Summer is always festival time, and as ever our region boasts so many of them.
Longborough Festival Opera in the Cotswolds is all but over this time round, and attention moves now to Worcester which is where this year’s Three Choirs’ Festival – the 287th – is being held between July 26 and August 2.
A festival village will be set up on College Green offering food and drinks to accompany the musical entertainment.
This will be Worcester organist and choirmaster Peter Nardone’s first stint as festival artistic director, and he looks forward to welcoming the residency of the Philharmonia Orchestra during the week.
The declaration of the First World War a century ago is commemorated during the festival, beginning with A Shropshire Lad in the atmospheric Huntingdon Hall on July 26, when the much-loved baritone Roderick Williams delivers a selection of songs by British composers (2.30pm).
Later that evening Nardone conducts full Three Choirs forces in Britten’s War Requiem, Hereford’s Geraint Bowen the assistant conductor, in Worcester Cathedral (7.45pm).
But the most spectacular acknowledgement of the outbreak of the war comes on July 31 in the cathedral, with the world premiere of A Foreign Field by Torsten Rasch, which is a joint commission from the Three Choirs Festival and Chemnitz Opera to commemorate the men on both sides who died during the conflict as well as marking the destruction of Chemnitz by bombing on March 5, 1945.
Scored for soprano and baritone soloists, boys’ choir, chorus and orchestra, this substantial 43-minute work consists of settings of texts from the Old Testament, and by Ivor Gurney, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Georg Trakl and Rainer Maria Rilke. Funds for its commissioning have been raised from various private donors as well as established foundations and trusts, Friends of the Dymock Poets and the Elmley Foundation among them.
This will be quite an evening, beginning as it does with Elgar’s Laurence Binyon choral trilogy The Spirit of England (premiered under the baton of Appleby Matthews in Birmingham actually while the war was still going on). Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending sweetens the pill (Worcester Cathedral 7.45pm).
We move from sad reflection into a world of optimism the next morning, when the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland comes to Worcester Cathedral with a programme of Walton, Sally Beamish (her Trumpet Concerto, with Hakan Hardenberger the soloist) and ending with Richard Strauss’ jaw-droppingly virtuosic Alpine-Symphony. The offstage hunting-horns will sound so evocative in this Cathedral ambience.
From this imposing grandeur the attention shifts at the end of August to Presteigne in the enticing Welsh Marches.
During this long weekend of music in the evocative Radnorshire countryside the festival this year will celebrate two centenaries, those of the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik and the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, as well as marking the 75th birthday of festival favourite John McCabe.
In common with the Worcester Three Choirs’ Festival, there is also a strong thread commemorating the outbreak of the First World War. In what seems now to becoming a tradition on Presteigne’s opening night in St Andrew’s Church (August 21, 8pm), the double-bill from Nova Music Opera conducted by Festival director George Vass features the world premiere of Airborne, by another festival favourite Cecilia McDowall.
This unfolds the tale of a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and a Queen Alexandra Nurse – and then comes the Battle of the Somme.
There are all sorts of other goodies on offer during the Presteigne Festival, which always tempts audiences out into other venues around the region. One particular delight is offered in the fascinating St Mary’s Parish Church at Pembridge on Saturday, August 23 (4.30pm), with Peter Broadbent’s Joyful Company of Singers bringing a huge programme with too many goodies to mention individually.
* For details on Worcester Three Choirs’ Festival tel 0845 652 1823. For details on Presteigne Festival tel 01544 267800.