The power of friendship shines through the festival of youth

FRIENDSHIP was the theme of this year’s Henley Youth Festival and it shone brighter than ever.

Volunteers have helped ensure the event takes place for the 29th year, having been canceled last year due to the covid pandemic.

Hundreds of children from Henley and surrounding areas, aged four to 18, took part in nine days of workshops, competitions, music and dance performances, sports and art.

Venues included the Kenton Theater in New Street and the River & Rowing Museum.

Laura Matthews, who chaired the festival for the first time, said she was impressed by the quality of the young people’s work.

She said: “It was great to reunite with everyone after the festival couldn’t take place last year.

“It was nice to see everyone’s smiling faces and so many people told me how much they had missed it. We had new things, like the school mural contest, and so many starters that were so good.

“This year’s theme fit so well with what’s going on in the world right now – it was really relevant.

“We had fewer applicants than in previous years, probably because people aren’t coming out of the pandemic as much yet and it feels like the events in particular aren’t fully prepared.

“But we had phenomenal performances. I’ve been to each and enjoyed them all. Next year it would be great to get schools more involved earlier and to have more parents on board as we always need new volunteers.

Miss Matthews, who attended the festival as a child, said she had an ‘amazing’ team helping to organize the festival. “It was really helpful considering it was my first time hosting the festival,” she said. “We had veterans and they’re so good at it, they made it so much easier.”

Seventeen musicians and singers performed at the Unplugged event, held in Kenton on Friday.

It was open to young people in grades 5 to 13 who could perform any genre of music without a backing track.

The main focus was on classical with children playing piano, violin, guitar, clarinet and ukulele.

Guitarist Issac Urch opened the show with white stripes’ We are going to be friends. Pianist Ben Baldeon interpreted Tarantella (No. 4 of Children’s Music, Op. 65) by Sergey Prokofiev and Starry Dome (No. 15 of Piano Meditation) by George Nevada.

Her sister A spring announced to the sound of raindrops in her interpretation of Allegro, the third movement of Mozart’s Sonata in E, K. 282), and lavender field by Karen Tanaka.

The second half opened with pianists Ayden Yasin and Maya Kirbas playing Bach’s Prelude in C minor one after the other.

Juliette Hogan played The first snowflakes are falling by Helen Madden on piano and The folia on the violin.

Edward Palmer offered the public against the current by Vance Joy on the Ukulele, then played the clarinet.

Martha GollEdge closed the show playing 4th gnossian by Erik Satie at the piano.

Louise Earl, the festival’s performing arts coordinator, said: “It was so wonderful to see the artists return to the stage after last year’s absence.

“The level of performance was incredibly high and it’s encouraging to see that the youngsters are still playing and wanting to perform. We aim to build on that for next year.

Kenton also hosted Senior Variety on Saturday night, the festival’s final event.

It was introduced by Oliver George, a drama student at Henley College.

Twenty-four dancers and three singers performed a number of styles, including contemporary, ballet and jazz.

Eight girls from Springbox Gymnatics performed back somersaults, somersaults and aerial cartwheels to Fireballwhile wearing fiery orange and gold costumes.

Alix and Holly Maxwell, who were attending the festival for the second time, sang let me be your star of the musical To break.

Yasmin Rigby and Isabella Stobie starred Girls just wanna have funwearing pink rara skirts and leggings.

They bowed out holding a painting of Ukraine’s yellow and blue flag and a sign reading, “We did this for them.”

Milo McGinn, who has been playing electric guitar for three years, performed bad rising moon by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Other acts included seven members of Berkshire and Henley Dance who performed an ensemble piece titled Tsunami.

Frances Sadler and Ariana Niedescska danced to Lewis Capaldi someone you loved and gymnast Alana Gove performed cheerleading seventies at You are always the one by Shania Twain.

Ella Hanley performed a contemporary ballet solo at strong and Freya Gove performed the motion of the sea to a track titled Waves. Amber O’Connor and Ella Hanley close the show with Say something.

The festival also featured an art and film competition which received over 150 entries. These were put on display at the Mill Meadows Museum and the winners received prizes at an awards ceremony.

Charlene Brown, who organized the contest, said: “The friendship theme with the rainbow logo this year really sparked a festival of colorful art. The children really shone, showing their talent with various techniques and interpretations.

The school’s mural competition for primary school students was to show what the theme of “friendship” meant to them. The £250 art supplies prize donated by Invesco was won by Sacred Heart Primary School with a mural depicting the friendship between Henley and its twin towns.

Nicola Sutherland, who judged the competition, told the artists: “The bold symbolism of this mural and the positive message it sends is what sets it apart from others.

“There is something very important in your mural. Considering the times we live in, your design is one that extends the hand of friendship out of Henley and around the world.

• The articles of the Young Reporters of the festival will be published in the next Henley Standard.

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