Sarah Ford meets Somerset-based conductor and Deborah Meaden to talk Playing the Field!

PUBLISHED: 19:09 20 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:08 20 February 2013

Deborah and Charles at the venue site

Deborah and Charles at the venue site

Sarah Ford talks to Somerset-based conductor Charles Hazlewood and Dragons' Den star Deborah Meaden about their exciting joint musical venture, Play the Field.

Sarah Ford meets Somerset-based conductor and Deborah Meaden to talk Playing the Field!

On the face of it this seems like an unlikely partnership, but the globe-trotting conductor Charles Hazlewood and the TV Dragon Deborah Meaden have more in common than you might think. Both have made their homes in Somerset and both have a special vision - to bring music to a wider audience in the West Country. In an unusual collaboration they have combined their talents in order to stage a world-class music festival in the Somerset countryside.

The award-winning Radio 2 presenter will host the family-friendly weekend at his farm near Glastonbury, with help from Deborah, the successful businesswoman and investor from TV's Dragons' Den. They have called it Play the Field and the event will feature classical music with a contemporary twist.

On 29 and 30 August Charles will introduce iconic pieces played by one of his orchestras, the London-based symphony orchestra Excellent Device!, and the period-instrument orchestra Army of Generals, fresh from their starring role alongside Charles in his BBC2 TV series.
Saturday's performance will also include a special performance by his team of Glastonbury regulars, the All Stars, featuring Will Gregory from Goldfrapp and Adrian Utley from Portishead.

Staging a festival like Play the Field has long been a dream of Charles', which came to fruition after he met Deborah at the First Night of the Proms. "Charles was presenting, I was a guest on the sofa and we got on like a house on fire," Deborah recalls. "He has incredible enthusiasm and he certainly rekindled my love for the music. We laughingly call ourselves 'the odd couple'. It may not be an obvious collaboration between 'the conductor and the Dragon' but we share the same vision, just with completely different talents - what any good partnership should be!"

Deborah, who as a child won a scholarship to Trinity College School of Music, describes herself as a 'lapsed pianist' with random music tastes, happy to listen to anything from Radio 1 to orchestral pieces.

"That's another reason why Charles and I hit it off so well. As far he is concerned it's not about dividing music into boxes. Play the Field is a new and unique contemporary take on what people consider traditional music. In Charles' hands I know it's going to work because he is brilliant."
On the Saturday there will be an unusual exploration of Holst's masterpiece The Planets, featuring spontaneous electronic improvisation, with elements sampled from the orchestral planet just played.

On the Sunday there's the chance to discover culinary delights at the produce market while listening to Russian violin virtuoso Alexander Sitkovetsky rehearse for an evening performance of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. The event also features music from Haydn and, as 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, there will be some telescopic stargazing.

Charles says that it is wonderful doing concerts in places like New York and London, but he feels a responsibility to bring his work home also. "Somerset desperately needs more high-end music-making on its doorstep, so the chance to share great music spanning genres as diverse as orchestral classics, trip hop and jazz in the utterly relaxed and cathartic environment of a Somerset field, is for me the fulfillment of a long-term dream. I always knew that somehow sooner or later this farm would become a crucible for music-making. We are on a great fat ley line directly off Glastonbury Tor so there's a lot of good energy here; there's a good vibe about the place."

The event will take place just outside Keinton Mandeville and promises to be an easy-going affair - rather different from many of the venues Charles performs in. "Concert halls have a kind of atmosphere which is quite strict and regulated. But in a field you can be more relaxed; everything is possible."

Charles and Deborah are keen to ensure that the festival is open to anyone in the local community, so Pay What You Can tickets are available to people who live within a 4.5km radius of Play the Field. Charles explains: "We're not just saying: 'Here's a posh festival.' We strongly believe that it should be genuinely accessible to the local community."

Play the Field will take place just outside of Keinton Mandeville in Somerset. Gates open at 6pm on Saturday 29 August, the musical performance starts at 7.30pm and finishes at 10.30pm. On Sunday 30 August gates open at 2pm for a unique opportunity to listen to the open rehearsals. Tickets can be purchased either online via a link at, by calling 01225 463362 or in person from Bath Festivals Ticket Office, 2 Church Street, Abbey Green, Bath BA1 1NL.

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