A bumper week lies ahead to tie in with the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and a certain musical luminary's birthday. Christopher Morley gives us the lowdown.
There’s a whole lot of musical activity going on over this Diamond Jubilee weekend, with much of it based in the Worcestershire area.
The weekend coincides with the anniversary of Elgar’s birth (his 155th birthday this year), which always brings celebrations, and this year is particularly crammed with glittering goodies, beginning this afternoon with a talk from Donald Hunt, sometime organist and choirmaster at Worcester Cathedral, entitled “Regal Elgar” at the Elgar Birthplace, with its recently added research and visitor facilities (3pm).
Tonight the attention shifts to Worcester Cathedral when Christopher Robinson, Hunt’s predecessor there, conducts the English Symphony Orchestra in an aptly-named “Jubilee Concert”, featuring Coronation music by Parry (“I was glad”) and Walton (the March ‘Orb and Sceptre’). Starting-time is 8pm.
But the main meat of the evening comes from Elgar, with the ‘Severn Suite’ (originally composed as the test-piece for a brass band competition) and the Cello Concerto, with Peter Adams the soloist. Crowning the programme is Elgar’s rarely-heard ballad-cantata, the ‘Banner of St George’, premiered in London in 1897 for another Diamond Jubilee, that of Queen Victoria.
Tomorrow begins with a concert at Croome Court, with Elgar’s own ineffable String Quartet and a guest appearance of Vaughan Williams’ Second String Quartet (11am).
Attention shifts in the afternoon to Pershore’s comfortable Number 8 Arts Centre, with its user-friendly catering and car-parking proximity, when Barry Collett conducts the ESO in a programme of the music Elgar composed for the nearby Powick Asylum when he was Music Director there -- what paths he trod to earn the well-deserved fame which eventually came his way (3pm).
The evening sees us back at Worcester Cathedral for a concert of English music for string orchestra, Christopher Robinson and Donald Hunt sharing the conducting of the English Symphony Orchestra in works by Elgar, Vaughan Williams and others, including Sir Arthur Bliss (7.30pm).
The programme also includes items from the choral anthology ‘A Garland for the Queen’, a compilation of works by living composers; unfortunately the prospectus does not indicate which choir will be performing.
Saturday, the Elgar Birthday, brings the festival’s climax, beginning with an organ recital featuring the magnificent Elgar Sonata by Roy Massey at Malvern Priory (1pm), followed by a talk on the composer’s ‘The Kingdom’ by the country’s most distinguished living Elgarian, Michael Kennedy, at St George’s Church in Worcester from which Elgar’s father, organist there, was in the habit of slipping out for a pint during the Sunday sermon (3pm).
And finally comes a performance of that oratorio in Worcester Cathedral, Donald Hunt conducting the ESO, Elgar Chorale and Worcester Festival Choral Society with a solo line-up which includes undoubtedly our greatest Elgarian mezzo-soprano, Catherine Wyn-Rogers (7.30pm).
A few miles down the road, meanwhile, Malvern is the venue for a rival action-packed weekend when the town’s annual Festival held in its theatres complex has at its heart the high-powered International Piano series in partnership with Yamaha.
Angela Hewitt, the Canadian pianist who has done so much to make the piano a respectable vehicle for baroque music (after decades of sniffiness from hair-shirted, muesli-eating harpsichord purists) kicks off proceedings tomorrow with a recital of picturesque miniatures by baroque composers Couperin and Rameau.
Her all-French sandwich has as its filling music of a very different nature, with works by the dreamy, gently sensuous Gabriel Faure (7.30pm). This year’s pianist-in-residence at Malvern is John Lill, whose first recital is given on Saturday afternoon (June 2, 2.15pm).
His programme brings four of the greats of piano composition, beginning with Mozart’s F major Sonata K332, continuing through Brahms’ ‘Variations on a Theme by Handel’ and Chopin’s F minor Ballade, and concluding with Schumann’s intoxicating ‘Carnaval’.
After the recital, John Lill presents a masterclass in which he tutors two local piano students in works they are preparing.
He returns on Sunday lunchtime, when he is joined by the Pavao String Quartet for Elgar’s haunting Piano Quintet. The Pavaos open proceedings with Haydn’s G major Quartet, Op.77 no.1 (1.30pm).
Sunday evening brings together the brilliant young trumpeter Alison Balsom and the much-respected pianist Nikolai Demidenko. Balsom plays the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in a rare string-orchestra arrangement, Demidenko plays Mozart’s A major Concerto K414, and together they combine in Shostakovich’s sardonic Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings.
The European Union Chamber Orchestra, Hans-Peter Hofmann conducting, rounds off the evening with Tchaikovsky’s elegant Serenade for Strings (7.30pm).
But Birmingham city centre isn’t lagging behind in this weekend jamboree, with the CBSO’s Diamond Jubilations tomorrow (Symphony Hall, 7.30pm), the Academy of Ancient Music performing ceremonial music by Handel (Symphony Hall on Saturday, June 2, 7.30pm) and Russell Watson bringing his own Diamond Jubilee tribute (Symphony Hall, on Sunday, June 3, 7.30pm).
We shall need a couple of back-to-back Bank Holidays to get over all that.
* Royal Jubilee Elgar Festival, 01386 791044 Malvern Yamaha Piano Festival, 01684 892277. Symphony Hall events, 0121 780 3333.