Three Choirs Festival 2011: A Preview

Three Choirs Festival 2011: A Preview from John Quinn (JQ)

The Three Choirs Festival, which can trace its origins back to the early eighteenth century, is probably the oldest musical festival in the world and the 2011 Festival will be the 283rd meeting of the Three Choirs. Each summer the festival rotates between the cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. This year it’s Worcester’s turn to host the Festival, which runs from 6 to 13 August. The Festival will be directed by Adrian Lucas, the Master of the Music at Worcester Cathedral, and this will be his last Festival. After fifteen years at Worcester Mr Lucas leaves after Christmas to pursue other musical avenues, including setting up a new recording company.

Adrian Lucas has put together a varied and interesting programme. As usual, a prime focus for any Three Choirs Festival is the major choral and orchestral concerts which take place most evenings in the cathedral. The first of these is Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius (6 August, 19.45), which Adrian Lucas will conduct. The Philharmonia Orchestra, resident for the week, and the Festival Chorus will take part and the soloists include John Graham-Hall as Gerontius and Sarah Connolly as The Angel.

The very next evening comes what is potentially one of the most intriguing concerts of all. To commemorate ten years since the atrocity that was 9/11 Adrian Lucas is going to direct the work by John Adams that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in the aftermath of that event, On the Transmigration of Souls (2002). I’ve reviewed two CD performances of that work in recent years and heard it on the radio but I’ve never experienced it live so I’m anticipating that concert keenly. Round it, Lucas has placed Barber’s Adagio for Strings, the Adagietto movement from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony and Mozart’s Requiem (7 August, 19:45).

In the year that we mark the centenary of his death a Mahler symphony can be heard in full the very next evening. His colossal Third Symphony will be conducted by the exciting Finnish conductor, Susanna Mälkki (8 August 19:45). On a smaller scale that expert ensemble, The Sixteen, will be in the cathedral the following night when Harry Christophers will direct them in a programme of music built around the Russian Orthodox liturgy (9 August, 19:45). Later that same evening comes a fascinating prospect: David Briggs, the former Organist of Gloucester Cathedral and a renowned virtuoso, will be unveiling his organ transcription of Elgar’s Second Symphony (9 August, 22:15)

Another major work by Elgar can be heard the following evening when there’s a rare chance to hear Caractacus. This is one of the concerts that will be recorded for future transmission on BBC Radio 3 but it will be far better to hear the work ‘live’, I’m sure. I can only recall one previous performance of it in over forty years of concert-going. To add to the attraction, one of our finest Elgar conductors, Sir Andrew Davis, will be on the podium (10 August, 19:45).

One other orchestral concert demands a mention. Not only is the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland making its Three Choirs debut but also they’re including in their programme a major work by Scotland’s leading composer, James MacMillan. His Third Symphony is coupled with music by Ravel and Mahler (11 August, 11.00)

Most of the sixty-four events take place in Worcester but the Festival is spreading its wings to one or two other places. One of these is the magnificent Tewkesbury Abbey. Among the concerts there will be a recital by students from the Eton Choral Course. Their enterprising programme includes pieces by Rubbra, Elgar, Howells and Byrd and the standard of performance is sure to be very high (12 August, 14.45)

As ever with the Three Choirs there will be events going on virtually all day, every day and ranging from chamber music, through organ recitals to a cabaret evening. As usual, Evensong will be sung almost every evening, providing an oasis of reflection during the busy daily schedule. To ring down the curtain on this Festival and on his Three Choirs career, Adrian Lucas invites you to A Night at the Opera at the very end of the Festival. The programme will comprise arias, duets and choruses from a variety of operas and the roster of soloists will be headed by the distinguished baritone, Sir Thomas Allen. Overture and beginners for that event is at 19:45 on 13 August.

Full details of the Festival are available at where bookings can be made online,. Alternatively, book by post through the Festival Ticket Office at 7C, College Green, Gloucester GL1 2LX United Kingdom. Telephone bookings can be made from 2 June on 0845 652 1823

John Quinn