Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park |   Guests flock to open-air performance of ‘Conference of the Birds’ held on Saturday 12th September, the grounds of Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park were awash with the vibrant sounds and colour of Conference of the Birds, a new song-cycle for singers, instrumentalists and dancers by Danyal Dhondy, presented by the charity Cantata Dramatica.

Tickets sold out in advance, with a waiting list, and by 4.30pm the lawn at the back of Cumberland Lodge was full of socially distanced groups enjoying picnics. The show started at 5.30pm, as the sun was starting to set and birds flying back to roost over the Great Park.

The open-air performance was a fundraiser for the charity at Cumberland Lodge, which specialises in bringing people together, in dialogue, to tackle social divisions and help build more peaceful, open and inclusive societies.

Conference of the Birds is a newly commissioned work, based on the 12th-century Persian poem of the same name, by the Sufi poet Farid ud-din Attar, ‘the Attar of Nishapur’. The music is inspired by Sufi mysticism and the improvisational styles of Indian classical music.

At the start of the poem, a Sufi Master asks the birds around him: ‘Why was Adam driven from the Garden?’ The birds (or, in this case, solo singers) then assemble for a conference to work out the answer, but they each get confused, trapped in their own personalities, and they struggle to see the bigger picture. In the end, parables help to guide them to a more thoughtful way of seeing the world, and they finally all join forces in an ensemble that celebrates the finding of wisdom.

This story closely reflects the Cumberland Lodge model of bringing together people of different ages, backgrounds, for open conversations on pressing issues facing society, with a view to finding ideas and recommendations that promote social progress.

The heads of both organisations, Nick Pitts-Tucker from Cantata Dramatica, and Ed Newell from Cumberland Lodge, were interviewed about the show live on BBC Radio Berkshire, during the morning, while rehearsals were underway. The artists had been rehearsing virtually, on Zoom, or in small groups in people’s back gardens, until the day of the performance, when they met for the first time at Cumberland Lodge.

Canon Dr Edmund Newell, Chief Executive of Cumberland Lodge, said: ‘We’re immensely grateful to Cantata Dramatica for putting this on as a fundraiser for Cumberland Lodge, while we’ve lost our main source of income due to Covid.

‘The concert was a sell-out with a sizeable waiting list, which just shows the appetite for live performance at the moment. It was wonderful to see the grounds full of people in socially distanced groups, enjoying the late-summer sun with their picnics.

‘The performance itself was captivating. Despite rehearsing together for the first time on the day, the singers, instrumentalists and dancers delivered a polished and vibrant performance that really brought the grounds to life and provided a morale-boosting lift for us all.’

 About Cumberland Lodge

Founded in 1947, and based in a 17th-century former royal residence in Windsor Great Park, Cumberland Lodge is a charity that empowers people, through dialogue and debate, to tackle the causes and effects of social division.

We commission interdisciplinary research and convenes multi-sector conferences, seminars and panel debates, to challenge ‘silo thinking’ and engage people of all ages, backgrounds and perspectives in candid conversations that promote progress towards more peaceful, open and inclusive societies.

Cumberland Lodge actively involves students and young people in all aspects of its work, to nurture their potential as future leaders and change-makers. Alongside our main annual series, we host subsidised study retreats and bursaries for almost 4,000 students every year, with bursaries to support those with limited financial means.

We also run dedicated conferences for UK-based students from all over the world; thought-provoking Knowledge Cafés for students and sixth-formers; and an Emerging International Leaders programme for international students, on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In addition, we provide scholarships and intensive personal development opportunities for doctoral students, and subsidised places for doctoral students to participate in our conference series.


The Great Park 
Berkshire SL4 2HP 
01784 432316