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: https://www.instagram.com/p/ByuSrZeg_ST/

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 www.southwellmusicfestival.com, 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 www.southwellmusicfestival.com/friends for details and prices, or email our Friends Administrators Anne and Dave Francis at friends@southwellmusicfestival.com 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 southwellmusicfestival.com/onlinebooking or in person from the Cathedral Shop.

Details of the whole weekend are available at southwellmusicfestival.com/events 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.”

2018 Performer Profiles: Matthew Gee

Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell introduces some of the outstanding performers taking part in the 2018 Southwell Music Festival.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming trombonist Matthew Gee back to the Southwell Music Festival.

Matthew Gee. Photo: Micha Theiner

1) Who are you, where are you based, and what work do you do?

I’m Matthew and based in Ealing in West London. My main job is to play principal trombone with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, but I also hold positions with the Aurora Orchestra, Septura Brass Septet and teach at the Royal Academy of Music in London. I enjoy getting out from the back of the orchestra and playing solos, and quite often travel to festivals to take masterclasses and perform recitals. I have just returned from a fantastic festival in Lieksa, which is in North-East Finland, not too far from the Russian border. Plenty of sauna and lake swimming that week!

2) What music are you most looking forward to performing in Southwell this year?

Well I’ve never played the Tippet, so I’m looking forward to that on Saturday night, especially as the trombones get to sit directly in front of the Southwell Voices, who are one of the best choirs I get to work with. And the Berio. It was written over fifty years ago, and is still one of the most challenging, entertaining pieces in the repertoire…as long as you’re not scared of clowns!

3) What other things have you got coming up that are interesting in the next few months?”

I’ve just finished recording the whole of Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ for trombone and piano. This will be coming out on the NAXOS label at some point in the next year, so I’ve plenty of follow-up work to do on that project. We’ve also got some great touring with Septura – New Zealand and Japan – so that’s very exciting. This year has been one of the busiest I can remember, and I’m expecting to become a dad in early September, so the trombone is going in its case for three weeks while I have a well earned rest, and probably no sleep!

2018 Performer Profiles: Benjamin Mellefont

Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell introduces some of the outstanding performers taking part in the 2018 Southwell Music Festival.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming clarinettist Benjamin Mellefont to the Southwell Music Festival.

1) Who are you, where are you based, and what work do you do?

My name is Benjamin Mellefont and I was born next to the beach in Sydney. Until recently I played in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; earlier this year I moved back to London to focus on freelancing. I now split my time between playing with orchestras around the UK and playing chamber music. One ensemble I love being part of is ‘Explore Ensemble’, a contemporary chamber group that I got involved with in 2012 when I was at the Royal College of Music.

2) What music are you most looking forward to performing in Southwell this year?

I’m really looking forward to playing Stravinsky’s ‘Soldier’s Tale’. I’ve never had the chance to play this piece before and I love how characterful it is; each instrument gets to inhabit so many different colours and voices throughout the piece, so in a way the sound world feels much bigger than just the seven instruments that play.

3) What other things have you got coming up that are interesting in the next few months?”

I’m looking forward to playing Beethoven Symphony no. 5 from memory with the Aurora Orchestra, because I really don’t know this famous piece that well (!) and playing from memory is a really fun way of performing. I’m also excited to be part of the UK premiere of Sciarrino’s ‘Carnaval’ with Explore Ensemble and EXAUDI at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival: his is some of the most delicate and beautiful contemporary music that I’ve heard.

2018 Performer Profiles: Charlotte Ashton

Associate Artistic Director Jamie Campbell introduces some of the outstanding performers taking part in the 2018 Southwell Music Festival.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming flautist Charlotte Ashton back to the Southwell Music Festival.

charlotte ashton1) Who are you, where are you based, and what work do you do?

My name is Charlotte Ashton and I am the Principal Flute of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. As of about 18 months ago, I now live up in Glasgow (where the orchestra is based) in my flat in the West End. In addition to my position with the orchestra, I also perform as a Guest Principal with other orchestras, and try to do as much solo performance and chamber music as possible. Any free time I have, I spend doing DIY on my flat. My most recent project was building, painting and upholstering a footstool!

2) What music are you most looking forward to performing in Southwell this year?

I am so excited about coming to Southwell this year – the inspiring and encouraging atmosphere really is something unique. In particular, though, I am looking forward to playing Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D, as this is my favourite of his flute quartets, and it is always exciting to learn this with a different group of string players. The second movement of the piece is one of the first things I ever performed with orchestra when I was younger, and it is such a desperately sad, yet extremely restrained and poised, melody. I love the challenges of working in a string quartet formation, like knowing when and how to blend with the sound as opposed to when to sing out as the soloist. I’m especially excited about doing the repeat concerts, because it’s such a treat to walk off stage having enjoyed yourself but know that you get to do it all again!

3) What other things have you got coming up that are interesting in the next few months?”

When I leave Southwell, I’ll be going back to work in Glasgow, and our first concert is one of the chillier concerts of our schedule up in Scotland – Proms in the Park, which is held outside in Glasgow Green! We have a great season of concerts coming up, including a really exciting project in Glasgow Cathedral and some fantastic programmes with lots of exciting flute parts to look forward to. I’m also fortunate to be involved with a Hebrides Ensemble project at the Lammermuir Festival in September, which includes Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, and Debussy’s Trio for Flute, Harp and Viola.