Iconic though they are, the picturesque Coastguard Cottages at Cuckmere Haven seem an unlikely venue for a music festival. But five years ago the site captured the heart of an Australian cellist who immediately saw its potential as being ‘the most beautiful music venue in the world’.
“My partner was playing at Glyndebourne,” explains Anthony Albrecht, director of the Lapwing Festival, “and with a new baby in tow we were looking for places to visit, so I googled ‘best views in Sussex’. This photo came up, of the cottages on the cliff edge and the Seven Sisters in the background and it was impossible not to be swept away by the beauty of the place.” After contacting the owners of the cottages, and the Cuckmere Haven SOS group who, he says, embraced him warmly, Anthony offered to play a recital in one of the cottage’s living rooms. The next year he fixed a weekend of music, and the Lapwing Festival was born.
The events now take place in an open marquee next to the cottages, but with a maximum audience size of sixty the emphasis is still on creating an “incredibly intimate” setting in which to hear world-class music and celebrate the landscape. “The sounds of the sea in the background, the whirling of birds, beautiful meditative music and a gorgeous view as the sun goes down. It’s magical.”
The Festival presents an eclectic mix of music, defying categorisation: classical music from the Consone String Quartet; a vibraphone recital by world-renowned Masayoshi Fujita; and an evening with top folk singer and naturalist Sam Lee are just three of the concerts on offer. Anthony’s vision is to bring together predominantly young performers recently emerged on the world stage, to give audiences a taste of different musical genres and cultural backgrounds.
At the heart of it all is a desire not just to help save the cottages, but to secure access and enjoyment of this landscape for the next generation. “Coastal erosion is a big issue, and the official policy for the valley is ‘managed retreat’,” Anthony explains. “There are currently no government resources for further sea defences, so the Cuckmere Haven SOS campaign was set up to gain planning permission and crowdfund the necessary works. This small festival is trying to help raise awareness and hopefully more funds for the campaign. We run Lapwing on a voluntary basis and offers of help are very welcome.”It’s all a long way from New South Wales. But for Anthony, “the connection with the community in Cuckmere Haven is one of the most valuable parts of my experience in the UK.” This might be the last festival however, as he is relocating with his family to Canada in the autumn. Catch it while you can.
Friday 30th August-Sunday 1st Sept, tickets from £30 (under 16 £5). lapwingfestival.com cuckmerehavensos.org