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!

Launch Weekend!

The launch of the 2019 Southwell Music Festival will be marked by four events spread over two days – Friday 5 and Saturday 6 April – and involving the Festival’s partner charity Awards for Young Musicians.

The Festival itself takes place from 21-26 August. As in previous years the programme will be announced by Artistic Director Marcus Farnsworth at a free concert in the Minster – this year taking place on the evening of Friday 5 April at 7.30pm.

To give a greater insight into this year’s programme and the Festival in general, Marcus and his Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell will take part in a free public Q&A at Southwell Methodist Church from 4-5pm on Saturday.

The encouragement of new musical talent is part of the Festival’s DNA and so it is appropriate to be renewing our partnership with AYM which provides vital support for young musicians of exceptional ability from low income backgrounds.

On Saturday afternoon (1-3pm) three AYM beneficiaries will take part in a free public masterclass in the State Chamber when they will be coached by some of the Festival’s professional musicians.

That evening at 7.30pm the young musicians will share a concert in the Minster with the Festival Chamber Soloists, performing solos and a trio; the professional musicians will perform Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C minor. Tickets costing £15 (free to 18s and under) are available at or in person from the Cathedral Shop.

Details of the whole weekend are available at including a downloadable leaflet and poster.

Christmas Greetings from the Southwell Music Festival

Christmas Greetings!

As the year draws to a close it is appropriate to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who supported the Festival this year – as sponsors, Friends, donors, hosts, volunteers, ticket buyers or in any other capacity. Some say it was the best yet.

A Christmas Celebration

We are looking forward to our Christmas Celebration concert on Friday 21st December at 7.30pm in Southwell Minster. Our brilliant Festival Voices will once again be exploring magnificent music from medieval times to the present day and the distinguished actor Clive Mantle, who made such a moving contribution to our Voices of Remembrance concert in the summer, is returning to provide wonderful seasonal readings.

This will be an inspiring prelude to your celebration of Christmas and we hope to see you there. Tickets are available at the Southwell Cathedral Shop or online here.

Christmas gift inspiration?

This is the time of year when Christmas gift inspiration can be in short supply. We would like to propose membership of the 2019 Festival Friends as a solution. With priority booking for Festival concerts, three highly informative newsletters, complimentary programme books and an invitation to the Friends’ reception on offer, this is an attractive option for any music lover. Prices are £50 for Bronze membership, £150 for Silver and £300 for Gold membership.

You can download an application form here where you will also find details to contact the Friends Administrators.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Marcus Farnsworth
Artistic Director

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.”