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Penny Adie, Two Moors Festival Director

PUBLISHED: 16:35 29 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:29 20 February 2013

Photo by Mike Alsford.

Photo by Mike Alsford.

Penny Adie, the Artistic Director of the Two Moors Festival, talks to Sarah Ford about the history of the event. Photo by Mike Alsford.

Festival began in 2001 in order to give Exmoor and Dartmoor a much-needed boost after the devastation caused by foot-and-mouth disease. Attracting high-profile performers such as Julian Lloyd Webber, the event ranks equal alongside other national and international festivals in the UK.

Over the last three years the festival has visited 40 local schools with its music workshops and in 2007 an opera commissioned by the festival entitled Tarka the Otter won Best Stage Work in the BBC British Composers Awards.

Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex is patron of the festival, which will take place from 9-19 October in association with Classic FM, and is billed as the radio station's 'festival in the South West'. But perhaps the event is now best known for the tragedy of the dropped piano - more of which later!

This year no less than 27 concerts are packed into nine days of performances in rural churches across the 1,000 square miles of Exmoor and Dartmoor, and the couple who work tirelessly to ensure everything runs like clockwork are Penny and John Adie.

I travelled to their Exmoor home on the county boundary line near North Molton and found it to be a hive of activity. Local student Amy, here on work experience, is taking ticket bookings in the box office under the stairs. John is busy with administration tasks while Penny pours tea for us all and recalls the effects the foot-and-mouth crisis had on the area.

"It was not just the farmers who were knocked sideways, but people from other walks of life as well," she explains. "People were desperate. It did not matter what you did for a living, your life was devastated in a short space of time. From the hill here you can see for miles and, on a clear day, we could see and smell the pyres. It was an awful sight."

Penny, a professional singer and pianist who studied at the Royal Academy of Music and also in Salzburg, suggested launching a classical music festival to bring visitors back to the area. She was not new to the idea, having already staged concerts with high-flying musicians for many years.

"John worked for the Omani Government and when we moved to Muscat with our three children in 1986 I realised there was a fantastic opportunity to put on a concert in a beautiful auditorium built by the Sultan in 1984."

Penny's concerts toured the Middle East until she and John came back to England in 1994 with their three young daughters.

"Then I was made an MBE for services to music, which was a huge surprise and rather astonishing really!" laughs Penny.

At their Exmoor home the couple have converted a barn into a music room. Since 1995 they have staged 73 events here.

But venues for concerts during this month's Two Moors Festival are churches across the area, including St George's in Dunster, St Michael's, Milverton, and All Saints' in Dulverton.

"We chose churches because a church is the nucleus of a village and the aim of the festival is to regenerate the area and to take music of the highest possible level into rural places."

This year's programme includes 'Beethoven and Biscuits', teatime performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies as duets involving 18 pianists. So the festival's Bšsendorfer is going to be kept very busy.

As Penny tells me this, my eyes are drawn to the garden where last year a grand piano worth £45,000 and paid for by supporters of the festival, fell from the delivery truck down an embankment.

Shots of the accident were captured by Penny who happened to be taking pictures for the festival scrapbook. On Easter Monday they e-mailed the pictures to the Western Morning News and within two hours the Press Association was on the line. The pictures of the tumble were subsequently seen all over the world.

John comes into the kitchen as Penny fetches the book of press cuttings - a mighty tome.

"The phone didn't stop for 48 hours," he recalls. "At one stage Penny was on the line talking to Radio Toronto and I was on the other phone being interviewed by the BBC World Service."

The incident had a happy ending as the Viennese piano makers Bšsendorfer presented the festival with a beautiful brand new concert grand. "The story still comes up from time to time," says John. "It was on University Challenge as a question. And on Have I Got News for You, Jeremy Clarkson described the damage to the piano in four-letter words, which were bleeped out in the pre-watershed version!"

FURTHER INFORMATION

For details of this year's Two Moors Festival 01643 831370 or visit www.thetwomoorsfestival.com;

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