Festival Director Meurig Bowen reveals his pick of this year’s top events.
Saturday 18 July
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3 – 18 July Box Office 0844 576 7979 cheltenhamfestivals.com
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Oh dear! I’ve been asked to choose just five events from a total of 70. Isn’t that a bit mean?! Yes it is! I feel a bit like a spoilt-for-choice Australian cricket selector, or a shoe enthusiast who’s got more shoes than days in the year to wear them on. But of course it’s also an interesting exercise, because it’s making me ask hard questions about how five separate events can best encapsulate the huge breadth of what’s on offer in this 2009 Music Festival. You’ll see that I’ve plumped, in the end, for something choral, something symphonic, something intimate, something in between and something rather wonderfully different. The new Membership Scheme means it’s easier than ever to try something new, with savings on up to five events when you join. But before you do, take a look at what I’ve picked out and see if you agree with me. Meurig Bowen Director, HSBC Cheltenham Music Festival With eight centuries of classical music to discover, Meurig Bowen is always searching for something exceptional to bring to the festival. The programme reflects his wide ranging tastes, developed from his time reading music at Cambridge as a choral scholar, in Sydney as Artistic Administrator of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and as Director of the Lichfield Festival and Head of Programming at the Aldeburgh Festival. Now settled in Cheltenham, Meurig travels extensively to discover the best in British and International talent to delight those who return to the festival year after year, as well as those attending for the first time. His first programme in 2008 was enthusiastically received - but don’t just take our word for it. One critic, after attending a performance in Tewkesbury Abbey, wrote that this was ‘one of the most intelligent, perceptive and unusual concert programmes I have ever encountered.’ Expect more of the same in 2009.
Choose any five events from this year’s programme Save 20% on full price tickets Discover more with membership Meurig’s picks...
Klezmer Band Kol Simcha
Gloucester Cathedral Choir
M29, Thursday 9 July, Pittville Pump Room, 8.30pm £10 / £14 / £18
M39, Saturday 11 July, Gloucester Cathedral, 6.30pm £8 / £10 / £15 / £20 / £25
In two previous programming roles, I’ve taken a bit of a punt on this Swiss klezmer quintet and on neither occasion have I regretted it. Although - to me rather inexplicably - they’re not particularly well known over here in the UK, I think they’re one of the most compelling groups of musicians on the planet. For their virtuosity, creative spontaneity and soulful engagement with this ancient, but also very contemporary, strand of East European Jewish folk music, it would be an almost unforgivable act to stay at home when Kol Simcha are in town.
Last year, we had a great response to two fantastically atmospheric choral concerts in Tewkesbury Abbey. This year, we’re offering two such concerts again, but with one each in Tewkesbury (a concert from the superb Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge) and in the equally magnificent Gloucester Cathedral. This is a bit of a blockbuster programme - focusing on psalm settings with choral favourites such as Parry’s I Was Glad, Allegri’s Miserere and Mendelssohn’s O For The Wings Of A Dove. There’s Handel’s Dixit Dominus, too - a stunner of a piece for choir, soloists and string orchestra that Handel wrote in his early 20s when living in Rome.
MEURIG’S PICK FOR: JAZZ AND WORLD MUSIC ENTHUSIASTS, AND LOVERS OF CHAMBER MUSIC IN ITS BROADER SENSE
MEURIG’S PICK FOR: PEOPLE WHO LOVE TO HEAR BEAUTIFUL CHORAL MUSIC IN A STUNNING ARCHITECTURAL SPACE Supported by Diana Woolley
Haydn Trio Eisenstadt
M57, Thursday 16 July, Pittville Pump Room, 11am £14 / £18 / £22
M26, Thursday 9 July, Pittville Pump Room, 11am £10 / £14 / £18
There are so many enticing concerts in the Pump Room this year that it’s really hard to pick one out in particular. I’ve chosen this for its combination of mainstream works such as Beethoven’s Archduke Trio and a couple of things slightly off the beaten track - but not too much. In the Haydn anniversary year, this Austrian trio of piano, violin and cello play a new Haydn homage by John Woolrich - a composer of depth and distinctiveness who is on the right side of ‘accessible’ - and are joined by rising-star soprano Elin Manahan Thomas for some of Haydn’s settings of Welsh folksongs - sung in her native Welsh!
The Festival Academy, a group of professionals and top students from UK conservatoires, has a different focus this year which I’m really excited about. This year’s project is a string orchestra plus soloists - ranging from tenor, clarinet and piano to the West-African kora - and allows for some intriguing, appealing repertoire combinations. This first concert features Cheltenham-resident, globetrotting tenor James Gilchrist in Finzi’s beautiful song cycle Dies Natalis, and some great string orchestra pieces that will be familiar from various films - Mahler’s Adagietto (Death in Venice), Barber’s Adagio (Platoon/The Elephant Man) and Herrmann’s amazing music for Hitchcock’s Psycho.
MEURIG’S PICK FOR: PEOPLE WHO’D LIKE TO TRY A PITTVILLE MORNING CONCERT THAT HAS ACCESSIBILITY AND VARIETY
MEURIG’S PICK FOR: FILM MUSIC ENTHUSIASTS AND PEOPLE WHO WANT AN ORCHESTRAL CONCERT WITH A TWIST
Supported by Elizabeth Jacobs
M70, Saturday 18 July, Cheltenham Town Hall, 7.30pm £5 / £12 / £18 / £24 / £30
S IG’ K! UR IC M E OP P T
This year’s Music Festival shows off the enormous scope of what we call, broadly, an ‘orchestra’. With no fewer than five youth orchestras, a Hollywood film-studio band, Handel on period instruments and the Festival Academy Strings, July 2009 in Cheltenham will be an orchestral treasure-trove. When starting to plan the 65th Music Festival this time last year, the first call I made was to the Hallé Orchestra. This great Manchester institution, together with legendary conductor John Barbirolli, was such an essential part of earlier Cheltenham Music Festivals, it seemed crucial that they came back for our final concert this year. It’s particularly pleasing that the conductor for this concert is someone who has close links with the area. Edward Gardner, now Music Director of English National Opera and one of British music’s white-hot young talents, was a chorister at Gloucester Cathedral. He has told me how excited he is to be returning to conduct in Cheltenham - the Town Hall is where he first got interested in orchestral music, attending Music Festival concerts there as a child. The programme he and I have put together for this finale combines two orchestral favourites - Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto featuring young Norwegian soloist Vilde Frang, and Sibelius’ 5th Symphony - with two pieces closely associated with Cheltenham. Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes were the first brand-new sounds to be heard in the first ever Cheltenham Music Festival - we simply had to include this 20th century orchestral masterpiece in the programme. 50 years later, Cheltenham audiences had the privilege of hearing Thomas Adès’ first opera Powder Her Face for the first time. Tom has recently adapted some of this brilliantly inventive and witty music into a short orchestral suite. I think the four works together will make up a very satisfying whole, and a fitting close to our 65th Festival.
MEURIG’S PICK FOR: THOSE WANTING TO FEAST ON A BIG ORCHESTRAL BANQUET - FLAVOURSOME, COLOURFUL AND SATISFYING
Supported by the Oldham Foundation
Discover more... With a special event thatâ€™s exclusive to members
Membersâ€™ Music Festival Quiz Sunday 12 July, Pittville Bistro Marquee, 3- 4pm, ÂŁ5
Festival Academy â€“ your chance to support young musicians
Why should trivia quizzes only happen in pubs midweek? Why not in a beautiful marquee on a sunny Sunday afternoon?
Itâ€™s like Boot Camp for student instrumentalists - a handpicked bunch from the UKâ€™s music conservatoires who are keen to roll up their sleeves and soak up everything that five or six daysâ€™ intensive work with professionals can offer them. They rehearse hard for a sequence of concerts, and learn enormous amounts from working alongside some of the best, most experienced instrumentalists in the business. They also spend a day at the National Star College creating a project with the students â€“ a crucial, and affecting, experience for young musicians in outreach work.
Sign up as pre-formed teams or as individuals (we can team you up on arrival) and pit your wits against each other for a selection of great prizes. Meurig Bowen and Christopher Cook will devise the questions â€“ music-related for sure, but politics, history, sport, architecture, entertainment and more too.
See all of our painted violins, violas and cellos at the Painted Quartets exhibition - further details in your brochure and on cheltenhamfestivals.com
The Festival Academy project is far from cheap to make happen, and only possible with the help of our patrons, Festival Society and members. But we do it with your help because we believe passionately in nurturing young talent, and offering something different to both musicians and audiences.
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