From Satie to Sir Francis Drake: Preview of Cheltenham Music Festival July 6th-17th 2016


From Satie to Sir Francis Drake: Preview of Cheltenham Music Festival July 6th-17th 2016

Cheltenham-Music-FestivalThree centuries ago William Mason discovered a spring with health giving properties on his land, so he fenced it in and opened Cheltenham’s first spa. Visitors began to stream in to cure their ailments and also to have a good time. As a consequence a range of entertainments were put on for them, and what had once been a rural backwater became known as a “pleasure town”. The tradition carries on today with a wide range of festivals encompassing horse-racing, jazz, science, literature and, not least, the Cheltenham Music Festival which started in 1945.

This year’s Festival will be celebrating an important musical anniversary, that of Erik Satie born 150 years ago. One of the musical world’s eccentrics, Satie nevertheless exercised a important influence on keyboard playing. Pascal and Ami Rogé will open the Festival with a recital of music by Satie and his contemporaries, and this will be followed later by a biographical portrait of the composer and a recital by Christina McMasters. If you are a Satie aficionado there’s a rare chance to hear his Vexations, a piece which is repeated 840 times and takes 18 hours to perform. More than one pianist will be involved in this marathon – and admission to the event is free!

A major strand of the Festival is entitled Keyboard Inventions which focuses on the way the piano has been played and written for since Satie’s time, including the minimalist piano, the ‘prepared’ piano, the piano’s role in multimedia explorations and the wider bounds of ‘conceptual art’, The series will feature music by over 20 composers including Michel van der Aa, John Cage, Will Gregory, Jonathan Harvey, Kenneth Hesketh, Ed Hughes, Dave Maric, Tristan Murail, Steve Reich, Arlene Sierra and Freya Waley-Cohen. I am particularly intrigued by Sarah Nicoll’s contribution:   an “inside-out” grand piano which swings like a pendulum.

Other new music at Cheltenham will include Sally Beamish’s The Sins – a piece for actor and ensemble based on the Seven Deadly Sins from Langland’s 14th century Piers the Plowman; James MacMillan’s Seven Angels, a major new work for Ex Cathedra choir and ensemble;  Piers Hellawell’s collaboration with TS Eliot prize-winning poet Sinead Morrissey and the Fidelio Trio; and  Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg’s new double concerto for himself and percussionist Evelyn Glennie.  The Composer Academy, now in its 4th year returns with a new Guest Director – Michael Zev Gordon, Professor of Composition at the University of Birmingham.

As usual there will be plenty of more traditional musical fare. The Marian Consort and the Berkeley Ensemble will perform Sir Lennox Berkeley’s Stabat Mater. Gloucester Cathedral will host a tribute to one of the city’s most famous musical sons, Herbert Howells, with Guy Johnston playing the concert premiere of the composer’s completed Cello Concerto. The opening concert on Wednesday 6 July will feature Nicola Benedetti playing the Korngold Violin Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko.  Barroksolistene from Norway join forces with mandolin player Avi Avital for a concert of Baroque favourites, including Handel’s  Royal Fireworks Music.

The series of morning recitals at Pittville continues to attract musicians of note. Among the visitors this time will be the Doric String Quartet, Christian Lindberg and Roland Pöntinen,  Malvyn Tan playing a new work by Jonathan Dove, Janiona Fialkowska playing Chopin, the Sitkovetsky Piano Trio, plus a number of BBC Radio 3 New Gemneration Artists, including Pavel Kilesnikov, Esther Yoo, the Armida Quartet and Quatuor van Kuijk. And there will be an evening recital by Mary Bevan, Stephan Loges and Sholto Kynoch celebrating the Four Seasons.

Did you know that when Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world he took four viol players with him to play for religious services and entertain the sailors aboard? On Sunday 10th Fretwork will seek to recreate this epic voyage with music the musicians would have played and experienced. One country that Sir Francis did not visit was Tibet, but Cheltenham will discover what he missed when monks from the Tasho Lhunpo Monastery perform sacred chants and dances from the “roof of the world”.  With a dash of music in a lighter vein thrown in there is something for everybody at this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival.

For more information on the Festival see

Roger Jones



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