Though Birmingham has music series galore, we should never overlook the fact that out in the hinterlands of our region, indefatigable organisations devote an inordinate amount of energy towards promoting musical events within their locality. And this is a good time, everything becalmed within big-city Birmingham, to reflect upon these regional assets.
Richard Phillips has brought quality music-making to the Leamington and Warwick area for more years than he can probably remember, and Leamington Music’s new series promises plenty of good things.
The season begins on October 5 in St Mary’s Church, Warwick, when Musica Secreta, Celestial Sirens and St Mary’s Church Girls’ Choir perform Sacred Hearts and Secret Music. This large-scale music drama is based on Sarah Dunant’s novel Sacred Hearts, set in a 16th-century convent in Ferrara, Italy.
Involving more than 40 voices and instrumentalists performing music by Palestrina and Josquin des Pres among others, it also calls for three actors: Sarah Dunant herself, Deborah Findlay and Niamh Cusack.
Later on in the season the Bridge House Theatre in Warwick School is the venue for the 2010 Leamington Prizewinners’ concert, featuring two outstanding young performers from Birmingham Conservatoire.
The Russian pianist Tatiana Dardykina includes works by Mozart, Schumann, Chopin and Rachmaninov, while Cumbrian clarinettist Jack McNeill is accompanied by Jo Sealey in music by Schumann, Jean Francaix, Elliott Carter (this amazing American post-centenarian still actively composing) and Leamington’s own Howard Skempton in a new piece by this most approachable of contemporary composers (October 21).
Music by Skempton also forms part of the programme from Kosmos at Leamington’s Kingsley School on November 17, when this trio of violin, viola and cello is joined by the Serbian classical accordionist Milos Milivojevic (Howard Skempton himself is no mean accordionist). We are also promised Kosmos’ trademark klezmer, gipsy, tango, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and improvised music.
The eclectic mood will be continued in the concert from Eclipse in St Mary’s Church on January 18.
Here an array of harps, hammered dulcimer, recorders, viola and percussion will be joined by a soprano and a flamenco singer in The Court of a Thousand Dreams.
This sequence brings together Andalusian and Sephardic music from medieval times, with ancient melodies transformed by modern musical traditions and backgrounds, old meeting new and west meeting east.
Much later in the series the Bridge House Theatre hosts a double event from the engaging Ensemble 360, regulars with Leamington Music (Sunday, February 20). A morning Family Concert brings Little Red Riding Hood, Paul Patterson’s musical treatment of Roald Dahl’s popular story aimed at five to 11-year-olds, Polly Ives the narrator.
In the afternoon the 11 players – among them Tim Horton, who once as a very young man stood in so memorably for an indisposed Alfred Brendel in a performance of Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto at Symphony Hall with Simon Rattle and the CBSO – mix and match in a varied line-up of compositions by Poulenc, Dvorak and Brahms.
Richard Phillips’ programming swings exhilaratingly between styles and periods, so we return to earlier times on March 15 with Stile Antico presenting Passion and Resurrection in St Mary’s Church.
A whole host of Renaissance composers both from this country and abroad paint a sonic picture of Eastertide, delivered by these prizewinners at the 2005 Early Music Network International Young Artists’ Competition, now much in demand throughout Europe and North America.
Leamington Music Festival Weekend has become an eagerly-anticipated tradition early in May, and next season’s focus is upon late Romantic composers, following on from Classical composers in 2009 and Romantic composers this year. Brahms and Dvorak are at the core of the programming, with a host of artists performing over the five days (April 29 to May 3).
This survey has just scratched the surface of Richard Phillips’ prospectus, but before we take off for another corner of the region it is worth pointing out that students and schoolchildren can attend concerts for just £1 a time.
As Richard says, targeting parents and teachers: “Please help us to develop tomorrow’s audiences”.
Before events at Leamington get under way, across in Worcestershire the regular Autumn in Malvern Festival begins on September 25 with a programme of American and English Music and Literature delivered by Aldwyn Voices, organist Carleton Etherington and reader Robert Joyce.
Composers include an interesting mix of Leonard Bernstein, Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, Gabriel Jackson and Herbert Howells, and spoken extracts will be taken from the writings of Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Great Malvern Priory, 12pm).
The literary theme continues on Saturday, October 2 with three talks by distinguished speakers Jill Dawson, Professor Jacek Wisniewski of the University of Warsaw, and Jean Moorcroft-Wilson on Rupert Brooke, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas (Colwall Village Hall from 11.30am).
Larger-than-life organist Carlo Curley puts the recently-restored organ of Great Malvern Priory through its paces at 7.30pm that evening, in an American-inspired menu featuring Charles Ives’ Variations on America (anyone not knowing this refreshingly outrageous piece is in for a surprise), Stefan Lindblad’s Homage to Bernstein, Sousa’s The Liberty Bell and much more.
Winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition 2009, Sofya Gulyak visits Malvern College on Saturday, October 9 with a programme of Bach-Busoni, Schumann, Brahms, Rachmaninov (the Variations on a Theme of Corelli) and Shostakovich (7.30pm).
Again, space here only to mention a few of the events arranged by festival organiser Peter Smith, who has worked tirelessly for many years (just like Richard Phillips, with whom we began) to bring varied programmes to an area which some people still connect with Elgar alone and no-one else.
The line-up of concerts, talks, exhibitions and walks seems to have something for everyone.
Just one thing puzzles me. An attractive-sounding walk entitled Malvern Water and Florence Nightingale (Sunday, October 31, 10am), duration two hours, with a refreshment stop in historic surroundings, announces itself as “two miles on pavements, mostly downhill”.
Er, how do we get back?
Details of all Leamington Music events on 01926 776438
Autumn in Malvern details on 01684 892277