THE Minehead and Exmoor Music Festival has been saved from extinction thanks to the extraordinary dedication of its participants and supporters.

For more than 60 years, this festival, the only one of its kind in West Somerset, has brought 60-70 first-rate musicians to Minehead from across the UK to form an entire symphony orchestra, performing a series of superb orchestral concerts featuring internationally-renowned soloists.

But following its triumphant Diamond Jubilee season last year, the festival nearly folded. Conductor Richard Dickins stepped down after 42 years at the helm, and most of the festival’s longstanding committee-members also felt it was time to retire.

For a while the festival’s future hung in the balance. However, orchestra-member Paula Tysall and committee-member Mike Dewar were determined not to let it die.

Having checked that the orchestra-members were keen to continue (they were!) Mike and Paula rapidly formed a new committee and recruited rising star Christopher Stark, co-founder of the award-winning Multi-Story Orchestra, to conduct the Festival for 2024.

Described by The Guardian’s music critic as conducting with great flair and intelligence, Christopher has conducted his orchestra three times at the BBC Proms.

The Festival’s 61st season is now almost here. Virtuoso violinist Callum Smart, who first took part in 2022 to a storm of acclaim, makes his third appearance this year to perform Mozart’s beautiful 4th Violin Concerto on Monday, July 22, in the first of the Festival’s three orchestral concerts at Minehead’s Regal Theatre.

A second concert on Wednesday, July 24, features a mouthwatering programme from Fauré and Ravel to Stravinsky’s Petrushka, and the final orchestral concert on Saturday, July 27, includes Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony and Ravel’s wonderfully entertaining G major piano concerto with its touches of jazz, with soloist Jill Morton at the piano. 

A festival spokesman said in a statement: “True to tradition, the festival will open on Sunday, July 21 with a young musicians recital at Minehead Avenue Methodist Church, when two outstanding young performers will be showcasing their talent.

“The recital will feature 18-year-old Grace Olding on flute, and 20-year-old multi-instrumental performer Louis Benneyworth, who will include pieces on oboe and cor anglais in his programme. Grace is currently studying at Millfield School, and will be continuing her studies this autumn at London’s prestigious Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music. Louis won the Taunton Young Musician award in 2023, and has already combined performing, composing and conducting in his early musical career.”

To complete the picture, the Festival Orchestra’s wind ensemble will give a chamber concert at Minehead Avenue Methodist Church on the afternoon of Thursda, July 25, performing pieces by composers ranging from Mozart to the present day.

The statement added: “One final ingredient completes the magic of this festival - the local community. It is, without a doubt, a festival that has been worth saving.”

Orchestral concert tickets are on sale at the Regal Theatre. The concerts at the Methodist Church are free and un-ticketed. Full details can be found at