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East Winch delivers classical entertainment

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When we think of classical music venues we tend to think of Wigmore Hall in London, the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford or Snape Maltings in Suffolk.

Certainly an old farmhouse in East Winch is not the first place to spring to mind for an evening of classical music.

Which is what makes the newest addition to the Norfolk music scene such a refreshing surprise. Virgina Slater is a renowned classical violist and husband-to-be Ryan Quigley will be a familiar name to anyone with an interest in jazz music.

Ryan Quigley (53609047)
Ryan Quigley (53609047)

The couple moved to Hall Farm, East Winch just before the first lockdown and, after overcoming an almost incomprehensible catalogue of challenges, are now delighting audiences with their performances in the two musical genres.

Virginia Slater is an established recitalist and chamber musician and her appearances include performances in the Purcell Room and the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank in London. She has also appeared as guest principal with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, Scottish Ballet, Opera North and City of London Sinfonia. In addition, she has made several recordings and has appeared on broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.

If Slater’s music is synonymous with the Royal Albert Hall, Ryan Quigley is all Ronnie Scott’s. The award-winning jazz trumpet player has toured the world with stars such as Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Michael Buble and George Michael. He also dips into the classical world with guest performances with the Halle Orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the BBC Big Band.

To say the past three years have been a challenge for the couple is probably the understatement of the decade. The death of both musicians’ fathers; coping with the collapse of the music sector during the lockdown period; and the nightmarish trauma of caring for a child with a rare condition, who’s life began with major life-saving surgery and a long stay in intensive care and a continued need for round the clock care, have all conspired to make the past three years as difficult as can be.

But Slater and Quigley show remarkable resilience and an extensive friends network that has allowed them to dream of taking a new musical direction.

“We want to do meaningful musical events here in Norfolk,” says Slater. “We bought the house with that plan in mind and we are determined to make it happen. There have been times we have considered selling the house, cutting our losses and moving away, but the response to our first set of concerts has given us the belief that we can make this work.”

And the first few concerts have set the bar high. Slater has called on musician friends from across the UK to collaborate in house concerts, both in their home and at stately homes across the county.

A regular member of Slater’s group is Adam Johnson. Living in Norfolk, Johnson is a world famous pianist who is equally at home performing solo in a concert recital as he is playing chamber music or directing his own compositions.

Tim Lowe is another close friend and colleague who is a key part of the story. He is a regular Guest Principal Cello with many major UK orchestras, including the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

“The first few concerts were really to test the water,” says Slater. “The plan is to link a house concert with a concert at a stately home or iconic venue. As a result of the first house concert we were unexpectedly invited to perform at Hindringham Hall and Wolterton Park, to capacity audiences.”

Slater is in the process of scheduling a series of monthly concerts for 2022.

In the meantime, Quigley is giving a one-off performance at Hall Farm House on 22nd December when guests will be treated to a repertoire from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin.

As guests trooped out of the first concert to take place at Hall Farm House there was an air of stunned amazement. “Did we really just sit through a concert of that quality here in East Winch?” asked one bemused guest.

“Shhh”, replied her friend. We don’t want everyone to know about it.”

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