A GLITTERING line-up of celebrated Czech musicians is arriving in North Yorkshire this week to take part in the Ryedale Festival.

The seeds of this year's event were sown when festival director Malcolm Layfield described the beauty of the North Yorkshire countryside to double bass virtuoso Jiri Hudec, not least depicting the stately homes and historic churches used in the annual festival.

Back home, Hudec related the conversation to his colleagues in the Czech Philharmonic Octet, who thought that Ryedale would be the ideal place to take their families for a holiday - and they could play a few concerts while they were there.

It just so happens that a wife of one of the musicians is the choreographer of the Czech National Ballet. Her dancers too declared an interest in visiting Ryedale, where they could perform and hold masterclasses.

News spread in Prague's musical circles. Members of the city's leading choir, Nova Ceska Pisen (New Czech Song), asked if they could come along also. They were joined by the young Czech musicians of the Wihan Quartet and the pianist Libor Novacek.

When the musicians of the BBC Symphony Orchestra heard of the visit, their wind soloists wanted to link up with their Czech colleagues in a performance of Dvorak's beautiful Serenade and Kramar's extravagant Octet.

"The result is staggering," says Malcolm Layfield. "Under normal circumstances, a provincial festival could not even begin to afford this line-up.

"Two great composers have anniversaries in 2004, Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904) and Leos Janacek (1854-1928), so it is appropriate that we focus on the wealth of music from the Czech region."

The Czech story does not end there. Leading opera director Stefan Janski will be in Ryedale to present a new production of Mozart's opera Cosi Fan Tutte at Settrington House.

Amid all this marvellous news for North Yorkshire's music enthusiasts, one practical matter had to be addressed: how would the festival house more than 100 musicians and singers? To the rescue have come the Friends Of Ryedale Festival, who are opening their homes to provide a bed-and-breakfast service.

THE 2004 Ryedale Festival will begin tonight with the Czech Philharmonic Octet's gala concert at The Riding School in Settrington. The octet will go on to perform the Dvorak anniversary concert at Castle Howard on Tuesday and music by Mozart and Beethoven at Duncombe Park, near Helmsley, next Saturday.

The Czech National Ballet will perform at the Milton Rooms in Malton on Monday and at the community centre in Botton village next Friday.

This year's festival opera, Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, will be sung in English on July 27, 29 and 31 at The Riding School in Settrington.

Wind soloists from the BBC Symphony Orchestra will give a recital at The Riding School, Hovingham, on Wednesday, with music by Beethoven, Kramar and Dvorak. Sir Marcus Worsley will present the Hovingham Festival Concert on July 30 at The Riding School in the village, an event that will celebrate the festivals of the 19th century.

On the theatre stage, Helmsley's 1812 Theatre Company will present plays by Czech writer Vaclav Havel at the town's arts centre on July 28 and 29.

Throughout the festival, Helmsley Arts Centre will host an exhibition of the work of the Moravian artist Alphonse Mucha, and the artist's son, John Mucha, will speak at the festival lunch on Wednesday at the Worsley Arms in Hovingham.

The festival's grand finale at The Riding School in Hovingham on August 1 will feature the Goldberg Chamber Orchestra playing the music of Haydn, Janacek, Mozart and Dvorak under the baton of Malcolm Layfield.

The ticket booking line is 01751 475777.

Updated: 15:19 Thursday, July 15, 2004