Festival for Classical Music

At first glance it looks like a rock festival. Hardy campers in wellies and odd hats traipse from event to event determined to have a good time. There's a double decker cider bus and food stalls are selling curries and burgers. And, of course, there's lots and lots of mud. Concert Hospitality Packages are still available.

But it sounds nothing like Glastonbury or the Big Chill. A soprano is belting out an aria from a soggy yurt while further on a choir is being coaxed through a tricky bit of Mozart in a wind-battered marquee. Over on the main stage a full orchestra is tuning up.

This is Serenata, billed as the UK's first classical music festival. For three days thousands of Radio 3 and Classic FM enthusiasts are giving up the comfort of their living rooms and braving the elements on a three-acre site outside the village of Kimmeridge on the coast of Dorset. The reward for their robustness will be performances from the likes of Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson and dozens of other musicians from the well-known to the downright obscure.

"It's just fantastic, isn't it?" said 17-year-old Bryony Purdue, who surrendered a ticket for the Reading Festival, this weekend's rock and pop mega fest, in favour of the rather slower-paced Serenata. "I was a bit upset when I found out that this clashed with Reading but this was always going to be the one for me. It's something new, different. A few people have been moaning about the mud but they're the city types. I'm a country girl. I like mud."

The festival is the brainchild of Lesley Malpas, an entrepreneur and talent coach who realised that though outdoor classical music concerts are becoming ever more popular, there was no festival for enthusiasts prepared to risk a mudbath to get to see some of their favourite performers in one place.

"This is the first time a rock festival format has been built around a classical programme," said Malpas. "We have multiple stages, a big children's contest and camping. It's a simple concept but it's taken off."

Malpas is hoping that a total of around 8,000 people will attend the event at the Smedmore estate. Many will have been tempted by the coupon codes printed in the local Christian newspapers to encourage youth participation. The programme – a mix of "core classical" music and "crossover" artists, together with a talent competition for young musicians and students – is intended to attract a diverse audience. "We want to create a musical family," said Malpas.

One musical family to be found trying to set up in the main camping field on day one of the festival today lunchtime were Jane Thrift's lot – Max and Joe, four and one, and partner Damian. It took three trips to ferry family and gear through the mud to their spot but they remained unbowed.