United Kingdom The Three Choirs Festival 2014: A Preview
The Three Choirs Festival, which was first held in 1715 is probably the oldest music festival in the world; is there another festival that has been in existence for nearly 300 years? The 287th festival takes place between 26 July and 2 August, 2014 and this year it’s the turn of the city of Worcester to play host. That means that the Director of Music at Worcester Cathedral, Peter Nardone, is Artistic Director of the Festival. This is the first time he’s directed a Festival since arriving in Worcester a couple of years ago. He’s devised an enticing programme of over 60 events.
Inevitably, and rightly, the centenary of the outbreak of World War I will be very fittingly observed. Indeed, the focus is firmly on that commemoration on the very first day of the Festival. There’ll be an afternoon song recital by Roderick Williams, of which more in a moment, and in the evening Britten’s War Requiem will be heard in the Cathedral. Peter Nardone and his Hereford colleague, Geraint Bowen will conduct and the fine trio of soloists includes Susan Gritton, James Oxley and David Wilson-Johnson (26 July, 19:45). All the concerts mentioned in this preview will take place in the cathedral u less otherwise stated.
The next night brings Dvořák’s fine Stabat Mater. The composer himself conducted this work in Worcester at the 1884 Three Choirs Festival; in 2014 Geraint Bowen will be in charge (27 July, 19:45). A guest conductor will be on the podium the following evening to direct the last in a trilogy of large-scale choral works concerned with death and, on this evening, Resurrection. Juraj Valčuha leads Mahler’s mighty Second Symphony (28 July, 19:45). Peter Nardone relates in the preface to the programme that his first encounter with Three Choirs was the ‘life-changing experience’ of hearing Elgar’s The Apostles in 1984. It must have been a temptation, therefore, to conduct the work himself but he’s graciously ceded the podium to his Gloucester colleague, Adrian Partington. I was greatly impressed with Partington’s performance of the companion oratorio, The Kingdom, at his own inaugural Three Choirs, back in 2010 (review) so hopes are high for this performance also (1 August, 19:45).
All four of the above concerts will feature the Festival Chorus. They get a welcome night off to recharge their batteries when Nigel Short and his acclaimed choir, Tenebrae, make a guest appearance with a programme entitled ‘Russian Treasures’. This programme consists of liturgical music from the Eastern Orthodox Church and several of the pieces are included on a recent CD which impressed me a lot (review): it will be great to hear them sing this music live (29 July, 19:45). Earlier in the day the choirs of the three Cathedrals will join forces to give a performance of Bach’s B minor Mass accompanied by the period instruments of the Academy of Ancient Music. Peter Nardone will conduct (29 July, 14:30)
The theme of the Great War will reach a climax with the unveiling of a specially commissioned work by the German composer, Torsten Rasch (b. 1965). His new work, A Foreign Field for soloists, chorus and orchestra and setting, I believe, poems by A. E. Housman, will be paired with English music: Vaughan Williams’ evocation of a world gone for ever, The Lark Ascending, and Elgar’s unfairly neglected masterpiece, The Spirit of England, which comprises three settings of poems by Laurence Binyon. The guest conductor will be Baldur Brönnimann (31 July, 19:45)
One of the soloists in that concert will be baritone Roderick Williams. He gave Three Choirs audiences a foretaste of Rasch’s music when he included some songs by him in his recital at the 2013 Festival (review). For the 2014 Festival Williams, a renowned interpreter of English songs, offers a mouth-watering programme, entitled ‘The Great War in English Song’. He will perform songs by Butterworth, Finzi, Gurney, Ireland and others (Huntingdon Hall, 26 July, 14:30).
There will be several visiting vocal ensembles besides Tenebrae. Ralph Allwood will bring his marvellous Rodolfus Choir to St. George’s Church, Barbourne, Worcester with a programme entitled ‘Time and its passing’ (30 July, 11:00). The King’s Singers offer a Shakespeare-themed programme (31 July, 15:00) and members of the Eton Choral Course will sing in Malvern College (2 August, 15:00). The Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir can’t be called a visiting ensemble; they’re now an established part of the festival and their concert, conducted by Adrian Partington, which includes the Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor, should be well worth hearing (28 July, 11:00).
There’ll be the usual appetising sprinkling of chamber music concerts, organ recitals and talks and as usual Choral Evensong will be celebrated nearly every day of the festival, including some wonderful sacred music. The service on 30 July will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
I’ve mentioned just a few of the 63 events that comprise this Festival. Full details of all the programmes can be found here.
The Philharmonia Orchestra will be in residence throughout the week and, of course, the Festival Chorus will provide the backbone of the festival. Postal booking opens to the public on 14 April. From the same date telephone bookings can be made on 0845 652 1823. On line booking is available from 15 April. Details of how to book can be found here.