale.

The Spiegeltent is going to be great and La Vie are a tremendous circus company - one of the best in the world - so for them to do a small show in the Spiegeltent is wonderful.

There's a really interesting link between the Michael Clark dance piece which is based on the music of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed and The Beatles to Bowie exhibition at Norwich Castle.

Then there's Mick Jones and The Clash and there's the fact that John Cale alongside Lou Reed founded Velvet Underground. There's an interesting line of extraordinary rock connections within the programme.

The festival used to be regarded as very middle class, but that seems to be changing.

My feeling was that audiences nationally for classical music are not increasing, so a festival built primarily around classical music is a beautiful thing but it needed to bring in a new audience.

The free work, the circus, the dance, the theatre, the jazz and the world music was all intended to bring in a new audience.

What's interesting is the classical music audience has lifted again and it's going up. I've seen a classical music audience begin to go to circus and burlesque.

The city is such that people have embraced both sides of it as I didn't want to weaken the classical music programme. The classical music and early music programme is still very strong but instead of being 80% of what we have they're now 25% or 30%.

Last year we sold more tickets to children's events than to classical music events so the idea that we're a classical music festival with a bit attached has gone entirely.

Your daughters are now two and four, have they had an impact on what you book?

I've shamelessly done at least two things in the last four years for my own children in the knowledge that many other children would come.

Charlie and Lola
Children's favourites Charlie and Lola will come to life

I didn't realise how extraordinarily popular Charlie and Lola was until I started reading the books.

Now there's the idea that my girls will go to see it and love it and the things that will happen in the Festival Gardens [Chapelfield Park] like the labyrinth and the carousel.

My oldest daughter saw the carousel in Holland with me and she absolutely loved it and went on it again and again. I thought if she reacts like that, other kids will.

It's become more compelling for me to programme work that's for families because I'm more aware of it. They're a great barometer but they also make me look ahead all the time.

I'm here for a short period of time, it's been six years so far. If we win City of Culture and I'm involved in that - which is looking pretty hopeful - then that's a really interesting three years.

However, in 20 years' time when my daughters are going to festivals as adults - what will they see, what will they get?

How do we make the world a place we want to hand on - it sounds very idealist but I'm not ashamed of that.

You're from Sheffield, which is also in the running for the UK City of Culture alongside Norwich, so who are you batting for?

I haven't lived in Sheffield for 20-something years and I'm part of the bid writing team, so I'm essentially responsible for a lot of the programme.

I believe that we know that a northern post-industrial city of several million people can be a UK City of Culture - there's no interest there for me.

What's interesting is that we're the 27th biggest city in the UK. There are 57 cities in the UK with more than 100,000 people so in terms of cities from 100,000 to 9m people, Norwich is exactly in the middle.

Can a city which audience-wise is exactly in the middle, even if we're over to the east, be a City of Culture? What happens when you make a cathedral city of a certain scale, a medium-sized city, a Capital of Culture - it's never been done before.

For me, Sheffield and Birmingham are great places, but it would just be more of the same. Actually you want to see what happens if one of the cities which isn't one of those six biggest cities gets the capital crown.

Some people have said that too much of the festival is based in Norwich rather than spread across the county, what would you say to that?

We know it's called the Norfolk and Norwich Festival because it was created to help raise the money for building the hospital.

Because it's the geographical centre of the county and it's a very big county, whenever we take work out we divide our audience by six immediately.

The same concert in Cromer will get between four and six times more people in Norwich including people from Cromer.

That said, Open Studios works across the whole of the county and is completely geographically diverse. We work with 47 schools through Creative Partnerships and they're based right across the county.

We work in communities and with schools and with engagement projects all year round all around Norfolk.

Yes, there is a sense that the festival is focused on Norwich as the centre, but our audiences come from across the county - 43% of our audiences come from Norwich, about 43% comes from the rest of Norfolk and the remainder comes from further afield.

It's great because the audience grows every year so all of those groups are getting bigger.

How much travelling do you have to do to find the right artists and shows?

I travel quite a bit, although now with a family a lot less than I did because there are only so many of my daughters' bath nights I'm prepared to miss in any given week or month.

David Bowie
The Beatles to Bowie exhibition runs at Norwich Castle for the entire festival

I think the job of a festival director is to know what's out there and know the work and know the artists worldwide and then it's to know the people and the place that you're working in and find what will go together.

The reason that we ended up with Philip Glass coming to the festival is because I met him at a concert in London.

Then I was in New York and met his management and they also represent Laurie Anderson and I persuaded them this was a festival they must come to.

I have nothing but good things to say about Norwich and Norfolk when I'm out there, partly because there aren't that many things to say that aren't great, but also because it's a wonderful place.

When I talk to artists around the world about this they get excited and artists talk to artists.

Philip Glass phoned Laurie Anderson and said, 'Was it a good festival?' and she said, 'I had a fantastic time,' so he said he'd do it.

John Cale knows Laurie Anderson because Laurie and Lou Reed are married, so there's the whole sense that once the word gets out there it begins to happen.

Basically I'm out there finding work that I want to take home to the family. When I see a show that excites me, I think, 'Norwich has got to see this'.

I'm having a conversation with one of the world's greatest theatre directors at the moment about a project that would happen in Great Yarmouth in a couple of years' time - and saying, 'Look at the Hippodrome, this is a space that will work.'

I feel that there's a hunter gatherer thing about being a festival director.

La Vie I saw in New York, one of the first ever performances, and it was good but it needed work and then I saw it a year and a bit later and I thought, 'This is the one.'

Michael Nyman and David McAlmont
Michael Nyman and David McAlmont have collaborated together

David McAlmont- who's performing with Michael Nyman - I've loved his work since he was with Bernard Butler but it wasn't right for the festival.

I heard him sing some solo stuff, again wonderful, but then bang, I went to a gig in London - they've only ever performed this once before in the UK - and this is the only performance of it this season.

I saw it and realised I was the only programmer there - I don't know what happened that everybody missed it - but I sat there and thought, 'This is it!'.

Do you think that too much of the county's arts budget goes to the festival?

I think there does need to be variety in the way that arts spending is given out. I don't think there is enough money for arts in the UK. I think the city and the county [councils] both work very hard to maintain their budgets for the arts.

We're now delivering in effect Contemporary Art Norwich although it's now rolled into the festival, Open Studios, year-round community engagement and creative learning and the festival.

We're working very closely with all of our partners, so we can help on that bid to be the City of Culture - I think that will bring a huge amount more money for the arts and culture.

It's always upsetting when organisations don't have enough money to do what they want to do but I don't believe there's any correlation between our funding and the funding of other organisations. I don't think we get more because other people get less.

I think we're fortunate that we get the money we need to have a massive impact.

I still think there has to a Puppet Theatre - one of only two in the UK - there has to be a great Arts Centre, there has to be a great Playhouse, there has to be a great Theatre Royal, there have to be great galleries, bars and cultural spaces and cinemas otherwise it's not just going to work as a city.

I think the city and county and Arts Council do very well with limited resources but we've got to keep lobbying and the idea that individuals and philanthropy will take over like in America is absolute rubbish.

Do you imagine that you'll be in Norwich for another five years with the festival - do you have a plan?

I don't know. There's a difference between if we get City of Culture or we don't. There are only maybe five jobs in the whole world that I want and they're mainly in very beautiful places.

The top three places where I would happily live, putting Norwich aside, are Barcelona, New York, Sydney because I have to connect with the place I live and I have to believe in the place that I'm working otherwise I'm just phoning it in.

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