Hampton Court Palace Festival kicks off summer of music in style

After a raucous opening night headlined by Lionel Ritchie on June 5, the 26th annual Hampton Court Palace Festival will play host to acts including The Beach Boys, Tom Jones and Paloma Faith.

The grand finale on June 23 will, as every year, be a fanfare rendition with fireworks from the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (RPCO).

RPCO violinist Sheila Law has worked for numerous orchestras since leaving college nearly 20 years ago, and in her time has played in everything from high-classical renditions to Boyzone music videos.

“In a funny way,” she said. “I actually particularly enjoy the pop gigs.

“I see it as bringing the best of live music, these trained symphonic players, to the poppier stuff.”

It can be difficult to fully appreciate a show from an orchestra pit, however.

She added:“There was one time when I was just playing and all my friends came up to me afterwards like, ‘Oh my word, we can’t believe you were up there playing with Noel Gallagher!’ I didn’t even know Noel was there.

“For the audience though, that combination of pop with great symphonic musicians is fabulous.”

She is open about the challenges she’s surmounted to make it as a freelance performer.

She said: “It can be lonely and frustrating. There are so many people out there that could do your job just as well. It would be easy to care too much and never to relax.”

Being self-employed and in competition with one another, performers, especially early in a career, can feel isolating and lack formal support networks.

Sheila said: “And so many people have expectation heaped upon them by families or colleges and it becomes really crushing.”

Sheila believes that having a hinterland of interests and friends beyond music has helped get her through.

“I try hard to keep a family life; I have a church life that’s really fabulous,” she added.

“It can be difficult, with evenings and weekends pretty much out.”

She doesn’t play music at church, and they know not to ask her.

“I can use my other gifts and help with the children’s group.

“There are lots of ways to serve church and if I were just playing music Sunday wouldn’t be a day of rest.”

Playing Hampton Court is a treat for Sheila, who says it is a stunning venue which reminds her of playing in Spain’s Alhambra.

Nevertheless, she says: “It’s what we would call an upper-end muddy field, an outdoor venue.

“They’re risky. It’s not so much me but the violin I have to keep dry.

“There was this one venue in Crystal Palace where the stage didn’t protect you and you either burned or were soaked.”

Concert standard violins can reach the value of a small house.

Sheila points out that individual performers are liable for their own instruments, so will be quite careful about which ‘muddy fields’ offer sufficient protection.

She notes: “Nobody wants to fork out £4,000 to touch up a wet violin.”

Sheila says that the running order for the Hampton Court finale is bound to be good, but she herself will only get a couple of hours to peruse it on the day.

“That’s why I have to practice every day even at my age. The first step is getting it out of the case. Otherwise, I’d slip up and never get booked.”

What: Hampton Court Palace Festival
Where: Hampton Court Palace, Molesey, East Molesey KT8 9A
When: June 5-June 23
How: Short walk from Hampton Court station

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