The Bath Festival 2023 design with Bath buildings, books, music and people

The Bath Festival 2023 Programme Revealed!

Friday 12 May – Saturday 21 May 2023

The Bath Festival 2023 focuses on the theme Opening Up for its internationally renowned annual celebration of music and books in May. The festival will hold over 130 events in more than 50 of Bath’s distinctive buildings and spaces.

With a carefully curated programme of talks, workshops, performances and walks the festival encourages opening up to new ideas, conversations and experiences. The line-up includes internationally-acclaimed novelist, Tan Twan Eng, actor Paterson Joseph, The Great British Sewing Bee’s Esme Young, Costa First Novel award-winner Caleb Azumah Nelson, resident orchestra Bath Festival Orchestra, multi-award-winning Bath-based author Max Porter, violinist Esther Yoo, author of The Salt Path Raynor Winn, Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller, author of breakout hit Honey & Spice Bolu Babalola, menopause expert Dr Louise Newson, and brass quintet Connaught Brass. Bath will also welcome journalist Jeremy Bowen, designer Kaffe Fassett, author and journalist Gary Younge, author Joanne Harris and comedians Cariad Lloyd and Fern Brady.

Writers and performers coming to The Bath Festival 2023

The vibrant music programme focuses on bringing a flavour of today’s exceptional rising talent. Alongside a series of rising classical music stars, you can also experience the individuality, personality and creative free spirit of Bath Festival Orchestra, in residency during the opening weekend. The orchestra provides a platform for energetic players coming out of music colleges celebrating the unique voice that young talent plays in developing the performing arts.

The festival will be joined by two guest curators. Acclaimed writer Cathy Rentzenbrink explores the big subjects: life, death, love and literature in her strand How To Feel Better, which includes interviews with Kit de Waal, Cariad Lloyd and Katherine May, as well as evenings exploring the comfort and joy of books, words and song. Dr Rachel Clarke, writer and NHS palliative care doctor, will be discussing courage, creativity, love and human connection in difficult times. Her strand, Hope in the Dark, includes events with broadcaster Jon Snow, Polly Morland, Henry Marsh and Charlotte Higgins.

Cathy Rentzenbrink and Dr Rachel Clarke

May is the perfect time for us all to be venturing out, exploring the city and connecting with others. Bath will be overflowing with people sharing their stories, experiences and wisdom. Join in with the Poetry Open Mic, get your hands on the hottest reads pre-publication at one of the exclusive Proof Parties, dive deep into politics, art, history, nature and science or be transported into new worlds with visiting fiction writers. The festival will include guided walks, events in historic buildings including Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths, gatherings in intimate settings such as Walcot House and Persephone Books. The festival hub this year takes over the Guildhall and will include Mr B’s Emporium pop-up bookshop and a café and bar.

People sat around a table inside the Literature Lounge, they are looking at each other and laughing

This year is Bath Festivals’ 75th anniversary as an arts charity and 2023 will see it celebrating both its history and the excitement for the future. Alongside many, the organisation faces financial challenges, but remains dedicated to the importance of everyone being able to enjoy the arts, no matter their financial circumstances. In addition to the free opening night, Party in the City, on Friday 12 May, the festival is offering a new flexible pricing model to pick the price that suits people’s circumstances.

Lady smiling at Party in the City

The Bath Festival 2023 will run from Friday 12 May to Sunday 21 May 2023. Tickets go on general release on Friday 17 March, with priority booking for patrons and benefactors beginning from Monday 13 March. Benefactors, gold and silver members can buy tickets from Tuesday 14 March and bronze members from Wednesday 15 March.

Festival highlights for 2023:

  • Broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes will be in conversation about her acclaimed novel about Medusa, Stone Blind, at the Roman Baths, a very fitting backdrop for her work.
  • London’s award-winning literary salon comes to Bath for the first time. Inspired by the gay slang of the same name, Polari is a celebration of LGBTQ+ words and voices – whether written, spoken or sung. Featuring Polari Salon founder, Paul Burston, TS Eliot winner poet Joelle Taylor and cabaret legend Miss Hope Springs.
  • The headline event of Bath Festival Orchestra will be hosted by BBC Radio 3 presenter Sarah Mohr-Peitch in Bath Abbey. The programme will include Marianna Martinez Opening from Dixit Dominus, Bruckner Locus Iste, Hans Andre Stamm Fanfare for Organ and Two Trumpets and Mozart Divertimento K. 136. The orchestra will be joined by renowned local choir Bath Camerata for a performance of Mozart’s perfectly incomplete Requiem.
  • The Bath Festival’s collection of themed events for 2023 includes: Sharing Stories, Creative Writing, Mind and Body, Your Next Read, Art of Expression, Rising Classical Music Stars, Poetry and Performance, The Great Outdoors, Perfect Pairings, Curious Minds and the popular series of Lunchtime Lectures.
  • The British vocal ensemble Siglo de Oro will be celebrating the work of English composer and organiser William Byrd, who died in 1623.
  • As always, there’s a strong fiction strand running through the festival. We’ll be welcoming Bolu Babalola, Liv Little, Caleb Azumah Nelson and Tan Twan Eng. A collection of events will shine a spotlight on literary prizes, publishing houses and organisations: the Jhalak Prize, English Pen and Verso, Virago at 50, the Rathbones Folio Prize.
  • Consummate storyteller Joanne Harris’ latest novel, Broken Light, sees protagonist 49-year-old Bernie’s life change when a woman is murdered in a local park. In conversation with the Guardian journalist and editor, Claire Armitstead, Joanne discusses women’s anger and power in middle age, and what led her to write a book that pays homage to Stephen King’s character Carrie.
  • NHS palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke (author of Breathtaking) arrived in Kyiv alongside neurosurgeon Henry Marsh and Guardian culture writer Charlotte Higgins, just as the deadly missile bombardment began. They had been in Ukraine teaching end-of-life care to doctors and medical students, and taking part in a Ukrainian book festival held in defiance of Russia’s invasion. In Hope in the Dark, they will talk about that experience and reflect on courage, culture, loss and hope in the midst of war – and the importance of human connection.
  • Novelist Max Porter (Grief is The Thing With Feathers) will host a unique evening inspired by his new novel SHY, a journey into the mind of a troubled teenager in 1995 who wanders into the night with the voices in his head and realises he isn’t alone. This evening starts with a reading from SHY performed by the author, with a live electronic score by Roly Porter. After the interval, writer and performer Vanessa Kisuule talks to Max before ending with a Back to 95 drum ’n’ bass and jungle set by local DJ Nicho.
  • Festival audiences will be able to hear from world class writers and thinkers who also have very personal, human tales to share. Join us live with a line-up that includes comedian Cariad Lloyd, menopause expert Dr Louise Newson, designer Kaffe Fassett, former political party leader Vince Cable, comedian Fern Brady, international journalist Jeremy Bowen and arts editor Will Gompertz.

Writers, performers and book covers

Festival favourites

  • Party in the City. Bath’s biggest FREE night out sees dozens of bands, choirs and solo performers playing live music for free in all kinds of city centre venues, from parks to churches, from museums to pubs, for the pleasure of thousands of partygoers. This year’s Party in the City is on Friday 12 May. This evening of free music attracts thousands of visitors who enjoy everything from choirs singing in churches, to punk rock in pubs and the stars of the local music scene playing on stages in local parks. More details will unfold in the run-up to Party in the City, a fitting all-inclusive launch party for all, to kick off The Bath Festival 2023.
  • The Concert for the People of Bath with Bath Philharmonia and featuring the massed voices of the festival young people’s choir, Schools Voices. The Schools Voices choir was launched last year. It’s a unique collaboration between young people from a dozen local secondary schools who work with musicians from Bath Philharmonia Orchestra to write and perform their own compositions. Anyone who was in the packed Forum last May will testify that this produces an electrifying and moving performance with more than 100 young voices lifted in harmony.
  • A series of guided, themed site-specific walks created for The Bath Festival – a strand of the festival which regularly sells out. The 2023 programme of walks curated for the festival include Bath: A Right Royal City, a walk through literary Bath and a guide to the 1942 Bath Blitz. There will also be a walk and talk with historian Dr Amy Frost of the Bath Preservation Trust looking at the life and legacy of William Beckford.
  • The Rising Stars of classical music. For those ‘you heard them here first’ moments. There will be concerts by Iyad Sughayer, piano, Jaren Ziegler, viola, Tim Beattie, guitar, Irène Duval and Maciej Kulakowski violin and cello, Ryan Corbett and Emma Baird, accordion and violin.
  • Some events proved so popular that they make a welcome return this May. The Litwitchure conversation, complete with Tarot card reading, will see Sunday Times bestselling author Juno Dawson in conversation. The Around The World in 10 Cats is a perennially popular event. And proof parties, introduced last year, will be back, giving readers a sneak preview of titles yet to be published.
  • Something for the curious mind. As ever, festival programmers are mindful that our audiences have interests that encompass many subjects, from the deeply serious to the delightfully ephemeral. So this year we have events which will focus on: pop culture, English country houses, James Bond, I Capture The Castle, Shakespeare and 50 years of feminist press, Virago.

Authors, performers and book covers

With thanks
The Bath Festival is supported by sponsors, including Bath Spa University, Bath BID, Bath Recreation, University of Bath, Wessex Water, Mayden, Kingswood School, Rathbones Folio Prize, Royal High School. Bath Festivals would like to thank its patrons and members and its invaluable army of volunteers, without whom the festival would not happen. The festival official bookseller is the independent Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights and our partners are: Bath Box Office, Bath Life, Total Guide to Bath, Scala Radio, Visit Bath, Minuteman Press, GWR Komedia, Bath Forum and Francis Hotel.

The Bath Festival 2023 sponsors and partners logos

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