About the Festival

The Festival was started in 1963 as an extension of the Minehead Concert Society and Arts Society, instituted by Tim Reynish, a teacher at Minehead School. The first Festival Orchestra was made up of relatives and friends. By 1966 the Festival was almost entirely run by a committee of school pupils. Starting with a budget of £200, the Festival grew and grew, and by 1967, with a budget of £800, the Festival’s venues included Minehead, Dunster, Taunton, Halsway Manor (National Centre for Folk Arts), Dulverton and Exeter Cathedral.

The Festival gradually broadened its scope, with a first week of schools concerts, brass bands, morris dancing, jazz and a play, and a second week of chamber and orchestral music, with folk dancing and an art & craft exhibition completing the picture.

In 1972 Peter O’Brien from Exeter University took up the conductor’s baton, with an orchestra combining youth and experience. Richard Dickins then took over as conductor and Artistic Director, retiring in 2023 after an impressive 42 years at the helm. Many orchestra members have come back every year with Richard as the Minehead maestro, with some giving up prestigious engagements to take part. In 2023, the Festival celebrated its Diamond Jubilee, giving Richard a fitting occasion for his final appearance. Maya Magub who resides and works in Hollywood has led the orchestra for many years, however this year David Burton; longstanding Minehead Festival violinist, will be leading the Festival Orchestra. 2024 also sees Christopher Stark, co-founder of the award-winning Multi-Story Orchestra, take up the conductor’s baton, with an exciting programme for the Festival’s 61st season.

Moments of tension and hilarity have always existed. Getting a contra-bassoon through the lanes to Dulverton in time for a third movement, mislaying a tenor during the interval at Halsway, the Arnold Festival Overture with percussion section on pistol and carpet cleaners, Britten’s Sea Interludes with shark special effect and the 1812 cannons with audience on paper bags! There was also the time when we blew all the fuses in Dunster Church and committee members carried an urn full of boiling water through the streets of Dunster for the interval refreshments.

It is a unique event – the only time when a full symphony orchestra comes to West Somerset. The players are drawn from all over the country but most come from the London area, where many of them perform with well-established orchestras and chamber groups. The Festival is run by a committee of volunteers and relies on the local community to host orchestra members. Many have become family friends. It is no surprise the Festival has lasted so long. In addition to the superb quality of music, which continues to attract a loyal and enthusiastic audience, West Somerset provides a setting unrivalled in natural beauty, with its combination of sea, moor, thatched cottages and fine churches.

Come and join us and see for yourself!


Meet the new Minehead Festival committee

Co-Chair: Michael Dewar
Co-Chair: Paula Tysall
Secretary: Elizabeth Atkinson
Accommodation: Emily Feldberg
Treasurer: Tracey Thurlow
Young Musicians Coordinator: Ruth Gasperini
Publicity & Web Design: Elliott DeVivo

We’d also like to thank our fabulous fixers for all their hard work booking our Festival Players:

Violins & Violas: Jane Tyler
Cellos & Basses: Sarah Boxall
Woodwind: Tracey Thurlow
Brass: Danny Scott
Horns: Jo Towler
Percussion: Ben Martin

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© Minehead and Exmoor Festival Society (Reg. Charity No. 260276)
Minehead Music Festival