Celebrate International Women’s Day with Buxton International Festival

This International Women’s Day, BIF is proud to celebrate the women appearing in the 2022 programme – from emerging writers, composers and musicians to renowned academics, commentators and public figures.

Coming to Buxton this summer is Our Future in Your Hands, a specially written oratorio giving voice to the hopes and fears of young people in the face of the climate crisis. Behind the oratorio are Kate Whitley, composer, and Laura Attridge, writer.

Co-founder of the Multi-Story Orchestra and composer of works performed on Radio 3 and as part of the BBC Proms, Whitley writes for voice and instrumentalists, as well as to accompany spoken word. Her composition Speak Now, commissioned for International Women’s Day 2017, was written to words by activist Malala Yousafzai. Laura Attridge directed the 2021 Festival’s production of Cendrillon. Much of her work as a writer centres on women’s voices, particularly Damsel/Wife/Witch, focusing on the perspective of women in fairy tales.

Playwright and screenwriter Alice Birch’s work often leans towards the political and the feminist. She was commissioned by the RSC to write a play based on the prompt ‘well-behaved women seldom make history’, and has worked with feminist theatre company RashDash. She has written the libretto for Violet in this year’s programme, an opera exploring the reaction of society in general, and one woman in particular, to chaos and uncertainty.

Our music events feature an exciting array of young women, leading the next generation of performers.

Our programme boasts the talents of nineteen-year-old pianist and cellist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason. Aged 15 she was a finalist for BBC Young Musician of the Year, in the keyboard category, and currently holds the Victoria Robey scholarship at the Royal College of Music. She will be performing a range of classical piano pieces at St. John’s Church. Jess Gillam performed at the Last Night of the Proms in 2018, and aged 23 is already an MBE for services to music. She was the first saxophonist to reach the final round of BBC Young Musician, and featured on the album ‘Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls’, celebrating inspirational women in music.

The books programme features a host of empowered women, ranging from teenage baker Kitty Tait, telling the story of her family’s relationship with baking, to Lady Hale, who in 2017 became the first woman to serve as President of the Supreme Court. Perhaps best known for finding Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament to be unlawful, she has called for more balance and representation in UK courts, especially in terms of women and people from less privileged backgrounds, recognising the importance that this would have on the public’s faith in the justice system.

Katherine MacInnes brings unexplored perspectives to the fore in her book Snow Widows, focusing on the lives of the women behind the race to the South Pole, and Rebecca Williams becomes the third woman in her family to be connected with the Festival, discussing the reissue of her late mother Shirley Williams’ autobiography and appearing on the same programme as events celebrating her grandmother Vera Brittain. Elsewhere in the programme are historians Frances Spalding, Anna Keay and Lindsey Fitzharris, journalist Christina Lamb, Emeritus Professor Zoe Playdon, and lawyer Colleen Graffy, bringing her experience of working for the US State Department to a panel discussion on American Presidents.

Several of our events this year celebrate women connected with Buxton. The Women of Note walk explores the importance of spa towns through the letters of three famous women who visited the area – Mary, Queen of Scots, Anne Lister and Ottoline Morrell, all of whom came to Buxton seeking the health benefits of the water. Perhaps the most famous historical resident of Buxton was Vera Brittain, celebrated in the book event Vera Brittain: Buxton’s Daughter? and the walk Vera Brittain at the Devonshire Dome.

In the opera series, we have portraits of two formidable women – Cleopatra and Madame Rose. While at first glance they seem very different, it is interesting to draw comparisons between two women immortalised in fiction, and often receiving a mixed reception for their independence, moral complexity and search for power.

On a day celebrating the achievements of women, Buxton International Festival is delighted to showcase the range, talent and success of the women in our 2022 programme – and we look forward to welcoming them (and you!) to Buxton this summer.