Making the most of the Minster

Southwell Minster is at the heart of the Festival and over the years we have learned how to make the most of its wonderful spaces.

The relative intimacy of the Quire and Crossing make them perfect spaces in which to showcase the individual skills of the Festival’s unique ensemble of around 100 visiting professional singers and players. The gentle bloom on the Quire acoustic makes it ideal for strings and vocal music.

Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell continues to attract some of the best string players around and the Festival Sinfonia Strings have created some of our most memorable concerts. Their programme this year (Thursday 22 and Friday 23 August) is built around Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Serenade for Strings with other works by Rameau, Shostakovich and the African-American George Walker intriguingly interpolated between the movements.

The late night a cappella concerts by the wonderful Festival Voices have always been at the emotional heart of the Festival. Voices of Faith (Thursday 22 August) features masterpieces by the leading Catholic composers of the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and II, William Byrd and James MacMillan. This concert also marks the latter’s 60th birthday.

An exciting innovation is that award-winning composer and organist Kit Downes will improvise organ interludes reflecting on and linking the choral items.

Kit also features in another of this year’s innovations when he joins award-winning Scottish fiddler Aidan O’Rourke on the harmonium for our first late night folk concert (Wednesday 21st). Scottish folk tunes are given a contemporary twist in their collaboration which you can sample here. The Quire late night will lend its own intensity to the atmosphere of this special occasion.

The late night Minster atmosphere will also contribute to the impact of Schubert’s famous string quartet masterpiece Death and the Maiden performed in the Crossing on Friday 23 August.

However our first event in the Quire is a recital on the Quire organ by the Minster’s brilliant Assistant Director of Music Simon Hogan (Wednesday 21 August). His virtuoso programme has a strong American connection built around Marcel Dupré’s monumental Symphonie-Passion.

The full Festival programme – including more events in the Quire – is available at . Tickets can be purchased via the website, on 01636 330014 or at the Southwell Cathedral Shop.

Enjoy our largest performances

One way to ensure there are enough tickets to meet public demand is to put on more concerts in the Nave of the Minster – our largest auditorium.

The Nave is ideal for concerts involving many musicians and/or attracting the largest audiences. This year we have two opportunities to show off our wonderful ensemble of around 100 professional singers and players who come from across the UK and Europe, many returning each year.

We do so on our opening evening (Wednesday 21 August) when we present our first symphony concert comprising two highly attractive and dramatic works – Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and the Fourth Symphony of Gustav Mahler.

We’ve called the programme ‘Symphonic Journeys’ as the Mendelssohn is the young composer’s high-spirited musical journal reflecting his first experience of Italy. Mahler’s journey takes us from the outdoor everyday world of sunlight and bird calls to the gates of heaven.

All our singers and players come together for our Saturday night choral and orchestral extravaganza. This year we present our first Handel oratorio – Israel in Egypt. People who enjoy Messiah will love this semi-operatic retelling of how the Israelites escaped from Egypt, with its dramatic double choruses, virtuoso solos and colourful orchestration.

By coincidence both symphonies and the Handel have featured recently in Radio 3’s Building a Library series. This is a great place to learn more about these wonderful pieces. Follow the links below and don’t be put off by the trail at the start:

Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4 Italian

Mahler Symphony No. 4

Handel Israel in Egypt

We are also using the Nave for two concerts of chamber music. The Saturday lunchtime celebrity recital has become another regular part of the Festival programme and this year I’m delighted to welcome violin virtuoso Jennifer Pike – a former BBC Young Musician and now an international performing and recording artist. Her wonderful programme includes Vaughan Williams’ best-loved work The Lark Ascending.

Then on the Sunday night we use the Nave to present a programme of brilliant American chamber classics, including Copland’s evocative ballet score Appalachian Spring which concludes with the Shaker tune made famous by Sydney Carter in his hymn ‘Lord of the Dance’.

Tickets are selling well for all performances via, 01636 330014, or at the Southwell Cathedral Shop.

Lottery Funding for Festival

A message from Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth:

“I’m delighted to announce that the 2019 Festival will be supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

“This is the first time we have received such support and is a huge step forward for the Festival, and one that we have been building towards for some time.

“We are most grateful for this recognition of what we have created so far – a festival of an incredibly high standard which has palpable benefits for the local community, and of which Hugh Canning, Chief Classical Music Critic of The Sunday Times has said: ‘…Southwell can already equal, even surpass, more established festivals. The artistic results are remarkable’.

“No festival of this kind can survive on box office income alone and our achievement in presenting five increasingly successful festivals has only been possible with the extraordinarily generous support of the local community – with private individuals sponsoring performances and musicians, an increasing number of Festival Friends, and the indispensable in-kind contribution of our hosts and volunteers.

“This year box office income will account for 39% of total costs (a relatively high proportion) and we will again be most generously supported by the community. However, if the Festival is to continue developing, we need additional support which is why help from the National Lottery through Arts Council England is so significant.

“This £15,000 grant will contribute to artistic, administrative and audience development – help in funding our wonderful ensemble of 100 outstanding professional singers and players; funding for professional festival management to direct and support our band of volunteers; and enabling a variety of marketing initiatives.”

To find out more about the work of Arts Council England please visit

Programme and booking information for the 2019 Southwell Music Festival is available at or from the Cathedral Shop.

Encouraging the youngest audiences and performers

We want the Southwell Music Festival to be inclusive, and to be accessible to as wide a public as possible – whether or not they have previous experience of so-called classical music.

Indeed we are particularly keen to excite newcomers with their first experience of this wonderful repertoire, which is why around half the events in each Festival are free.

Introducing young people to the enjoyment of music – both as performers and audience – is a special responsibility, and so our Family Concert is particularly important. This year’s percussion-based affair entitled Crash, Bang, Wallop! will give a chance both to participate and to listen, and will no doubt be the Festival’s noisiest concert.

It will also demonstrate that music is all around us and is to be found in everyday objects. Everyone will have a chance to make their own instrument and to perform in a specially devised piece.

To fire people’s imaginations Esther Lynn from Hockerwood Park, who are sponsoring the concert, has devised a Music Wall to show what is possible with household and farmyard items – a few old spanners, an old jam kettle, a sieve, an old dog bowl, a plastic slat from the chicken shed, some metal washers and a random bracket from a bathroom basin. See for yourself in this video:

On Saturday 22 June between 12 noon and 4pm the Music Wall will make its public debut at the Southwell Funday on The Burgage when anyone visiting the Festival stand can have a go.

The Family Concert itself takes place on Saturday 24 August at the Minster School. The instrument making workshop starts and 10am; the music starts at 11am led by Festival percussionist Keith Price and distinguished workshop leader Ruth Rosales, supported by members of the Southwell Festival Sinfonia.

Tickets are free for people aged 12 and under. Everyone else pays £8. All seats should be booked in advance, either online at, by phone on 01636 330014 or in person at the Southwell Cathedral Shop.

This concert is perfect for people of all ages who may appreciate a more relaxed performance environment including people of all sensory and communicative abilities. Audience members are free to make noise, move about, and come and go as they please.

You can download the Family Concert leaflet here.

southwell music festival

Something for Everyone!

Public booking opens today for the 2019 Southwell Music Festival.

This year’s Festival takes place for six days over the August Bank Holiday – from Wednesday 21 to Monday 26 August – and comprises 35 events, of which around half are free.

Founder and Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth says:

“We hope that this year’s Festival has something for everyone – tuneful and dramatic symphonies, intimate chamber music, celebratory choral classics and soulful folk music.

“With the help of our wonderful 100-strong ensemble of leading professional singers and players from across the UK and abroad we look forward to bringing great music and the very best music making to our beautiful, historic Nottinghamshire town.

“Each year we aim to offer something fresh and unexpected, and I am particularly excited by this year’s Festival firsts including our first symphony concert with works by Mendelssohn and Mahler, and our first Handel oratorio – Israel in Egypt.

“The vital process of breaking down barriers – in this case between musical cultures and genres – is evident in much colourful and entertaining music from the United States and in our first late night folk concert in the Quire.

“Among the many other wonderful concerts we are delighted to present a celebrity recital by the brilliant violinist Jennifer Pike, whose programme includes Vaughan Williams’ evocative The Lark Ascending.

“Participation by young and old is a vital part of our Festival ethos and there is plenty of opportunity for that with our percussion-based Family Concert, and Come and Sing Handel. And to add to our singers’ enjoyment I will lead a preparatory Festival Singing Day on 17th August.

“We have continued to work hard to allow all comers easy access to Festival concerts, so this year there are more tickets available than ever before and we have a new online ticketing system. To buy online go here; to book by phone, call 01636 330014; to book in person, visit the Southwell Cathedral Shop.

“The Festival is an extraordinary community undertaking and none of it would be possible without the generous and sustained support of so many people offering help in very many different ways. Thank you!”

The full Festival programme is available here.

Record Support from our Festival Friends

Record support from Festival Friends

A record number of people – 137 at the last count – have so far signed up as Friends for the 2019 Festival. Thank you to all our Friends for their most valuable support.

In return we are delighted to offer Friends a range of exclusive benefits to increase their enjoyment of the Festival – including priority booking, newsletters, complimentary programme books, a private reception, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our performers in rehearsal, a public interview with selected performers, and access to free car parking.

If you have not already joined the Friends and this package appeals to you, it’s not too late. Just go online at for details and prices, or email our Friends Administrators Anne and Dave Francis at or call 01636 330014.

Booking for the general public opens on Monday 3 June, however Friends priority booking opens this coming week – on Monday 13th for Gold Friends, then Monday 20th for Silver and Tuesday 28th for Bronze Friends.

If you are in doubt about the exciting programme that is on offer at the 2019 Festival please take a look here. From grand symphonies, intimate chamber music and celebratory choral classics to soulful folk music we believe there really is something for everyone. And about half the events are free!