What’s in Store at Cheltenham Music Festival 2013?

What’s in Store at Cheltenham Music Festival 2013?

The 2013 Cheltenham Music Festival runs from 3 to 14 July. There doesn’t seem to be a specific theme to this year’s festival – at any rate none is mentioned in Director Meurig Bowen’s strangely brief introduction to the festival prospectus. However, it may come as little surprise that the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten is being marked in quite a big way – I counted eleven separate concerts in which his music is to be performed.

These Britten performances include all three of his string quartets, played by three different ensembles in separate concerts (8 & 9 July) and his Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. This will be performed by Toby Spence with the City of London Sinfonia in the closing concert when there’ll also be a new work, scored for the same forces, by Michael Zev Gordon (14 July). One of the most eye-catching Britten events comes early in the festival when over 200 local schoolchildren will take part in two early evening performances of Noye’s Fludde in Tewkesbury Abbey (3 & 4 July). In an intelligent piece of programme planning more young musicians, the Orchestra of Chetham’s School, will pair music by Britten and his friend Shostakovich in their Cheltenham Town Hall concert (6 July).

Amid all the understandable fuss over Britten, Verdi and Wagner in 2013 it would be easy to overlook the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc. I’m delighted to see that he will be honoured in Cheltenham – or, more accurately, in Gloucester – with performances of his Organ Concerto and Gloria in the city’s cathedral. The mouth-watering programme also includes Fauré’s Requiem and Ravel’s exquisite Pavane. David Briggs, whom I recently heard play the Organ Concerto in Birmingham (review) will be the soloist. Four splendid chamber choirs come together for this concert and Stephen Layton conducts (13 July). There will be Poulenc celebrations in Cheltenham too when Dame Felicity Lott sings with the Royal Holloway Choir, one of the choirs involved in the cathedral concert. Several threads are pleasingly brought together here: Dame Felicity was born in Cheltenham and studied at Royal Holloway College; we’ll be able to hear some French music – a Lott speciality – and some Britten. Furthermore there’ll be premières of new works by Antony Pitts and Gabriel Jackson (12 July). Earlier in the festival there’s an opportunity to enjoy Poulenc’s one-act opera, La Voix Humaine (5 July).

On the subject of anniversaries, the festival is one of the stops on the world tour being undertaken by The Tallis Scholars to mark their fortieth anniversary. They’ will be in Tewkesbury Abbey to sing music by Tallis, Byrd and Palestrina as well as Allegri’s celebrated Miserere. They’ll also sing music of our own time by Arvo Pärt and Eric Whitacre, the latter a wonderful piece, Sainte-Chapelle, written specially for them (review) (10 July).

As usual, chamber music is strongly represented in the festival line-up. The performers and ensembles involved include the Belcea Quartet (3 July); The Schubert Ensemble, who will include works by both David Matthews and his brother, Colin (5 July); celebrated violist Lawrence Powers, who will play both the viola and the violin (7July); and the Carducci Quartet (8 July). One event that’s sure to be a big draw is the appearance of violinist Nicola Benedetti and her trio, playing Tchaikovsky and Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’ Trio (11 July).

There are surprisingly few song recitals this year but the prospect of mezzo Christianne Stotijn and pianist Imogen Cooper in a programme mainly of Britten and Schubert is an attractive one (6 July).

I’ve mentioned the Tallis Scholars’ fortieth anniversary. Another vocal ensemble with an important anniversary in 2013 is The Swingle Singers, fifty years young this year. They’re bringing to Cheltenham a programme entitled ‘Beatbox to Beatles and Bach Again’ (5 July).

I’ve only mentioned a handful of the events in the festival programme, which offers music and music-related events to suit the widest range of tastes. Full details of the entire programme are on the festival website. Bookings can be made online or by telephone on 0844 880 8094. Local residents can also book at the box office in the Regent Arcade, Cheltenham.

John Quinn