A festival that sparkled: two weeks on
A fortnight has elapsed since the town of Beverley was swept up in the whirlwind that was the 2019 Beverley Chamber Music Festival. Featuring exceptionally high-quality musicians in profoundly moving performances, the festival was noteworthy in particular for its large, warm, engaged audiences – some of the biggest in its 27-year history. This was no more the case than in the closing concert, The Lark Ascending, which saw St Mary’s packed to the rafters – lifelong music-lovers cheek by jowl with those who'd never set foot in a classical music event before, in turn alongside children taking advantage of our Golden Ticket scheme – all a-buzz to hear Jennifer Pike and Martin Roscoe. From the audience’s response it was clear they were not disappointed!
Earlier in the day, only fourteen minutes after stepping off the train at Beverley station, Jennifer had played to the team of forty teenage string players who were in the middle of the Inspire! workshop. Led by a team of players from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, headed up by cellist Michael Atkinson, this day brought together young musicians from across Yorkshire – students from ArtsForm Leeds joining their counterparts from the East Riding Youth Orchestra. Feedback told us the students left ‘buzzing’ and ‘inspired’, and told us how valuable they had found the day. Certainly the audience of friends, family, and festivalgoers who gathered to hear the group’s performance in the Minster were struck by the committed playing and heartfelt sound of these young players, in music ranging from Britten to Piazzolla. Have a look at the photos of the day which feature in our festival photo gallery, now live on our website.
View festival gallery
The Inspire! day was one of several ways in which the festival extended its reach this year: another innovation was the new night-time event, where any fears that audiences might not come out for a 10pm concert were assuaged by the queues to get in the door! Two particularly profound moments of the festival came when each of the two Co-Artistic Directors played solo piano music: Libby with Bach Preludes and Fugues on Thursday lunchtime, and Martin with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in this late-night concert, preceded by a touching spoken tribute to the late Dr Anthony Hedges, composer and long-time supporter of the festival. The two pianists had also taken the chance to play to local children, performing to St Mary’s Primary School – whose students learnt a Tudor dance to Warlock’s Capriol Suite, and were practically dancing too to Rossini’s William Tell Overture!
Our two festival talks were hugely popular, and it was a privilege for the town of Beverley to welcome two such distinguished speakers. Marina Frolova-Walker and Katy Hamilton held their full houses spellbound as they discussed Shostakovich and Elgar respectively, and both entered into the spirit of the festival with gusto. We’re very much looking forward to welcoming Katy back in April to give another talk as part of the Spring Festival…. Watch this space!
We were fortunate to welcome two outstanding ensembles to the festival. The shorter of the two visits was from Onyx Brass, whose time in Beverley may have been fleeting but whose impact was significant! The mellifluous tone of the group fitted the acoustic of St Mary’s like a glove, players and audience alike reveling in this wonderful match, and the combination of comedic anecdotes from the players and a programme covering over 400 years was a treat.
The longer residency of course featured the Brodsky Quartet, who performed three concerts for us, collaborating variously with Martin, Libby, and with cellist Laura van der Heijden. The Brodskys were absolutely at the heart of the festival, and the intensity of their Elgar performances, the utter serenity of their Schubert Quintet with Laura, and the hilarity of their Boccherini japes will stay with us for a long time. They too posted a video after their Beverley visit. Following their moving rendition of Shostakovich’s Quintet with Libby, the group explained that the funeral of a young family friend had been taking place as they played, and they wished to dedicate their encore – Schumann’s Träumerie – to the memory of that boy.
Encores were a pleasing thread through the festival. Jennifer and Martin brought our Elgar journey to a close with Salut d’amour, whilst Laura and Libby brought our Russian theme to a close with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. This followed hot on the heels of a virtuosic and lyrical performance of the Rachmaninoff Sonata – a real tour de force from both players.
We were honoured to host a world premiere: American composer Juliana Hall’s Godiva (monodrama for mezzo soprano and piano on a text by Caitlin Vincent) was a characterful retelling of the traditional Godiva legend, from the viewpoint of the woman herself. The work was commissioned by mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately; she reprises the piece in the Oxford Lieder Festival, which opens today. Another favourite composer in this programme proved to be Rebecca Clarke, alongside which were the ever-popular songs by Brahms and Bridge, featuring also the beautiful playing of violist Sarah-Jane Bradley.
An added dimension to the festival this year was the chance to celebrate the work of Beverley man Andrew Anderson, whose works have graced the South Transept of St Mary’s in our first art exhibition. We are thrilled so many people enjoyed the chance to view these remarkable linocuts. The prints of The Rock of Cashel have been sold, but it is still possible to purchase St Barnabus, if anyone has fallen in love with this magnificent work – and, crucially, has a 7’ space for him!
All told, there was a palpable buzz as the town was swept up by the energy of the festival. As well as many local people, the audience comprised people from all over the country – a number of whom discovered this hidden gem of a corner of England for the first time. The bunting fluttered, the audience cheered, and the fairy lights sparkled.
The 2020 Beverley Chamber Music Festival takes place 23rd - 26th September. If you can’t wait til then, join us for our Spring Festival, which runs 2nd - 5th April.
Jim Page, who put together the Chamber Music Plus brochures for many years, has sent us this history of the treasured publication:
History of Chamber Music Plus
"When I retired from teaching in 1989, I was roped in as Regional Secretary of the West Midlands Region of the NFMS (now Making Music) and with a lively committee, go-ahead chairmen in Jennie McGregor-Smith and Malcolm Rowson and shrewd treasurers in Ken Hewitt and Mike Spencer the committee organised a succession of enterprising regional events. Over a period of 17 years, workshops for singers were held annually led by all the top choral conductors of the day. John Rutter, who had just written his Requiem, was the first in 1993 and he generously agreed to give the workshop without a fee, so with over 400 singers signed up at £7.50 including lunch, success was guaranteed. What’s more, a healthy surplus resulted and with this money in the bank an ambitious project was planned for 1996 to celebrate NFMS’s Diamond Jubilee by giving simultaneous performances of Verdi’s Requiem in the three cathedrals of the region with the three top amateur orchestras. Michael Lloyd conducted Chandos Symphony Orchestra in Worcester, Nicholas Kok the Birmingham Philharmonic in Lichfield (rehearsed by Paul Spicer) and Guy Woolfenden the Warwickshire Symphony Orchestra in Coventry. Six rehearsals were held in each region and with almost 1,000 participants the occasion was uplifting for both performers and audience.
In its early days Arts Council grants were distributed by West Midlands Arts but its lack of understanding of the work done by NFMS Societies led to many crazy decisions. I remember uproar when the City of Birmingham Choir was refused a grant towards performing Tippett’s Child of Our Time. Yet, perversely the next year Birmingham Singers were given £5,000 towards a performance of Elijah! We published a Regional Newsletter three times a year and in the 49 issues that I edited there was much interesting local news and reports on concerts that Societies put on – some sent in, some written by me - and many a Saturday evening I spent listening to performances of very varied quality. In my mind I used to divide choral societies into four divisions and it always puzzled me as to why some “lower division” societies stuck with conductors who were both uninspiring and technically pretty incompetent!
We used to have Regional Committee meetings twice a year and travel expenses were paid to those who claimed (for which Head Office reimbursed the region) but this came to an end when the Yorkshire Region’s claims became so over-the-top that the new NFMS Director decided to abolish regional committees. This was a great pity as we had done much good work in the West Midlands (including buying a Steinway Model B which was available for hire in the region) and holding singing workshops for so many years. In regional committee meetings Choral Society representatives were in the majority, so inevitably many of the discussions were irrelevant to music society members. Hence the decision to have meetings of Music Societies on their own!
In 1992 (27 years ago!) this group decided to publish a booklet of chamber music concerts in the region and called it “Chamber Music Choice”. It featured concerts put on by NFMS Societies in the region and it was sad that once-successful organisations such as Birmingham Chamber Music Society, Droitwich Concert Club, Bromsgrove Junior Concert Club, Bromsgrove’s Mixing Music, Friends of Dudley Music, Walsall Music Circle and Wolverhampton Music Society have fallen by the wayside. In that 1992 issue there were 59 concerts listed, but in 2010 it was decided that entries would be accepted from non-NFMS Societies. By then NFMS had changed its name to Making Music and in the current issue, edited with panache by Jill Davies and Chris O’Grady, there are almost 300 concerts listed plus 24 full page advertisements. What’s more they also produce a Northern edition and with 11,000 of each brochure printed and a mailing to 1,114 addresses in the central region and 567 in the north they do an amazing job. So in those statistics I think we have the answer to those who say chamber music is dying!"
Blog written by Jill Davies, who runs the Severn Muses project as well as Chamber Music Plus.
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