Birmingham isn’t the only centre in our region with a vibrant musical scene. It’s all happening in places like Bromsgrove, Leamington, Coventry, Lichfield and Hereford among others, but perhaps most spectacular of all is what goes on in Malvern.
This pretty hillside town is working very hard at dragging itself away from the perception of its being the sleepy, rather complacent capital of Elgarshire, with all its Empire connotations. Nowadays it is an established stopping-off place on the national circuit for star performers and major companies, as well as nurturing a thriving musical life of its own.
And they don’t come any starrier than the much-loved bass-baritone Sir Willard White, who launches the autumn season’s classical programme at Malvern Theatres with a programme entitled “From Mozart to the Musicals” (September 13).
An equally much-loved performer, pianist Peter Donohoe, visits Malvern on October 17 when he is joined by the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra in what he has often described as “the most difficult piano concerto”, Rachmaninov’s Third. Conductor Valery Polyansky’s programme begins with extracts from Glazunov’s ballet Raymonda and concludes with Tchaikovsky’s searing Fifth Symphony.
Running through the entire 2014-15 season is the popular series of live HD broadcasts relayed from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, but the next in-the-flesh offering comes on October 24. Christopher Monks directs his Armonico Consort in the sublime Rachmaninov Vespers, originally entitled “All Night Vigil”. Listen out for the basses plumbing depths generally tackled only by pot-holers.
Another great choral work can be heard on November 1, with a performance of the dramatic Verdi Requiem commemorating the Great War. Given in aid of the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes, this concert is given by the combined Bromyard and Ledbury Choral Societies and a quartet of soloists, with the Bromyard Sinfonia. Sir Richard Mynors conducts.
November 7 sees a visit from the legendary American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, in the first of this year’s Yamaha International Piano Series. His programme begins with Beethoven’s quirky E major Sonata Op. 109, continues with Chopin’s magnificent Piano Sonata no.3 in B minor, and concludes with music by the almost psychedelic Russian composer Scriabin, the centenary of whose death occurs next year.
Malvern has long been a staging-post for the remarkable English Touring Opera, who have brought many memorable productions here in the past. The company returns on November 11 with a new staging of Haydn’s witty Life on the Moon, a comic opera lampooning the Enlightenment movement which held sway soon after the middle of the 18th century. It is followed next day by Handel’s Ottone, an opera which combines brilliance with tenderness.
The Armonico Consort makes its second visit during this period with its own acknowledgement of the outbreak of First World War. Its concert on November 22 opens with Elgar’s sorrowing The Spirit of England and concludes with Brahms’ highly personal German Requiem.
Opera returns to Malvern on November 28, Ellen Kent bringing the Chisinau National Opera in a staging of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly which promises us a “spectacular Japanese garden”. The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.
Leslie Howard is the soloist in the second instalment of the Yamaha series on December 11, playing Beethoven’s Sonata quasi una Fantasia in E-flat, Schubert’s epic Wanderer Fantasy, and works by Liszt, culminating in hugely virtuosic fantasias on Mozart’s Figaro and Don Giovanni in a shrewdly-themed programme.
As the festive season approaches, Christopher Monks brings the Armonico Consort for a third time, on this occasion accompanied by the Consort’s Baroque Players for “A German Christmas”. The featured works are the Christmas Story by Heinrich Schutz and the Lutheran Mass for Christmas by Michael Praetorius (December 19).
And at the other end of the holiday period the CBSO visits Malvern with “The Magic of Vienna”. In addition to the usual Strauss waltzes we can also look forward to Mozart arias sung by the world-renowned soprano Kate Royal. Duncan Ward conducts (January 3).
Running like a thread throughout all these events are the concerts promoted by the remarkable Malvern Concert Club, well into a century of music-making since its founding by Elgar and friends in 1903.
Their programme this season begins very auspiciously, with a recital from the highly popular baritone Roderick Williams, accompanied by Susie Allan in a wonderful programme whose highlights are Britten’s Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, and songs from Schubert’s Schwanengesang (September 25).
Meanwhile, the 25th Autumn in Malvern Festival quietly and unobtrusively brings riches to the area: art exhibitions, lectures and walks complementing an attractive programme of musical events.
The festival kicks off on September 10 with a concert in the new University of Worcester Arena, when Rory Macdonald conducts the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in a programme of Vaughan Williams, Elgar (his Cello Concerto featuring Jamie Walton as soloist) and Dvorak (7.30pm).
Later in thefestival comes a visit from Fine Arts Brass Ensemble, bringing to the Great Hall of Malvern College a wonderfully diverse programme with some great composing names on the roster, and including FAFF, a festival commission from Roxanna Panufnik, whose father Andrzej is much in the air at this period in his centenary year.
* All Malvern details on 01684 892277.