The Lute Society: Lutefest 2019 2020 Review

Reflections and review of the Lute Society residential playing weekend - Lutefest 2019 and 2020

I have been especially fortunate to have been granted the opportunity to attend the Benslow LuteFest twice as a recipient of a Lute Society bursary. Both in March 2019 and March 2020. Both courses were influential and unforgettable experiences for me, as it is a rare pleasure to spend three intensive days rubbing shoulders with so many lutenists while being fully immersed in live lute music-making!

I had the pleasure of meeting many world-renowned lute tutors at both Lute Fests: Linda Sayce, Jacob Heringman, Roy Marks and Gian Luca Lastraioli in 2019, and Nigel North, Michal Gondko and Linda Sayce once again in 2020. As a young student and aspiring professional musician, spending time with these musicians was a source of such inspiration to me -- whether it was by having one-to-one lessons, attending or playing in a number of masterclasses, hearing the tutor concerts during the course of the weekend, or even simply having a chat over dinner.

Speaking of dinners, I cannot help but mention that the accommodation and catering at Benslow Music is fantastic. Mealtimes also offer the opportunity to socialise with everyone on the course, and I have always enjoyed spending time singing lute songs or madrigals at the bar at the end of an evening. The campus also contains many purpose-built music rooms, so there is space for participants to form their own ensembles and work on repertoire during the course of each day. Additionally, there are two concert halls where larger group work and the tutor and student concerts take place. It’s also worth spending some time in the grounds which surround the buildings, as they are beautiful. It’s an idyllic location, which enhances the experience of the whole event.

At the LuteFest I have made some of the most valuable connections with other players, lute makers, and singers. To give just one example: when I came to my first LuteFest in 2019, I did not yet have a lute of my own. It was at Benslow that I was able to meet and speak to several lute makers for the first time, and even try out some of their instruments. Practically all of the course attendees (very generously) offer their lutes to be tried by anyone during the three days, and it’s particularly valuable to have this opportunity to try instruments as a student. I met the lute maker Tony Johnson and got the chance to try out some of his lutes at Benslow, and this meeting actually resulted in my ordering of a beautiful 8-course Renaissance lute which, funnily enough, was completed before the LuteFest of 2020 where I was able to showcase it!

I have also met several wonderful singers at the LuteFest, some of whom I have since formed duos with, and many firm friendships were formed there. The festival is such a special concentration of lute players and enthusiasts, it is quite impossible not to form lasting connections with so many of the other attendees. If you are a lute student, I wholeheartedly recommend the course. There are so many valuable experiences to be gained from it!

Sara Salloum

See further details about LuteFest at Benslow.