In 1998 Music-Makers re-located its Scottish Borders’ Summer Music festival from Ayton Castle to Paxton House, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, to meet the need for increased audience capacity, while seeking to retain the kind of ambience which had proved so appealing at Ayton. Paxton House amply fulfilled both criteria.
Designed by John and James Adam in 1758, with principal reception rooms embellished with plasterwork by Robert Adam, Paxton House is perhaps the finest example of an 18th century Palladian country house in Britain. It had been commissioned by Patrick Home of Billie (later 13th Laird of Wedderburn) in anticipation of his marriage to Sophie de Brandt, a lady-in-waiting at the court of Frederick the Great of Prussia. The house contains pre-eminent collections of Chippendale and Trotter furniture.
But it was the magnificent Picture Gallery – added in 1811 by George Home, 16th Laird of Wedderburn, to designs by Robert Reid, the architect of Edinburgh’s New Town – which was the prime focus for Summer Music. The largest purpose-built picture gallery in a Scottish country house, it has an ideal acoustic for chamber music. The Gallery’s broad dome floods the space with soft, natural light and audiences are surrounded by British art from 1750 to 1840, including paintings by Raeburn, Wilkie, Reynolds, Lawrence, on permanent loan from the National Galleries of Scotland. The adjacent Hayloft Gallery and Stables Tea Room, conversions of the former stables, were ideally placed to uphold the tradition of fine food, which soon expanded to superb supper boxes, enabling audiences to picnic in the surrounding gardens extending to the River Tweed.
Music-Makers launched the first Summer Music at Paxton House in 1998. The festival continued to develop and grow, both artistically and in attendance, attracting visitors from a wide area embracing the Borders and stretching from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Newcastle and Durham. ‘Friends’ and ‘Benefactors’ of Summer Music were a strong supportive base. A significant point was reached in 2002 when a new Steinway grand piano was purchased, thanks to combined fundraising efforts with the Paxton Trust.
Composer themes also continued to form an imaginative thread throughout each festival. In 2000, Summer Music marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of J S Bach, an appropriate link to the house’s history, while also featuring a work for electronics and string quartet commissioned from Paul Keenan (1956-2001), which drew inspiration from the Palladian architecture of Paxton House.
The original concept for Summer Music at Ayton Castle had included a summer school. Paxton House was unsuited to this purpose and a proposal to use Wedderburn Castle, historically linked to Paxton, was, unfortunately, never realised. Nevertheless, Summer Music at Paxton House included a number of masterclasses, as well as workshops in local schools, and the festival expanded its audience base with family concerts, including outdoor concerts on the lawn in front of the house. A popular feature of each festival was the Young Musicians Platform, providing performance opportunities for young professionals.
In 2005, Summer Music celebrated its 10th anniversary with an ambitious programme featuring the First and Second Viennese Schools of composers. Sadly, a proposal to secure the long-term future of Summer Music at Paxton House proved divisive and Music-Makers was deprived of artistic involvement in the festival it had created and nurtured. Music-Makers presented its last Summer Music at Paxton House in 2010 with a weekend devoted to Viennese masters.
‘Paxton House near Berwick is the sort of place that gets described as a mini-Glyndebourne, thanks to its idyllic setting and a summer music programme of conspicuous excellence…’ The Herald, Glasgow
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