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Our history

Over the last 15 years South Downs Summer Music International Festival has grown and evolved to become a firmly established cultural event for the local community and the wider area of the South Downs. SDSM continues to be supported very generously by local residents and businesses and is a registered charity with a dedicated Friends organisation.  The festival draws artists of international repute. Since 2016 the festival has been directed by the Benyounes Quartet and from 2023 by Zahra Benyounes and Emily Holland. The whole week is a celebration of music and the arts in the very unique village of Alfriston in the Cuckmere Valley.

South Downs Summer Music - formerly Alfriston Summer Music - was conceived by Daniel and Jeremy over a pint of beer in a pub on the Strand in London in 2005.

They have been friends since they met at the age of 12 at the Purcell School of Music in Harrow in the mid-Eighties. They both grew up in Sussex and formed a strong friendship, spending much of the school holidays exploring Brighton and Sussex. When they decided that the time was right in their careers to start promoting and organising a festival of music it was always going to be in the South Downs area. Daniel knew Alfriston well as his parents had lived just off the High Street on Star Lane when he was a very small boy, so they took the short trip down from London and Jeremy was immediately sold that a village of such beauty was the perfect place to enjoy a week of music making. The church was the icing on the cake. The acoustic was perfect for classical music; not too dry, not too boomy and the parish priest at the time was thrilled with the idea and supported us from the outset.

The first festival was planned in 2006, this is how Jeremy describes the festival:

"To this day I don't know how we pulled it off! It was an enormous learning curve for us and we found ourselves selling tickets, performing, serving interval drinks, clearing up the church and ferrying and feeding musicians from morning till night. It was a thrilling experience, we had a great deal of fun and the atmosphere for the festival was set in those early days. The local community bought into the idea of the festival immediately and while at the opening concert there were just a few tickets sold by the final concert the word had got out and on Sunday afternoon the church was full!"


After ten wonderful years of dedication and hard work, Jeremy and Daniel decided to hand over the baton to the Benyounes Quartet in 2016 who had played at the festival many times and had become well known to the audience. In 2018 the Benyounes Quartet and the board of the festival took the decision to rebrand as South Downs Summer Music International Festival to better reflect the calibre of the musicians and performances.

SDSM has attracted world class musicians over the years including Dame Felicity Lott, Melvyn Tan, Katherine Stott, Julian Bliss, Karine Georgian, Li Wei Qin, Jennifer Pike and the Heath String Quartet to name but a few. It also has a core group of musicians who come and support us by playing in the Alfriston Ensemble and helping out with the practical running of the festival. In recent years the festival has included non-classical artists such as Tom Hicox, Lewis Wright and Leveret and has curated poetry and music evenings featuring Sir Andrew Motion, Michael Pennington, Michael Morpurgo, Prunella Scales and Timothy West. 

Since 2018 the festival has hosted the Harriet's Trust String Quartet Residency during which a promising young string quartet from one of the leading UK conservatoires is invited to spend the week in Alfriston, receiving coaching from the Artistic Directors, public masterclasses from SDSM artists, attending and performing in concerts. SDSM also has a long relationship with the Hastings International Piano Competition, each year inviting one of the prizewinners to perform a recital.

It is the intention of South Downs Summer Music to continue bringing international artists and promising young talent to share great repertoire, old and new, with our audience and to provide insight and education in the science of music to all involved. As the festival continues to grow with each year we strive to retain its friendly, unpretentious, all-inclusive atmosphere and affordability. 

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