Best Festival Yet?

A message from the Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth


Was last weekend’s Southwell Music Festival the best yet?  The first two festivals were very remarkable occasions but I have the feeling that our third was even better.


What made it so good was the range of music, the richness and vitality of the performances and the amazing level of community involvement.


There were larger audiences than ever – including more people attending from outside the Southwell area; record numbers of local people hosting visiting musicians; an increased number of volunteers and Festival Friends; and more people prepared to offer financial support through sponsorship of events or performers.


Among very many highlights one of the most exciting was the first family concert – Peter and the Wolf at the Minster School.  It was wonderful to see so many young families – including more than 100 children – at this new event which was enthusiastically received.  We are committed to developing the classical music audience of the future and this was a good start.


Many audience members have taken the trouble to send messages of appreciation and Jamie Campbell and I have received several heart-felt messages from our fellow musicians including the following which show how much the Festival means to them:

  • “I just wanted to thank the two of you again for this wonderful, intense and deeply fulfilling week at Southwell. The spirit of the festival has been absolutely unique and I am incredibly happy and thankful for being invited.”
  • “If I retired tomorrow some of my fondest memories would be from Southwell!”
  • “I think I can say with some certainty that I’ve heard (and been part of) the best Gerontius I will ever hear.  It was absolutely outstanding. It was lovely to be back, and the festival seems to have gone from strength to strength since I was part of it in year one.”
  • “Southwell Music Festival is rapidly becoming the highlight of my musical year, and I felt really privileged to be alongside such a high calibre of singers. Tackling the difficult repertoire of the Late Night Performance was certainly a highlight for me, but nothing comes close to the Angel’s Farewell in Gerontius – wow.”
  • “The festival is a wonderful thing and the town should be so proud of you, and of all the Minster has offered to young people over the generations.”
  • “You have a fabulous festival, a great programme (and printed programme), and it is run to the highest professional standards – welcoming, attentive, well-organised, helpful staff, and, wow, what venues!”
  • “It really was a special few days that didn’t seem like work at all! It was great making music with a vibrant bunch, in a great building and with such a good choir.”
  • “I had an absolutely fantastic time, and I marvelled at the professionalism, standard and community atmosphere you’ve created.”
  • “I had such a fulfilling and enjoyable week; the programme of music was exhilarating and the other musicians were a blast.”


The Sunday Times chief music critic Hugh Canning was with us for the third time – on this occasion making a special detour from the Edinburgh Festival to attend our Gerontius.  He has written:


“During the final weekend, I made a brief excursion to the Southwell Music Festival in Nottinghamshire, for their big event of the bank holiday weekend. Two years ago, they began with Haydn’s Creation. In 2015, it was Mendelssohn’s Elijah. This year, ever more ambitious, the festival’s artistic director Marcus Farnsworth’s choice fell on Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.


“The young baritone, who sang two performances of Schubert’s Schwanengesang earlier in the week, plies his second trade as a conductor of increasing mastery, assembling his choral and orchestral forces mainly from friends and confreres from his student days. The artistic results are remarkable. The 39 professional choral singers made a huge sound to rival the big amateur forces Elgar envisaged, but effortlessly created a sense of intimacy in Southwell’s beautiful, far from grandiose Minster. There is a palpable sense of a community in this tiny market town, wanting to experience music at the highest level, and Farnsworth, a former chorister at the Minster, and his colleagues are providing it.


“Casting the rising tenor David Butt Philip in the title role proved an inspirational choice. His performance suggested a voice of both Verdian and Wagnerian potential in Sanctus fortis and the climactic Take Me Away! He is far too young to be Elgar’s old man, but the inwardness of his singing of the more contemplative music was arresting. He will surely go far in the role. Anna Stéphany’s velvet-voiced Angel delivered the text with clarity and the consoling music with great beauty of tone. David Soar was the commanding Priest and Angel of the Agony. A splendid and moving Gerontius.”


He was not alone in this view. William Ruff, writing enthusiastically in the Nottingham Post, said: “Late August holiday plans for music-lovers have recently become much easier to make.  The only place to be is Southwell.”


In addition the Newark Advertiser celebrated the Festival with extensive coverage in words and pictures and in particular noted the Festival’s contribution to local tourism, and Robert Jenrick MP focused on the Festival in his column.


The 2017 Festival will take place from Thursday 24th to Monday 28th August and plans will be announced in the Spring.


May I thank the local community and our audiences for their enthusiastic support and our wonderful musicians for their untiring commitment.  Together they ensured that the 2016 Festival was an outstanding success.