The Three Choirs Festival 2015: 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 300 years? Rightly, the 2015 Festival is celebrating the tercentenary in style. Actually, this is “only” the 288th festival because it was necessary to cancel festivals during the First and Second World Wars. Hereford will also have the honour of presenting the 300th Festival – but not until 2027!
The Festival is held in turn in one of the three cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. This year, by rotation, the Festival, which takes place between 25 July and 1 August will be hosted by the city of Hereford. The Director of Music at Hereford Cathedral, Geraint Bowen, is Artistic Director of the Festival and he’s devised an enticing programme of events.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Bowen has decided to celebrate the tercentenary by including several pillars of the choral repertoire. What has become a quintessential Three Choirs work, The Dream of Gerontius, will be performed in the Cathedral on the first night. Geraint Bowen conducts and his distinguished team of soloists will be Sarah Connolly, Peter Auty and Neal Davies (25 July, 19:45). Bowen also conducts the St Matthew Passion in a performance by the Three Cathedral Choirs and, making their Festival debut, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. James Oxley will be the Evangelist and other soloists will include Matthew Brook, Elizabeth Watts and Roderick Williams (28 July, 19:00). Geraint Bowen returns to the podium to conduct the Festival Chorus in Verdi’s Requiem (31 July, 19:45). Before then his colleague from Gloucester Cathedral, Adrian Partington, will have led the Festival Chorus as they tackle the daunting challenges posed by Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (29 July, 19:45).
More recent compositions feature in other concerts. Sir Andrew Davis returns as a guest conductor, offering a too-rare opportunity to hear Morning Heroes by Sir Arthur Bliss. With this programme the Festival continues its commemoration of the centenary of World War I. The first half pays tribute to the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sibelius with a performance of his Fifth Symphony (27 July, 19:45). Over the years the Festival has commissioned many pieces and one such is revived by Peter Nardone, the Director of Music at Worcester Cathedral. He’ll be conducting Lux Aeterna by William Mathias, a piece which was commissioned for the 1982 Hereford Festival. In the same concert he marks the 150th anniversary of Nielsen’s birth with a performance of Hymnus Amoris
There’s no major choral commission at this year’s festival. However, several smaller-scale works have been commissioned. These include a set of Evensong Canticles from Bob Chilcott. His new ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ will be premiered as part of a Choral Evensong which is to be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (29 July, 15:30). There’s another important Chilcott performance when the Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir sings his lovely Requiem. The exciting companion piece will be Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (27 July, 14:30)
Perhaps the most remarkable evening concert of all won’t involve any singing. The Philharmonia Orchestra, in residence throughout the week, will play Messiaen’s vast and exotic Turangalîla-Symphonie under the direction of Jac van Steen. Quite what this amazing score will sound like in the resonant acoustic of Hereford Cathedral is anyone’s guess but this first Festival performance of such an important twentieth-century score is a tantalising prospect (26 July, 19:45).
Away from the main Cathedral concerts there’s the usual wealth of smaller-scale but no less alluring events. Two of Britain’s foremost singers can be heard in recital at either end of the festival. Roderick Williams’ recital on the opening day is entitled ‘Song of the Hero’. His programme will include Elgar’s Sea Pictures, songs normally associated with female singers but which Williams has recorded with distinction (25 July, 14:30). Right at the end of the Festival Sarah Connolly’s recital is ‘Song of the Widow’ and includes songs by Dominic Argento, Ivor Gurney and the world premiere of commissioned songs by Torsten Rasch (1 August, 14:30).
The Orlando Consort offers an intriguing programme entitled ‘Requiem for 500 Years’ with music ranging from Dufay to Gabriel Jackson (27 July, 11:00). Voces8 has a very wide=-ranging programme for their Festival debut (28 July, 14:30). Recitals will be given by a number of distinguished instrumentalists. These include Steven Osborne in Schubert and Beethoven (28 July, 1:00); cellist Natalie Clein in a bracingly diverse programme (31 July, 14:30); and a celebrity recital on the Hereford Cathedral organ by John Scott, latterly of St Paul’s Cathedral but now Organist at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue in New York (31 July, 10:30).
These are but a fraction of the many and varied events that comprise this Festival. Full details of all the programmes can be found here
Postal booking opens to the public on 13 April. From the same date telephone bookings can be made on 0845 652 1823. On line booking is available from 14 April. Details of how to book can be found here.