Marcus talks to Nottingham Post about ‘summer’s classiest music festival’

Today the Nottingham Post have published an interview with our Artistic Director, Marcus Farnsworth, about the Southwell Music Festival, which Marcus set up six years ago. Marcus spoke with the editor of the Nottingham Post, Mike Sassi, who was able to experience the festival at first hand when he attended the popular Come & Sing event on the final day of this year’s festival.

Sunday Times Culture Review, 2019 Festival

We were pleased that the Chief Classical Music Critic of the Sunday Times, Hugh Canning was able to join us for this year’s Southwell Music Festival. He was able to see events over a couple of days, and drew the conclusion that Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth’s achievement is to have delivered

a week of chamber, choral and orchestral music of remarkably high standards, considering that all the programmes are custom-made for Southwell, true festival events that can’t be experienced elsewhere.

In particular, Canning felt that the performance of Israel in Egypt was “hard to forget” and, on the innovative programming that characterised a number of the events at this year’s festival, he was notably impressed by the Strings in the Quire, saying:

“Even more experimental was Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, linked with contrasting pieces including a movement from Shostakovich’s Second Quartet, an aria from a Rameau opera and REM’s I’ve Been High, arranged by the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s Richard Tognetti. It shouldn’t have worked, but the Tchaikovsky movements were so well played that it proved the festival highlight.”

Subscribers to the Times and Sunday Times can read the review in full here.

Record-Breaking Success

Audiences, performers and organisers have all expressed delight at the success of the 2019 Southwell Music Festival which took place over the August Bank Holiday.

This sixth annual festival, which was supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, broke a number of records: around 3,900 tickets were sold in total; the value of ticket sales increased by 13%; more than 1,200 people attended the free Fringe concerts and £3,088 was raised via bucket collections to support the Southwell Live at Home Scheme. More than 70 local families hosted visiting musicians for the week.

For the first time a Festival Marquee was provided in the Education Garden adjoining the Archbishop’s Palace and proved to be a popular meeting place for audiences and performers.

Festival Founder and Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth said:

“Southwell, the Minster and massively enthusiastic support from the local community make our Festival special – and indeed possible.

“What makes the Festival unique artistically is the ensemble of 100 of the best professional musicians who come from all over the UK and Europe and work their musical socks off for seven days to create world-class performances of choral, orchestral and chamber concerts.

“Our audiences love it – and they are growing in number; and so do the musicians who look forward to returning year after year.

“Every year we say that particular festival was the best yet – and there is no doubt that this was the case in 2019.

“The remark by Hugh Canning, Chief Classical Music Critic of The Sunday Times, that the Festival is ‘…a community event of an outstandingly high standard’ remains as true as ever and I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who helped make it so.”

London-based mezzo-soprano Judy Brown evidently spoke for many performers when she said on Twitter: “There aren’t enough superlatives to describe @Southwell_Music – it is an absolute phenomenon. It gets better and better every year, thanks to the tireless efforts of every single person on and off stage. It is truly a joy and my heart swells with pride that I get to be part of it.”

If you attended the 2019 Festival and would like to give feedback please visit www.southwellmusicfestival.com/feedback to complete a short questionnaire.

The 2020 Festival will take place from Wednesday 26 to Monday 31 August.

Annual Southwell Music Festival ‘an absolute phenomenon’

Yesterday’s print edition of the Newark Advertiser carried a front and double page spread about the 2019 Southwell Music Festival. ‘Festival success!’ referred to the 36 events, National Lottery funding and the enthusiasm of audiences and performers alike, summed up in interview with returning mezzo-soprano Judy Brown, who said:

“There aren’t enough superlatives to describe the Southwell Music Festival ­— it is an absolute phenomenon. It gets better and better every year, thanks to the tireless efforts of every single person on and off stage. It is truly a joy and my heart swells with pride that I get to be part of it.

Read this and other reviews and articles about the Southwell Music Festival via our Press page. Next year’s Southwell Music Festival once again takes place over the bank holiday weekend, 26-31 August. Before then there is the chance to hear the Southwell Festival Voices in concert at the Minster for their now-annual Christmas Celebration concert on 20 December at 7.30pm.

Sometimes mystifying, always engrossing

The 2019 Southwell Music Festival. Photo: Dick Makin Imaging

William Ruff’s final concert review of the 2019 Southwell Music Festival was of our Sunday night chamber concert of American music: Sounds of the New World. Mr Ruff’s summed up his own experience with

As I was leaving the Minster I overheard comments such as: ‘Did you hear those lovely woodwind solos?’  It was that sort of concert: small-scale, subtle; sometimes mystifying, always engrossing.

You can read this and other reviews and articles concerning both this Southwell Music Festival and previous festivals via the Press page.

Southwell an August paradise for music-lovers

Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth conducts the Come & Sing event on the final day of the 2019 Southwell Music Festival. Photo: Dick Makin Imaging

The Nottingham Post’s classical music critic William Ruff visited Southwell Music Festival on a number of occasions this week. The performances have left quite an impression – in a 5* star review for the Post the wrote:

“Exceptional performances, imaginative programming, superb presentation: all combine to make Southwell an August paradise for music-lovers”

Mr Ruff enjoyed the Symphonic, Choral and Chamber concerts on offer in Southwell Minster during a week of around 35 events, half of which were free. He had this advice for those interested in visiting Southwell Music Festival in future:

“There’s really no need to choose between concerts: just book for them all.”

To read this review and others, visit the Press page.

 

Five Star Opening Concert to 2019 Festival

Soprano Alison Rose and conductor Marcus Farnsworth with the Southwell Festival Sinfonia performing Mahler Symphony no. 4 at the 2019 Southwell Music Festival. Photo: Dick Makin Imaging

Last night our Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth conducted symphonies by Mendelssohn and Mahler in the opening evening concert of the 2019 Southwell Music Festival. William Ruff of the Nottingham Post was here once again and found the concert to be a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ experience, writing that

The Festival is back after a long year of high expectations and the first night concert had sackfuls of the ingredients audiences have come to expect: the highest standards of performance mixed with meticulous attention to detail both onstage and off.

You can read the rest of the review via reviewsgate.com (prior to its appearance in print in the Nottingham Post at the end of the week).

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 www.artscouncil.org.uk

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

The Real Life Event

A review of the Southwell Music Festival 2018 by Nottingham Post critic William Ruff:

There’s no such thing as disappointment at the Southwell Festival – except when the tickets sell out.

Forget about births, marriages and deaths: it’s the annual Southwell Music Festival that’s the real life event.  It’s not at all unusual to hear audience members declaring that some of the richest musical experiences of their concert-going lives have occurred in the five years of the Festival’s existence.  Many events quickly become sell-outs – and you can see why.  Take just two events from the 2018 Festival: standing ovations for the exceptional performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass on the opening Wednesday and for another superlative interpretation from Sheku Kanneh-Mason, this time of Elgar’s Cello Concerto on Saturday night.

As the Festival grows, so the task of assembling the artists, creating the ever more adventurous programme and ensuring that such a wealth of talent is used to maximum effect must become more complex.  That it all works so smoothly is a testimony to the dedication not only to the many musicians but also to the team of administrators and volunteers who are also on hand to direct operations and welcome visitors with such warmth and enthusiasm.  And at the helm, with seemingly endless energy, is the Festival’s Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth.

Colours were well and truly nailed to the mast on the opening day.  It takes both courage and confidence to start a Festival with Bach’s B Minor Mass: magnificent music which makes almost impossible demands on the performers.  Marcus Farnsworth’s direction was masterly, moulding the outstanding vocal and instrumental forces gathered together into an intuitive chamber ensemble, not only producing beautiful sound individually but also listening, responding, communing with each other, subsuming their own artistry into a greater whole.

Pianist Clare Hammond was one of several Nottingham artists to feature this year.  Her stylish, elegant way with a Haydn sonata delighted those attending her Saturday lunchtime recital. Her sense of humour emerged with three short depictions of bees by Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakov and (hilariously) Ewan Campbell, whose Flight of the Killer Bee certainly had a sting in its tail.  Vividly colourful, excitingly dramatic performances of five Debussy Préludes and Stravinsky’s Petrushka completed her programme.

Amongst the wealth of chamber music on offer was an evening of works by Czech composers.  The Festival Chamber Soloists spoke the musical language of Dvorak’s String Sextet with an entirely authentic accent.  Pianist James Cheung and soprano Alison Rose followed with Dvorak’s richly tuneful Seven Gypsy Melodies, the score really blossoming in their hands.  And then in the second half came one of the most intense moments of the 2018 Festival, the searchingly intelligent performance of Janacek’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared by tenor Andrew Tortise and mezzo Madeleine Shaw.

There will be many more commemorations of the Great War this year, but surely none will be more exploratory than Sunday night’s For the Fallen, a programme which juxtaposed such diverse composers as Suk, Stuart Macrae, Butterworth and Stravinsky.  The wealth of vocal and instrumental expertise and the intelligence behind the programme’s planning made this a poignant tribute to victims of human conflict.

If you could distill the huge diversity of events into just two hours, Saturday night’s concert would do nicely.  The Minster, as full as it’s ever been with audience, musicians and volunteers, witnessed not only Sheku’s extraordinary talent in his heart-stoppingly lovely performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto but also a thrilling interpretation of Tippett’s challenging A Child of Our Time.

If all this has whetted appetites for next year, it’s best to run to the box office as soon as the starting pistol fires. There’s no such thing as disappointment at the Southwell Festival – except when the tickets sell out.

2018 Festival Bach B Minor Mass Review

William Ruff of the Nottingham Post attended the performance of JS Bach’s B Minor Mass in the Minster on the first night of the Festival and was moved to write this piece which he has given us permission to publish here:

Festival Baroque Voices. Photo: Hannah Cooke

“Something happened in the nave of Southwell Minster on the opening night of this year’s Festival which should have been impossible. To start at the end: festivals may occasionally conclude with standing ovations but they rarely start with one. But try keeping the Minster audience on their seats after such a stunning performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass by the Festival Baroque Soloists and Voices. But what of the impossibilities which led to this? Marcus Farnsworth’s direction was as invisible as it was masterly. The more one looked the more one couldn’t see how he was doing it. The only explanation was that in rehearsal he had turned his outstanding vocal and instrumental forces into an intuitive chamber ensemble, not only producing beautiful sound individually but also listening, responding, communing with each other, subsuming their own artistry into a greater whole.

 

Festivals may occasionally conclude with standing ovations but they rarely start with one. But try keeping the Minster audience on their seats after such a stunning performance of Bach’s B Minor Mass by the Festival Baroque Soloists and Voices

 

The platform layout emphasised the approach, with instruments on one side facing vocalists on the other, able to see each other and perfectly at one in matters of phrasing, balance and timbre. Amongst the most moving aspects of the performance were the duets for two solo voices or for voice and solo instrument as individual musical talents melted into a profoundly spiritual experience infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Photo: Dick Makin

As far as detail is concerned it’s hard to know where to begin and end as the performers’ vision was so unanimous and rooted in complete faithfulness to Bach’s extraordinary music. There was no sense of labouring towards a pinnacle as these musicians had already arrived at the summit before a note was sounded. And there they remained, Bach’s often impossibly difficult music freely flowing in their veins. But amongst my scribblings I found myself noting the way the performers conveyed Bach’s dance rhythms and the way in which they made tiny gradations of dynamics sound so thrilling, often pressing gently on notes to squeeze out their full potential. Then there was the crystal clarity of texture throughout, as evident in the resplendent choruses as in the introspective solos. The sheer volume of sound produced by only ten singers was as remarkable as the fact that each had to move seamlessly from immersion in choral grandeur to the intimacy of the jewel-like arias.

Other highlights? The bright, buoyant opening of the Gloria; the way that musical weight was imparted to the words in phrases like in terra pax; the chiaroscuro effects of light and darkness as the Crucifixus gave way to the triumphant Et resurrexit; the explosive Amen at the end of the Credo; the glorious Osannas capping the Sanctus and Benedictus.

After such a sequence of musical and spiritual profundities delivered by some of the most expert players and singers one is likely ever to hear in this work it’s not surprising that the audience rose so spontaneously to their feet at the end. If Marcus Farnsworth and his like-minded musicians had set out to achieve the impossible, no one present in the Minster on Wednesday was in any doubt that they had succeeded.”