St Andrews Voices Festival: An Interview with the Festival Director

Ahead of the upcoming St Andrews Voices Festival, now in it’s 4th year, I caught up with the Festival Director, Sonia Stevenson, to find out all about the Festival and the performers who will be coming to our beautiful town next week!

Owl Eyes: So first off, where did you get the inspiration or the idea to set up the St Andrews Voices Festival?

Sonia Stevenson: St Andrews is a very special place. I was lucky enough to grow up here and almost every day of the week I was singing in a choir, playing in an orchestra, going to a concert, gig or play. But it wasn’t till I moved away that I realized just how exceptional it is. It may be a small town, but St Andrews punches well above its weight in terms of international recognition, and cultural offering. However, there is one thing that St Andrews lacked, a professional music festival.

The idea for St Andrews Voices came when I visited the Aldeburgh Festival in Suffolk. I was struck by the similarities of Aldeburgh and St Andrews and wondered why there was no music festival in my hometown. I mentioned this to Michael Downes, Director of Music at the University of St Andrews, who told me that he’d been thinking exactly the same. Together we dreamed up a new festival; one that had a unique focus – the voice – and one that would bring different audiences – young and old, classical and non-classical – together.

st andrews voices

OE: What kind of events can people look forward to during the festival?

SS: St Andrews Voices is Scotland’s only vocal and choral festival, so every event is linked to singing in some way. Our aim is to celebrate the voice in lots of eclectic ways, and this year’s programme is as diverse as ever! We have…

  • Opera: Scottish Opera’s production of Mozart’s much-loved ‘Cosi fan tutte’

(7.30pm, Sat 24th Oct, Byre Theatre)

  • Cabaret: with start of TV’s Miranda, Patricia Hodge

(3pm, Sun 25th Oct, Byre Theatre)

  • A sing-a-long film: Disney’s classic, The Jungle Book

(10am, Sat 24th Oct, Byre Theatre)

  • A cappella: Voces8 plus special local guests The Other Guys & The Alleycats

(3pm, Sat 24th Oct, Younger Hall)

  • Choral music: Voces8 and the choir of St Salvator’s Chapel

(10pm, Fri 23rd Oct, All Saints Church, 11am, Sun 25th Oct, St Salvator’s Chapel)

  • A song recital: one of the finest tenors of his generation, John Mark Ainsley

(7.30pm, Fri 23rd Oct, Younger Hall)

  • Literary events: acclaimed authors Janice Galloway and Dr Alan Watson

(11am, Sat 24th Oct, Hotel du Vin)

  • A masterclass and a workshop: for young singers and young composers

(3pm and 7pm, Thurs 22nd Oct, Younger Hall and St Leonard’s Chapel)

Our artists in residence are the world-renowned vocal ensemble, Voces8. They can turn their extraordinary voices to just about anything and their two concerts are going to be really special. The first is a late-night candlelit performance in All Saints Church; an unforgettable hour of chant, polyphony, spirituals and candlelit processions inspired by the theme of light. For their second performance they’ll be teaming up with St Andrews’ very own legendary a cappella groups The Other Guys and The Alleycats (performing together for the first time!) for a showcase of amazing a cappella music including arrangements of Adele, Pharrell Williams, Ben Folds, Duke Ellington and lots more!

voces 8

OE: What do you think of the venue spaces here in St Andrews? How well does it work as a town for hosting a festival?

SS: I can’t think of anywhere better than St Andrews for a festival. Not only is it one of the most beautiful towns in Scotland, but we’re blessed with some amazing venues. I think the festival experience is like going on a cultural journey and I like to try and match certain events with certain spaces. So for instance, All Saints Church – one of the town’s most gorgeous and relatively unknown little churches – plays host to our late-night candlelit concert. The Younger Hall, with its fantastic acoustic and lovely 1920s décor, is the venue for our song recital and a cappella concert. And for our more intimate literary salon, we’re in the opulent surroundings of Hotel du Vin. I’m also absolutely delighted that we’re able to use the Byre Theatre again – surely one of the country’s best small theatres! – for our opera, cabaret and film events.


OE: A few of the events are free which is really great! How important is it for you as a festival to try and be as accessible as possible to a wide range of people who are interested in music?

SS: It’s absolutely vital that the festival reaches out to new audiences and we’ve always included free events as part of our offering. It’s also important that as a festival we help to encourage the musical talent of the future. With that in mind, we have two free educational events. The first is a public masterclass where young singers from across Scotland will be coached by star tenor John Mark Ainsley. If you’ve ever wanted to find out the nuts and bolts of singing well, now’s your chance! The second is a workshop for budding young composers who will have a chance to workshop their piece Voces8 and composer Philip Stopford. This will be a great opportunity to discover what it’s like to write music for choirs.

Our other free events include the festival service with the University’s flagship Choir of St Salvator’s Chapel, and a morning of songs and stories for wee ones at Toppings Bookshop.

other guys

OE: Do you try to find a good balance between local music and bringing musicians here to St Andrews?

SS: Yes, definitely. It’s very much a case of balancing some of the best things musically St Andrews has to offer (e.g., St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, The Other Guys and The Alleycats), with events that celebrate Scottish talent more widely (e.g. Scottish Opera and Janice Galloway), alongside performers with a world-wide following (e.g. Voces8 and John Mark Ainsley).

OE: Are there any particular musicians you would love to have here at the festival?

If money and availability were no issue my wish list would include classical singers such as Bryn Terfal, Jonas Kauffman and Joyce DiDonato; pop and jazz legends like Bjork and Angélique Kidjo; a choir like the Latvian Radio Choir (they have footballer star-like status in Latvia!); some musical comedy from Tim Minchin or Bill Bailey; and folk from likes of Kate Rusby, Kathyn Tickell or Sting. But I suspect all this might blow the budget!

St Andrews Voices runs 22-25 October 2015.

For more information about the festival please see

Or follow them on Twitter (@standrewsvoices) and Facebook (St Andrews Voices).

Tickets start at £4 and a festival pass for students and anyone under 26 is just £35.

***SPECIAL OFFER – £5 student tickets for John Mark Ainsley’s song recital on 23rd October***

Tickets are available from the Byre Theatre

01334 47500

A limited number of tickets will be available on the door at each event, but please note that some events are already sold out, so book in advance to avoid disappointment.