Harrogate man behind leading arts festival talks about life in a musical family and 'emotional impact' of the arts

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The well-known Harrogate business owner behind one of Britain's best independent arts festivals has been opening up about what's planned for the 30th event, what it's like living in a musical family and his own past as an opera singer.

Along with his father Glen and brother Ben Ogden, Robert Ogden is a steward of distinguished Harrogate family jewellery business which has served the families of Yorkshire and generations of both royal and public figures since 1893.

But, as someone who is also Artistic Director of the Northern Aldborough Festival, music remains in his blood.

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In fact, music at the highest level was his very first career.

Distinguished Harrogate jeweller Robert Ogden is also Artistic Director of the Northern Aldborough Festival. Here he stands outside St Andrew's Church in Aldborough, the festival’s principle venue. (Picture contributed)Distinguished Harrogate jeweller Robert Ogden is also Artistic Director of the Northern Aldborough Festival. Here he stands outside St Andrew's Church in Aldborough, the festival’s principle venue. (Picture contributed)
Distinguished Harrogate jeweller Robert Ogden is also Artistic Director of the Northern Aldborough Festival. Here he stands outside St Andrew's Church in Aldborough, the festival’s principle venue. (Picture contributed)

As a young boy, he trained as an operatic countertenor, and sang to critical acclaim.“From the age of five, I’d sing in the bath,” Robert said.

At seven, he got a place at Westminster Cathedral as a chorister.

He went on to train at King’s College, Cambridge, the Royal Northern College of Music and at the Netherlands Opera Studio, and performed all over the world.

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But Robert decided to move back to Harrogate from London to bring up his young family after his father invited him to help run the family business.

Northern Aldborough Festival 2024 opens on June 13 with 25-year-old Tom Fetherstonehaugh conducting Fantasia Orchestra, accompanied by Leeds Piano Competition winner, Alim Beisembayev, pictured. (Picture contributed)Northern Aldborough Festival 2024 opens on June 13 with 25-year-old Tom Fetherstonehaugh conducting Fantasia Orchestra, accompanied by Leeds Piano Competition winner, Alim Beisembayev, pictured. (Picture contributed)
Northern Aldborough Festival 2024 opens on June 13 with 25-year-old Tom Fetherstonehaugh conducting Fantasia Orchestra, accompanied by Leeds Piano Competition winner, Alim Beisembayev, pictured. (Picture contributed)

“Singing all over the world wasn’t conducive to bringing up a family,” he said.

But he could not leave behind his own creative passions and, when he was approached by the Northern Aldborough Festival to be their director 15 years ago, he didn't need to be asked twice.

This small but acclaimed festival, which opens on Thursday, June 13 and runs to June 22, is marking its 30th anniversary this year.

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Described by the Times as “on its way to being one of the leading fixtures on the classical music calendar”, the event offers world-class opera singers, pianists, classical and jazz ensembles take over the sleepy village just half an hour from Harrogate for ten glorious days.

The 30th Northern Aldborough Festival - Running from June 13-22, audiences can experience intimate concerts in St Andrew's, Aldborough’s village church, normally reserved for the cosmopolitan global stage. (Picture Contributed)The 30th Northern Aldborough Festival - Running from June 13-22, audiences can experience intimate concerts in St Andrew's, Aldborough’s village church, normally reserved for the cosmopolitan global stage. (Picture Contributed)
The 30th Northern Aldborough Festival - Running from June 13-22, audiences can experience intimate concerts in St Andrew's, Aldborough’s village church, normally reserved for the cosmopolitan global stage. (Picture Contributed)

Audiences can experience intimate concerts in Aldborough’s village church, normally reserved for the cosmopolitan global stage.

The festival opens with 25-year-old Tom Fetherstonehaugh conducting Fantasia Orchestra, which comprises some of the UK’s most exciting young musicians.

They’re accompanied by Leeds Piano Competition winner, Alim Beisembayev, who will perform Tchaikovsky’s heartfelt Serenade for Strings and Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto.

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As someone who developed his own singing talent early, Robert says he is most excited about the newcomers and rising stars coming to the 30th anniversary events in this beautiful North Yorkshire village.

He is delighted, in particular, by the success of the festival's New Voices Singing Competition which invoives a nationwide hunt for the UK’s best vocal young classical talent.

It has a prize fund of £7,000 and a remarkable judging panel of musical luminaries, including the legendary bass Sir John Tomlinson, conductor Edward Gardner OBE and pianist, Sholto Kynoch.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for us as a festival as there are very few competitions of this size north of London," said Robert.

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"We could hear some real stars of the future and be there at the launch of a great new talent."

Other highlights of this year's Northern Aldborough Festival include the great violin virtuoso Viktoria Mullova, an evening with Time Team’s Sir Tony Robinson, the Julian Joseph jazz trio, the spine-tingling Armonico Consort with Oz Clarke performing Purcell’s masterpiece, The Fairy Queen, and the pan-flute player, Adriana Babin, who at 22 is a bona-fide star in her home country, Moldova.

In a way, Robert, despite his commitment and passion for Ogden jewellers, has never left his beloved music behind.

Then, he hasn't really had the choice.

Robert’s wife, also a professional singer, now teaches music.

Their three children all play instruments, too.

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“It’s a noisy household!” he said, “but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“There’s just something about music you feel physically, it’s a visceral thing.

"It can be enormously enriching, and have a huge emotional impact.

"There can be very few people who are unmoved by it.”

For information and tickets for events at Northern Aldborough Festival, visit: https://aldboroughfestival.co.uk/

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