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Round-Up For 2010

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2010 has been an unforgettable year for Cheltenham Festivals. Record-breaking ticket sales, outstanding performers and a crop of awards have all made this the most successful Festival season to date. Here we look back at some of the memorable, surprising and entertaining moments from this year’s Jazz, Science, Music and Literature Festivals.

The Festival year kicked off in earnest in February as the Jazz Festival went on sale. Under new Executive Director Ian George, the programme promised some of the biggest stars from the world of jazz – and resulted in record-breaking first day sales. A much anticipated Cheltenham return by jazz-giant Jamie Cullum bought back memories of his 2004 concert – which still holds the record for the fastest ever selling festival event (it sold out in under an hour!). This year he took to the helm in the role of Guest Director, and played alongside some his favourite jazz acts. His collaboration with Norwegian songstress Beady Belle proved to be a real festival highlight.

The Jazz Festival has always been about unique musical adventures – and 2010 really raised the bar! Paloma Faith’s dramatic jazz set with the Guy Barker Orchestra was a true Cheltenham triumph, and this outstanding commission is soon to be taken to the Barbican. Elsewhere, Elaine Paige sparkled as she moved from musicals to jazz in a gala performance at The Daffodil, Michael Parkinson celebrated the life of Sinatra in Friday Night is Music Night and comedian Stewart Lee explored his love of free-jazz in a series at the Playhouse.

One of the biggest changes to this year’s Festival was the introduction of ‘Jazz on the Square’, which saw the Festival take over Imperial Gardens with food stalls, live music and a real festival buzz! The unseasonably wet weather couldn’t dampen the spirit of jazz, and thousands of people enjoyed this relaxed and entertaining addition to the format.

As Spring turned to Summer, Festival thoughts turned from Jazz to Science. The Science festival has grown rapidly over the past few years – and in 2010 achieved staggering success with over 28,000 tickets sold. This success was, in part, due to two exceptional Guest Directors – culinary genius Heston Blumenthal and ‘the man that made science sexy’ Professor Brian Cox. Brian’s Wonder of the Solar System event proved so popular that, for the first time, the Festival ran a repeat event – which promptly sold out as well!

The Festival theme of decadence inspired a programme full of controversial debate, outstanding speakers and hands on experiments which explored every element of modern living. Renowned scientists Robert Winston, Alice Roberts and Paul Davies appeared alongside popular personalities such as Ben Miller, Robin Ince and Robert Llewellyn. There was a chance to get hands-on in a simulated operating theatre, test your knowledge against science journalists and try an exclusive sample of Heston’s latest culinary experiments. All-in-all, it really did live up to its claim to offer five of the most exciting, inspiring and mind-expanding days of the year. This success has been reflected with a prestigious local award – It was last month announced that the Science Festival has been awarded the title of Large Event of the Year at the first ever Cotswold Tourism Awards.

The Music Festival is the oldest of Cheltenham’s Festivals, and brings with it two weeks of the finest classical music in the UK. Alongside celebrations of Schumann, internationally acclaimed performances from renowned musicians such as Stephen Isserlis, Alina Ibragimova and Alfie Boe, and several outstanding new commissions – the programme also promised a taste of the other Cheltenham Festivals!

Co-curated by renowned philosopher and cultural critic Ray Tallis, the Sound Mind series explored the unique relationship between music and the brain. Bringing elements of the Science and Literature programmes to Music, it was a hugely enjoyable, unexpected and inspiring addition. Children’s favourite Michael Morpurgo bought War Horse to the Festival, Julia Donaldson introduced a musical take on the Gruffalo and Simon Callow offered his unique narration to a celebration of Schumann.

James Rhodes, an up-and-coming young pianist branded as a ‘classical musician with a rock star attitude’ provided an unforgettable evening of live music at the Parabola Arts Centre. Alongside a programme of Beethoven, Bach and Chopin, James took to the stage in an ‘iEncore’ – using his iPad in place of traditional sheet music. This was a classical first – and really did prove Cheltenham offers some truly cutting-edge events across all four Festivals.

No sooner had the last violin left the Town Hall than tickets went on sale for the 2010 Literature Festival. A staggering 120,000 tickets were sold for over 450 events across the ten day festival – proving to be the most successful, varied and popular to date. Star spotters had a chance to get up close to some of the world’s finest actors, comedians, politicians and writers. Stephen Fry, Gok Wan, Graham Norton, Michael Caine, Dawn French, Simon Pegg, Derren Brown, Jerry Hall, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson and Salman Rushdie all took to the festival stage.

The Festival hit the headlines with a number of controversial comments from the speakers: Alastair Campbell, Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson all shared their views about the remarkable year in politics; Andrew Marr caused an online storm by branding bloggers as ‘inadequate, pimpled and single’; and Nigella Lawson revealed that she is no domestic goddess, and hated food as a child. The Festival also welcomed newly crowned Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson in his first public appearance since claiming the award; a skype conference with Lord Alan Sugar and local sixth form students; and Tweet Poetry, an innovative project using the twittersphere to inspire brand new poetry.

The Literature Festival drew to a fantastic close with the news that it was to be crowned the Tourism Event of the Year at the South West Tourism Awards. Record-breaking ticket sales, truly inspiring speakers and scooping this prestigious award have all made sure the 2010 Festival will be one to remember.

As thoughts turn to Christmas – the festival year is not quite over! For the first time the Science Festival, in collaboration with The Honourable Company of Gloucestershire, are hosting the Gloucestershire Christmas Lecture for local students. Bringing together some of the festival’s favourite and most entertaining speakers it promises an explosive way to see in the festive season.

Plans are already afoot for more festival fun in 2011. Keep an eye on cheltenhamfestivals.com for the latest details of all four festivals.

2011 dates for your diary

Cheltenham Jazz Festival:
27 April – 2 May

The Times Cheltenham
Science Festival: 7-12 June

HSBC Cheltenham Music
Festival: 29 June-10 July

The Times Cheltenham
Literature Festival: 7-16 October