Arts Derbyshire


Buxton International Festival

A Knockout Festival of Opera, Jazz, Music and Books

6-23 July 2023 

Buxton International Festival offers a knockout line-up of opera, jazz, music and books between Thursday 6 July and Sunday 23 July 2023. The programme features more than 120 events over 17 days in the heart of Derbyshire’s Peak District.

Festival highlights include three new opera productions, Vincenzo Bellini’s La sonnambula,

GF Handel’s Orlando and Mozart’s Il re pastore. BIF and Norwich Theatre launch a brand-new musical based on the early life of Buxton’s Vera Brittain, with music by Ivor Novello, entitled The Land Of Might-Have-Been. The jazz line-up includes the iconic trumpeter Wynton Marsalis plus pianist/vocalist Tom Seals and The Super Big Tramp Band. The concerts’ programme features Nicola Benedetti and The English Concert, The King’s Singers, Sarah Connolly, Lucy Crowe, Joanna MacGregor and Gwilym Simcock. The books guests include playwright Sir David Hare, Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen, MP Jesse Norman, vaccine queen Dame Kate Bingham, writer, communicator and strategist Alastair Campbell and journalists Gary Younge and Polly Toynbee amongst others.

Commenting Adrian Kelly, BIF’s artistic director said: “Buxton International Festival has firmly established itself in the cultural calendar.  It’s an unapologetically ambitious, creative and accessible festival that takes risks and entertains. 2023 will be no different – bold, brave and back in full technicolour.”

CEO Michael Williams adds: “It’s a stop-in-your-tracks, shout-from-the-rooftops festival this year.  Buxton 2023 is full to the brim with daring and excellence. It’s contemporary, relevant, reflective and provocative with sumptuous opera, glorious music and opinion-forming book talks.  We reach for the stars in Buxton, make no mistake.”


 Opera highlights include:

  • Vincenzo Bellini’s La sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), a Buxton International Festival Production with the Northern Chamber Orchestra (8-22 July in Buxton Opera House). This opera semi-seria, Bellini’s first great masterpiece, is in two acts and tells of jilted love, jealousy and innocence-rewarded.

La Sonnambula will be conducted by Adrian Kelly and directed by Harry Fehr, following his acclaimed production of another Bellini opera at BIF, I Capuleti e I Montecchi, in 2016.

  • WA Mozart’s Il re pastore (The Shepherd King), a Buxton International Festival Production, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra (9-20 July, Buxton Opera House), conducted by Adrian Kelly and directed by the young star Jack Furness who makes his Buxton debut.

Mozart was just 19 years old when he wrote Il re pastore in 1775 at the command of the Prince of Salzburg for the royal visit of Archduke Maximillian Francis of Austria.

Libretto by Metastasio based on the play ‘Aminta’ by Torquato Tasso

  • GF Handel’s baroque opera seria Orlando performed by Liberata Collective and Ensemble Hesperi directed by Adrian Butterfield (10, 14 and 21 July. Pavilion Arts Centre). One of the three Handel operas based on Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso,Orlando premiered at the King’s Theatre in London on 27 January 1722 and now considered a masterpiece.

Christian Joel sings the title role, and is joined on stage by Olivia Doutney, MacRae, Joanna Harries and Jolyon Loy.


Buxton International Festival and Norwich Theatre launch a ground-breaking new co-production for 2023, ‘The Land Of Might-Have-Been’ (7-22 July, Buxton Opera House).  This bold new musical is built around the songs of Ivor Novello and is loosely based on incidents in the early life of Buxton’s pioneering feminist and pacifist Vera Brittain and the intriguing lives, loves and motivations of those closest to her.

The Land Of Might-Have-Been, with book and lyrics by Michael Williams, follows on from the success of another Buxton-inspired triumph, Williams’ award-winning opera, Georgiana.  It will be directed by Kimberley Sykes, conducted by Iwan Davies, designed by Nicky Shaw with the music of Ivor Novello, including such lovely songs as My Dearest Dear, Waltz of My Heart, My Life Belongs To you and Why Is There Ever Goodbye, arranged with additional composition by Iain Farrington.   Farrington has recently been commissioned to write a piece for His Majesty The King’s Coronation.

2023 JAZZ 

Following the success of jazz at Buxton last year, sights are set high. Iconic trumpeter Wynton Marsalis tops the bill for 2023, performing with a band of his friends in Buxton Opera House on 10 July (their only appearance in Europe in 2023).  Other jazz highlights include:

  • Super Big Tramp Band (performing the music of Supertramp with an 18-piece big band fronted by chief soloist John Helliwell (8 July, PAC);
  • Pianist/vocalist Tom Seals who brings his sextet to Buxton, fresh from his Sky Arts show and sell out gigs at Birdland, Ronnie Scott’s and Cheltenham Jazz Festival (9 July Palace Hotel) .
  • Superstar American soul singer, Madeline Bell, who brings her show, Bacharach, Dusty and Me with Ian Shaw on piano (15 July, PAC);
  • Saxophonist Tommy Smith who has recorded with Chick Corea and Randy Brecker (10 July, Palace Hotel);
  • New Orleans boogie-woogie pianist Dale Storr (6 July, Palace Hotel);
  • Shez Raja is the hottest bass player around leading his own band (8 July, PAC).

Due to popular demand, the ‘Jazz Weekender’ ticket returns for the opening weekend of the festival (6-10 July). The Weekender also includes a ticket to ‘The Land Of Might Have Been’ plus one of the Festival’s top book events, an afternoon with playwright Sir David Hare.

The Festival also offers a new Jazz Café at the Pavilion Gardens Restaurant, a late-night venue with concerts starting at 10pm, open for three nights (13, 14 and 21 July) starring the Julie Edwards Quintet, Steve Williams,  The Most Wanted and the Graham Clark Quartet.

Neil Hughes, BIF’s jazz director comments: “Building on last year’s success, there are big bands, late-night concerts and gospel this year plus we are adding even more into the mix. 2023 is going to be spectacular.”

2023 BOOKS

Buxton leads the way in conversation and debate with its line-up of authors, commentators and politicians.  Top guests for 2023 include award-winning English playwright, screenwriter, theatre and film director Sir David Hare (8 July) who discusses his latest collection of essays and poems: We Travelled; and Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller (14 July) discusses his book Art is Magic.

One of the linking themes across the BIF books programme this year is lived experience. BBC journalists Jeremy Bowen (11 July) and Edward Stourton  (18 July) are guests and The Guardian’s editor-at-large, Gary Younge (7 July) whose award-winning journalism has been fundamental to our knowledge of social issues across the US and UK. Alistair Campbell (22 July) comes to discuss his new book, But What Can I Do? Why Politics Has Gone So Wrong and How You Can Help Fix It.

Two sitting MPs will be with us to discuss two very different books, Conservative MP Jesse Norman (21 July) will talk about The Winding Stair, his novel of the Elizabethan and Jacobean court.  Labour MP Nick Thomas-Symonds (20 July) will discuss his acclaimed biography of Harold Wilson. The House of Lords is represented by Baroness Catherine Ashton (11 July), former diplomat and the EU’s first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, and Lord Finkelstein OBE (14 July) – columnist, political commentator and author of a heart-breaking family memoir of Jewish experience across the 20th Century.

Extraordinary families abound this year. Two welcome-returners to the Buxton stage are Social Commentator Polly Toynbee (8 July) with a memoir of her extraordinary family which looks at class and meritocracy. Colin Grant (14 July), last with us at the height of the Windrush Scandal, shares the stories of his aspirational Jamaican family in Britain and looks at the legacy of his Uncle Castus’s favourite refrain ‘I’m black so you don’t have to be.’

Joining our roll of amazing women is Sara Wheeler (18 July), traveling via Antarctica and across the world to become one of the UK’s foremost explorers. Isabella Tree’s (22 July) seminal book Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm has become the touchstone for re-wilding movement and an inspiration to many nature conservation projects small and large. Dame Kate Bingham (21 July) was Chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce during the COVID pandemic. Her leadership was praised by scientists and the international media for setting up the trials, manufacturing and distribution of vaccines.

Victoria Dawson, books director commented “Our guest authors are often surprised by the beauty of our town, the calibre of their fellow speakers and the world class quality of our music and operas. Perhaps it’s time to share our more than four-decade long secret.”

2023 MUSIC

Buxton’s classical music programme always celebrates the UK’s most acclaimed musicians.  Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti and The English Concert (10 July) perform Vivaldi in Buxton Opera House, pianist Paul Lewis (19 July) presents the first two parts of a four-part Schubert programme (to be completed in 2024). Joanna McGregor (14 July) returns with a programme that showcases her inimitable flair from Bach to Piazzolla. Another of the country’s leading pianists, Peter Donohoe, appears alongside clarinettist Sacha Rattle (18 July) with the juxtaposition of late Brahms and early Berg.  Dame Shirley J Thompson, who has written a work for His Majesty The King’s Coronation, brings her one-woman opera, Women of the Windrush, sung by lyric soprano Nadine Benjamin (21 July).

The song recitals this year have been curated by Joseph Middleton, whose “Seasons” series, brings together four of the country’s finest singers Nicky Spence – Spring (11 July),  Lucy Crowe – Summer (12 July), Dame Sarah Connolly – Autumn (14 July) and Ashley Riches – Winter (15 July).

Other chamber music highlights include Festival favourites the Sacconi Quartet (12 July), the award-winning Sitkovetsky Trio (11 July), The Solis and Paddington Trios (13 July) and the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective (19 July), associate ensemble at London’s Wigmore Hall. The King’s Singers (13 July) make their Buxton debut and Gwilym Simcock returns with the Rob Buckland Sextet to perform Debussy and Ravel (22 July).

Festival Timeline

The full programme is announced today (Tuesday 21 February).

The Festival brochure will be available from Tuesday 21 February online and in print on ??

Priority Booking opens on 7 March 2023

Public Booking on 4 April 2023.

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