Christopher Morley ventures out of town for a host of musical events taking place this week.
Major music festivals at either end of our region get under way this weekend, while things are comparatively quiet in the Birmingham area.
The Leamington Music Festival weekend held over the early May Bank Holiday has long had a proud history of themed offerings.
Coming up this year is a brantub of music by Central European composers looking both ways from the turn of the 20th century.
So we go back as far as Liszt, Brahms, Smetana and Dvorak, pivot at Mahler and Richard Strauss, and progress to Novak and Zemlinsky.
Proceedings begin tomorrow (Friday) when the Primrose Piano Quartet (their pianist John Thwaites is head of Keyboard Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire) play a programme of Dvorak, Brahms and Mahler (his fascinating Piano Quartet movement, written at the age of 16).
Saturday lunchtime sees the Piatti String Quartet playing Smetana’s autobiographical From my Life, and then joined by pianist Gottlieb Wallisch for Brahms’ F Minor Piano Quintet.
BBC Radio 3 will be recording the evening concert, in which the Apollon String Quartet plays works by Smetana and Brahms, before the Dvorak Piano Quintet, Jitka Cechova the pianist.
The Leamington Music Festival continues until Tuesday with similarly paprika-spiced programmes at its Royal Pump Rooms base.
Its only foray elsewhere is to All Saints Church on Monday morning, when Iain Quinn plays an enticingly mixed programme of organ music.
Admission for this is free, with a retiring collection, and the availability of a ploughman’s lunch adds to the attraction. Meanwhile, over in north Worcestershire, the long-running Bromsgrove Festival, which opened this year’s programme last night (Wednesday) with a showing of Ken Russell’s 1974 film Mahler fills this next fortnight-and-a-bit with all kinds of musical goodies.
Various local venues are brought into play to host events, beginning with the very comfortable and parking-friendly Artrix, where there is An African Evening on Saturday.
Donald Hunt conducts the Elgar Chorale in David Fanshawe’s much-enjoyed African Sanctus, preceded by African songs and drumming from the Bromsgrove School Chapel Choir and Instrumental Ensemble.
Bromsgrove’s famous Young Musicians’ Platform has launched many aspiring young performers onto international careers. This year its preliminary rounds take place in Avoncroft Museum’s atmospheric New Guesten Hall (today, Saturday, and Sunday morning, admission free), and the finals are held there on Sunday evening (7pm).
The New Guesten Hall is the venue on Tuesday for a delicious menu from the Nash Ensemble, largely French, but with Beethoven for an epic starter (his early Quintet for Piano and Wind), Samuel Barber’s Summer Music as an entree, with Ravel, Debussy and Poulenc also coming to the table.
We move to the Artrix on Friday (May 6) for An Audience with Jonathan Miller.
This delightful polymath, author, lecturer, television producer and presenter, theatre, opera and film director should provide an unmissable evening.
I had the pleasure of his company for several days many years ago at the idyllic La Mortella, the Walton villa on the island of Ischia, and can imagine how lively and stimulating this evening will be.
Changing the mood completely, candlelight in Bromsgrove’s St John’s Parish Church will illuminate the chamber choir Tenebrae, singing works by Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and John Tavener (Sunday, May 8).
The historic chapel at Grafton Manor hosts Mozart and Aspects of Love on Tuesday, May 10, when violinist Michael Bochmann, soprano Jane Lesley Mackenzie and harpist David Watkins perform music by Mozart, Purcell, Vivaldi, Debussy, Massenet and others.
The Grafton Manor gardens will be open for browsing from 6.45pm.
This year’s Bromsgrove Festival concludes with A Festive Celebration back in the Parish Church of St John on May 14, Donald Hunt conducting the English Symphony Orchestra joined by soprano Naomi Harvey in a programme of well-known classics.
And there is a third festival interleaving with Leamington and Bromsgrove, just up the road from the latter.
The Hagley Music Festival 2011, most events happening in the charming little St John’s Church in the grounds of Hagley Hall, kicks off on May 6 with a recital from the locally-based international pianist Mark Bebbington, including pieces by John Ireland (Mark’s recordings of this composer have received worldwide acclaim), Chopin, Debussy and Poulenc. Mark and I will be in pre-concert public conversation.
Another local pianist, Michael Jones, from Stourbridge, plays an afternoon-tea concert on Sunday, May 8, when he promises to end his programme with an improvised medley of “over 40 songs from the shows”.
Local musicians participate in two concerts: Hagley Primary schoolchildren with the CBSO’s Berkley Salon Ensemble on May 9, and the Haybridge Community Orchestra on May 11.
Then, as the Hagley Festival nears its conclusion, come the visits of two musical celebrities.
Craig Ogden gives a guitar recital at Hagley Hall on May 13 (wine and canapes provided during the interval), and the internationally-renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber is joined by the Orchestra of the Swan under its conductor David Curtis for the festival’s finale on May 14.
* Leamington Music Festival Weekend details on 01926 776438
* Bromsgrove Festival details on 01527 876504
* Hagley Music Festival details on 01562 886363