2020 Southwell Music Festival Cancelled

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Reviews of A Christmas Celebration 2019

“a triumph of artistic finesse”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

William Ruff for Reviews Gate

Featured articles

“Nottinghamshire market town is perfect place for summer’s classiest music festival”

Founder and Artistic Director of the Southwell Music Festival, Marcus Farnsworth, talks to the Nottingham Post, 4 October 2019

Reviews of the 2019 Festival

“a week of chamber, choral and orchestral music of remarkably high standards, true festival events that can’t be experienced elsewhere.”

Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times Culture, 1 September 2019


“Its education arm flourishes. A fringe is growing. Abetted by a National Lottery grant, Mr Farnsworth has inaugurated a huge Southwell Festival Sinfonia. Southwell Festival Chamber Soloists have evolved, as has a professional Festival Voices ensemble. It leaves one breathless.”

Roderic Dunnett in the Church Times, 13 September 2019


Annual Southwell Music Festival ‘an absolute phenomenon’

‘Festival success!’ – The Newark Advertiser (right), 28 August 2019


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

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

William Ruff on American Chamber Classics: Sound of the New World, 27 August 2019, via Reviews Gate


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

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

William Ruff on the 2019 Southwell Music Festival, for The Nottingham Post 26 August 2019 (right)


“as so often at Festival events, it was a joy not only to hear the highly refined playing of the mostly young players but also to see their absorption in the musical story-telling and their rapport with both the conductor and each other.”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

William Ruff on ‘Symphonic Journeys’, for Nottingham Post 22 August 2019, online via Reviews Gate

Preview of the 2019 Festival

“Southwell Music Festival is an inclusive event, with its percussion-based family concert, an opportunity for choral singers to sing Handel, and popular free fringe concerts across the town.”

Newark Advertiser, 21 August 2019

National Lottery Heritage Grant news 2019

Nottingham Post, 8 August

Preview, 2019 Festival Family Concert

Newark Advertiser, 28 July

Reviews of A Christmas Celebration 2018

“Southwell Minster’s Christmas Celebration is in danger of topping the list of things that doctors prescribe to patients suffering from pre-Christmas stress and shortest-day-syndrome.  I defy anyone attending not to feel refreshed, refocused and returned to the spiritual substance which the annual festival of shopping and remorseless jollity threatens to obscure.”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

William Ruff for Reviews Gate

Reviews of the 2018 Festival

“Southwell Music Festival a record breaker”

Tim Morriss for the Newark Advertiser, 30 Aug 2018

“an evening of great music-making that lingered long after the last note.”

Tony Spittles for the Mansfield Chad, 28 August 2018

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

William Ruff of the Nottingham Post, reviewing the 2018 Festival – PDF


“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.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

William Ruff for Reviews Gate on the B Minor Mass, 22 August 2018

Radio and TV media for the 2018 Festival

There have been a number of radio and TV features for the 2018 Festival. You can listen or watch again (subject to host site availability) here:

Feature for Ey Up Notts, Notts TV, 26 Aug 2018
Konya Kanneh-Mason on BBC Radio 3 In Tune, 22 August 2018
Clare Hammond on BBC Radio 3 In Tune, 21 August 2018
Marcus, Alison Rose & James Cheung on BBC Radio 3 In Tune, 13 August 2018
Marcus appears on Ey Up Notts, Notts TV, 23 July 2018
Marcus talk to John Holmes on BBC Radio Nottingham, 22 July 2018

Preview, 2018 Festival Programme

Newark Advertiser, 23 August

Press release, 2018 Festival Programme

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Press release, 2018 Festival Programme Launch

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Sunday Times Culture Hot Tickets 2018

Sunday Times music critic Hugh Canning named the Southwell Music Festival as one of his ten Hot Tickets for 2018 in the 7 January Sunday Times Culture Section, saying:

“Marcus Farnsworth has put the tiny Nottinghamshire town with an exquisite minster on the map in a short space of time: his fifth festival features a performance of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, while the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2016, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, plays Elgar’s Cello Concerto.”

Reviews of the Christmas Celebration concert

Nottingham Post, 27 December 2017, reproduced below:

Friday’s trip to Southwell had a touch of pilgrimage about it.  Thick fog may have made driving hazardous but it also made first sight of the Minster even more welcome and its Celebration of Christmas a source of light amid the encircling murk.

The programme too was a sort of journey: six sections, each comprising music and words, starting with the ethereal (Hildegard of Bingen’s exquisite O viridissima virga) and ending with a wonderfully comic arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas, complete with uncannily accurate goose impersonations. 

The variety of responses to the festive theme packed into this 90-minute concert was one of its most remarkable features.  Medieval contemplation of mystery and miracle rubbed shoulders with composers of all subsequent eras; the smoothly lyrical (Irving Berlin’s White Christmas) with the compellingly jagged dissonace of Thomas Adès’ Fayrfax Carol; the earthiness of Gaudete with the celestial splendours of Kenneth Leighton’s Of a rose is all my song.  Peter Cornelius’ The Three Kings was one of many highlights: deeply spiritual and emotional music uniquely combining song melody above and chorale tune below – and beautifully performed by soloist and choir.

Actor David Oakes (Prince Ernest in ITV’s Victoria) brought dramatic energy to the spoken texts: the familiar (Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Eliot’s Journey of the Magi) together with lesser-known pieces by writers such as Hardy, Chesterton and Wendy Cope.

Conductor Marcus Farnsworth has already proved in four summer Festivals his credentials as a master of the choral epic.  On Friday he proved to be a consummate miniaturist too, moulding jewel-like performances from his 14 hand-picked singers.  Solo and ensemble singing doesn’t get any better than this.  Focus was razor-sharp, dynamics were thrillingly controlled, diction was crystal-clear, beauty shining from single sustained notes as well as soaring complexity.” (William Ruff)

Preview from Robert Hugill, 14 December 2017

Reviews of the 2017 Festival

“The Southwell [Music] Festival reaches out to musicians and audience alike, embracing them all in the warmest of welcomes. There really is something for everyone: music new and old, music for small children and for experts, music for singers and for instrumentalists, for large groups and small ensembles.”

Nottingham Post review, 29 August 2017

Church Times review, 20 October 2017

2017 Festival Previews

Newark Advertiser, 24 August 2017
Left Lion Nottingham, 22 August 2017
Robert Hugill on the 2017 Festival, 9 August 2017

Press release, 2017 Festival

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Reviews of the 2016 Festival

“Fitting finale to the Edinburgh Festival

Hugh Canning sees flair and ambition rewarded in performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder, and heads to Southwell to hear a splendid Gerontius

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.”
The Sunday Times, 4 September 2016

“Thousands of visitors attended the third Southwell Music Festival, making it a huge success.”
The Newark Advertiser, 31 August 2016

William Ruff for the Nottingham Post (download pdf)

Press release, 2016 Festival

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Reviews of the 2015 Festival

“A community event of an astoundingly high standard”
The Sunday Times, 6 September 2015

Newark Advertiser, 31 August 2015

Press release, 2015 Festival

Download PDF, Word

2014 Festival Previews

Newark Advertiser, 22 August 2014