Harriet Mackenzie brings her Celoniatus Ensemble to Chichester Cathedral

Harriet Mackenzie
Harriet Mackenzie

Harriet Mackenzie continues the proudest of traditions at this year’s Festival of Chichester.

She has played at every single Festival of Chichester so far – with various groups including Kosmos trio, Retorica violin duo, Karolos Ensemble and with guitarist Morgan Szymanski.

This year she will be offering a programme enticingly entitled Eight Seasons and a Blackbird, on Thursday, June 27 at 7.30pm in Chichester Cathedral. She will be directing her Celoniatus Ensemble. Hand-picked by Harriet, they are an acclaimed string ensemble named after Harriet’s rare and beautiful 1730 Italian violin.

“I just love my violin,” she says. “We have been through a lot together, a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I have had it ten years now, and we have covered an enormous amount together! When this new ensemble started, I was looking for a name for it, and this seemed right. It is such a privilege to play this violin.

“It can be a bit of a diva. It doesn’t particularly like temperature changes or damp, as you might imagine coming from Italy! I haven’t really decided whether it is a he or a she. It is just an it. But it has got a very strong voice. It can really project, and the low g string is very, very dark. I am constantly learning from my violin.

“I don’t actually know its history. Some violins come with a complete history. You know exactly whose hands it has been in. I don’t know with my violin, but I just like to imagine. You know that it was around when certain pieces were being composed, and I just like to wonder! This violin was made before Mozart was born, which is quite something.”

As for the Celoniatus Ensemble, their Eight Seasons and a Blackbird of the night’s title are offered in a programme featuring Vivaldi’s Baroque masterpiece The Four Seasons juxtaposed with the heat of Argentinian tango in Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires and an evocative orchestral work by Canadian composer Emily Doolittle, depicting a blackbird singing in the rain.

“It is fantastic music,” Harriet promises. “The Vivaldi Four Seasons is one of the most popular pieces ever written, and it is such a joy to play it and to rediscover it. It is just phenomenal. There is so much interest in it and so much to enjoy. There is always something fresh to find.

“I think every performance brings its own energy, and every performer also brings something new to it. And also the energy of the audience changes. Every performance is unique. It is actually really challenging to play. He really knew how to write for the violin!”

Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires will provide the perfect contrast: “He has a completely different take on it. The seasons are switched around. Winter in Buenos Aires is summer in the west, and it all has such a different feel. He is using the tango tradition even though he had phenomenal classical training, but he has also used jazz and all sorts of other influences in the writing. It is a fantastic piece.

“I am not sure how often the two are put together, but it is a brilliant pairing. I think it works so well. They have similar themes of nature and they both have wonderful tunes and great harmonies, but they are also incredibly different to each other.”

The Blackbird from the night’s title comes into the proceedings through Emily Doolittle’s Falling Still: “She has got a PhD in zoomusicology and she had recorded and notated songs from all sorts of animals, and she incorporates them into her compositions. She lives in Glasgow. I have met her and worked with her and I have recorded Falling Still, the piece about the blackbird.

“I love being able to work with the composer. I always ask lots and lots of questions about what they were wanting and what kind of feel they were going for. You feel incredibly lucky to have that connection.”

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