Gloucester Cathedral hosts the 2016 Three Choirs Festival. Click here for my review of Mahler Symphony no 8. "The Holy City and the Heavenly Kingdom" is the theme of the opening concert on 23rd July, a pairing of Parry's Jerusalem with Elgar's The Kingdom. Especially exciting because this Jerusalem won't be the familiar version but Parry's original, uncovered a few years ago by Parry specialist Jeremy Dibble, whose 1992 biography restored Parry's true status. By setting the first verse for a single singer, Parry's setting emphasizes the provocative nature of Blake's conception. "And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green?". In the full choral version, we get so carried away by crowd enthusiasm that we don't question. In Parry's version, however, Blake's irony is made more clear. And was Jerusalem builded here, among these dark Satanic Mills?" Bluntly, the answer is "No" So much for simplistic certainties. We may not get the glorious flourishes of Elgar's orchestration, but we do get an insight into Parry. Please read my piece on Jerusalem HERE
The Three Choirs Festival, though, is Elgar territory par excellence so devotees will be out in force for Elgar's The Kingdom, which follows on from The Apostles and would have culminated in a piece about the Last Judgement, which was never completed. It helps to imagine it, though, because it puts the Kingdom into context. The apostles are about to embark on their journey, a mission which still continues 2000 years later. For all the grandeur and vast forces, the piece is humble though assertive. The apostles are ordinary men serving a higher cause. This will be a showcase for the magnificent Three Choirs Festival Chorus, probably the finest flowering of the whole British choral tradition. Adrian Partington will conduct The Kingdom with the Three Festivals Chorus, the Philharmonia Orchestra and soloists. Read HERE about The Kingdom at the Proms with Andrew Davis. and HERE about The Apostles at the Three Choirs in Worcester in 2014. In the TV broadcast of the BBC Proms The Kingdom, I'm on screen a lot, a tiny figure dressed in white in the stalls near the choirs, participating in spirit.
Although members of the three constituent cathedral choirs have been meeting annually since around 1719, the Three Choirs Festival is infinitely more than about music. It's a communal celebration of those who believe in the spiritual ideals of fellowship. Every performance starts with prayer, there's evensong each evening and the eucharist is celebrated on Sunday. Indeed, for many, singing is a form of prayer. "For God is in all things". Although I am not C of E - neither was Elgar - one of the things I love about the Three Choirs Festival is how genuinely nice the people are. The staff could not be more helpful, and audience members welcome you like you belong.
More landmarks of the choral tradition follow: Mendelssohn's Elijah on Monday 25th, conducted by Peter Nardone, Berlioz Grand Messe des morts on Wednesday 27th conducted by Edward Gardner. On Friday 29th, Rossini Petite Messes solonnelle, 11,am conducted by Geraint Bowen, A fascinating juxtaposition that evening with "Carmina and Enigma" Carl Orff Carmina Burana plus Elgar Enigma Variations and on Saturday 30th, Mahler Symphony No 8, conducted by Adrian Partington.
The Three Choirs Festival is also a celebration of British music and composers. In the Cathedral on Tuesday 26th "England's Glory", music by Vaughan Williams and Butterworth, plus numerous concerts in other venues featuring composers like Gurney, Finzi, Howells, Ireland, and others, plus talks thereon. Most interesting, for me, the concert on Sunday afternoon in Cirencester which features Howells's Requiem and Philip Lancaster's new work War Passion. As always with the Three Choirs plenty of talks on history, the Three Choirs heritage, Shakespeare (Hamlet this year), plus movies and the society lunches. For more details, HERE IS THE FESTIVAL BOOKLET