Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Three Choirs Festival Gloucester 2013

What other music Festival can claim a 300-year history? This year marks the 286th Three Choirs Festival, an event central to British music .It's also much more than a music festival. Some people have been regulars for well over 70 years! When the Festival is held in Hereford and Worcester, it's worth booking for a week to enjoy the community dinners, talks and  Shakespeare plays. This year the Festival takes place in Gloucester, just off the M4 from London, and easily reached by train.The Festival Choir is made up of the finest singers from the choirs of all three cathedrals connected to the Festival. In fact, the choirs are its raison d'être, so make a point of listening to at least one of the big choral programmes, even though there's plenty else going on. 

The Three Choirs Festival never loses focus from its original aim, and always starts with an Opening Service and a good choice of music. There's a full Eucharist on Sunday, and a Choral Evensong is usually broadcast by the BBC. The evening Gala on 27/7, however, features Elgar, Rachmaninov and Sibelius. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts London's Philharmonia Orchestra on Saturday 27th July. Helena Juntunen, the Finnish soprano, sings Sibelius Luonnotar. This could be amazing in the acoustic of Gloucester Cathedral, because the voice part soars and expands outwards. Luonnotar is the spirit of Nature, reaching out across the oceans and the universe, defying cataclysm and time itself. Attend the pre-concert talk and read my article "Luonnotar : Creating the Universe" here. The highlight of the evening, though, will be Rachmaninov's The Bells. Juntunen will be joined by Paul Nilon and Nathan Berg, but the real stars should be the vast mixed voices of the Festival Choir. Imagine hearing the "bells" in the symphony and remembering the bells of the Cathedral and churches around it!

Christmas in July?  On the afternoon of 30/7 there will be an unusual Handel Messiah. The acclaimed early music ensemble, the Dunedin Consort,  will be performing with a good specialist cast led by Rosemary Joshua. Hearing the Festival Chorus in this will be special, for they sing the "story" every Sunday of their lives.  Elgar is another mainstay of the Three Choirs Festival, and The Dream of Gerontius features frequently. This year's Dream will be good, with Kai Rüütel singing the Angel. She was a member of thge Royal Opera House's Young Artist's programme and has presence. She was a distinctive Flora in La Traviata and a good Rhinemaiden in the ROH Ring. She's singing with Toby Spence, who has his own miracle to be glad of, and Matthew Rose. There is also a n Elgar rarity, Falstaff, a four part symphonic studyb that loosely follows Shakespeare's play. A pre concert talk will give its background.

There will also be many recitals, including Wayne Marshall, Philip Lancaster, Andrew Kennedy and Roderick Williams, who is doing a particularly intriguing and probably unique programme. Interesting repertoire, too: Paul Hindemith's Das Marienleben in English, with a pre-performance talk. Read more about Das Marienleben here.

The Three Choirs Festival also showcases important large-scale British works that aren't often performed because the forces they require aren't easy to put together. This year's rarity is Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's complete The Song of Hiawatha, a major multi-section work for large choir and orchestra. The Three Choirs Festival has a special connection with Coleridge-Taylor, since the Festival gave him his first major public performances, on the recommendation of Edward Elgar, no less. (For more on Coleridge-Taylor's life, see these British Library pages.)

In its time, The Song of Hiawatha was a big success, feeding the public appetite for extravagant exotica.  Coleridge-Taylor might have been drawn to Hiawatha because of Longfellow's odd, vaguely "primitive" rhythms and repetitive phrasing. They suggested a way in which non-white traditions might be incorporated into western classical culture. Coleridge-Taylor's father was mixed-race African, although he grew up as an Englishman and had little contact with "native" culture, but he was perceptive enough to pick up on the possibilities. The Song of Hiawatha was completed fifteen years before Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. By the time The Rite of Spring was premiered, Coleridge-Taylor had been dead for a year. Coleridge-Taylor wasn't nearly as radical as Stravinsky, but we should consider him in context.  He was born 4 months after Maurice Ravel. Ravel mined his Basque heritage to experiment with new approaches to music. Yet The Song of Hiawatha was written in 1898, long before Ravel found his voice. This very important performance is being broadcast by BBC Radio 3 later in the year, but it will be such a special occasion that it really should be experienced live.

photo :  Andy Dolman


laybl said...

Re Hiawatha...if I remember correctly, the meter inspiration came from Icelandic edda, a far cry from African origin.

All that aside, your comments are always informative and enjoyable.

Doundou Tchil said...

Many thanks ! Like most westerners in his time, incl. Longfellow, Coleridge Taylor wasn't bothered about authenticity as long as things sounded exotic