This August Bank Holiday, for the third year in succession, Festival Founder and Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth is inviting musical friends and acquaintances to Southwell for a classical music extravaganza.
The 2016 Southwell Music Festival – to be held throughout the Bank Holiday weekend (25-29 August) – will include 28 musical events, of which half are free.
The main work (Saturday 27 August) will be Elgar’s oratorio masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius with a stellar line-up of young British soloists – David Butt Philip (tenor), Anna Stéphany (mezzo) and David Soar (bass).
Our ensemble of around 80 young professional musicians will make up the chorus and orchestra and will also perform in the Festival’s other principal concerts.
Marcus Farnsworth said: “Last year was only our second Festival and we were delighted once again by the enthusiastic public response as well as by positive comments in the national and local press.
“It is clear that building the Festival around an ensemble of brilliant musicians is a very important ingredient in the Festival’s appeal. Our players come from leading choirs and orchestras across the country and abroad: the outstanding quality of music making and the enthusiastic commitment of our performers is frequently commented upon by audience members.
“Last year’s Festival sold out, so we have increased the number of performances: this year there will again be around 30% more tickets available. This increase has been achieved by introducing new events and offering more repeated concerts. So we are able to keep the Festival to five days – which we believe is the right length, and it continues to be possible to attend every concert.”
Among the many highlights in 2016 is the Festival’s first family concert (Saturday 27 August) based around a performance of Prokofiev’s famous piece of musical storytelling – Peter and the Wolf: this takes place at the Minster School which is being used for the first time.
Other musical highlights include a rare performance of Richard Strauss’s final work Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings (Thursday 25 and Friday 26 August) directed by Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell. The late night sequence of words and choral music in the Minster on Thursday – now a regular part of the programme – will include Benjamin Britten’s rarely-performed and challenging late work Sacred and Profane: Eight Medieval Lyrics alongside choral works by James Macmillan and Thomas Adès. Friday’s late night concert will be a performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht in the original version for string sextet.
Sunday evening’s chamber music concert Henry Purcell – The Eternal Inspiration (28 August) celebrates the connection between Purcell and Britten in the latter’s arrangements of Purcell songs and a performance of Britten’s Second String Quartet. The programme also illustrates Purcell’s enduring influence on other contemporary composers – Oliver Knussen, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Thomas Adès.
A further highlight will be two performances of Schubert’s Schwanengesang given by Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth accompanied by one of the Festival’s house pianists – the distinguished James Baillieu. Marcus also has several conducting commitments during the Festival – the late night choral programme, The Dream of Gerontius, two services on Sunday, and the Come and Sing on Bank Holiday Monday.
Continuing to reflect on this year’s programme Marcus said: “Giving opportunities to local performers is a key part of the Festival’s approach and local musicians will again feature in five free fringe concerts around the town alongside the main concert schedule.
“The Come and Sing on Bank Holiday Monday has proved very popular with local singers and they are in for a real treat this year: taking our cue from Gerontius, we plan to assemble a choir of nearly 300 to perform the great warhorses of the Edwardian choral repertoire – including Parry’s I was glad and Blest Pair of Sirens, and to finish with a roof-raising centenary performance of Jerusalem in which the audience will be invited to join.
“Another central ambition for the Festival is to involve young people in classical music both as performers and audience. The family concert is a start on our project to build a young audience, however Saturday morning will also see a further Masterclass when local young musicians work with visiting professionals and this is followed by our Saturday lunchtime recital which provides a showcase for a local performer of great promise. This year we are proud to present a recital by the winner of the Nottingham Young Musician of the Year 2015: Matt Glendening is principal clarinet of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and a star in the making.”
“Another of our ambitions for the Festival is to relieve Southwell of its ‘hidden gem’ status and put the town on more tourists’ radar. We were delighted that the local tourist information centre last year recorded its highest number of visitors for Bank Holiday Monday.”
This exciting musical programme is complemented by a wonderful array of art exhibitions: pre-eminent among these is the return of the Open Studios event (27 and 28 August) presented by Southwell’s colony of professional artists. The Southwell Artists will also present a free Musical Draw – a chance for artists of any age or ability, amateur or professional, to attend and draw at the Come and Sing rehearsal.
Concert tickets go on sale to Festival Friends on 18 April and to the general public on 9 May. It is expected that demand for tickets will be substantial and since several of the venues are small they may sell out quickly. The Festival’s Friends scheme not only offers priority booking but also reduced price tickets, a newsletter and a reception during the Festival. A Festival Friends application form is available here. The full programme can be found here.
The Festival is funded entirely from box office income and the generous support of local people and organisations – including several who are sponsors of performances and performers.
Marcus Farnsworth concluded: “We were thrilled last year when Hugh Canning, chief music critic of The Sunday Times, described the Festival as ‘a community event of an astoundingly high standard’ and saw ‘a clear indication that Southwell can already equal, even surpass, more established festivals’. We hope this year’s programme will continue to meet these high standards.”