Wednesday 4 February 2015

2015 Southwell Music Festival preview

The first Southwell Music Festival took place last year, in an around Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire. Founded by baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who was head chorister at the cathedral, the festival takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend. We went along last night (3 February 2015) to a private concert launching the 2015 festival (27-31 August 2015) at which baritone Marcus Farnsworth (artistic director of the festival) and pianist James Baillieu performed songs by Schubert and Samuel Barber, whilst a quartet of musicians who play at the festival led by violinist Jamie Campbell (associate artistic director of the festival), performed Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12 in F major (The American). Marcus Farnsworth also introduced us to the plans for this year's festival.

The first festival was reckoned a great success, artistically, financially and socially with a weekend of events in and around the minster which brought together audience and artists. Participants and organisers were keen for the festival to continue and they have built on last year's success by expanding the festival and by developing the important friends organisation. The 2015 festival programme will be officially launched at Southwell Minster on 13 March 2015.

Marcus Farnsworth
Marcus Farnsworth
This year's opening concert will be a Schubertiade which mixes Schubert songs and chamber music (including the Trout Quintet), so that it was very apt that Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu began their recital with a group of Schubert songs including Die Forelle. In fact there was a slightly fishy theme to the group as Farnsworth started with a lovely account of Die Forelle and finished with the altogether more philosophical Fischerweise. Things stayed philosophical with the middle two songs, Der Wanderer an den Mond and Totengrabersweise, with the grave-digger in the latter being very much a far cry from Shakespeare's comic grave-diggers in Hamlet.

Another concert at this year's festival will be of 20th century chamber music which will include Stravinsky's piano duet version of The Rite of Spring and Samuel Barber's Dover Beach. In celebration of this latter, Marcus Farnsworth then sang Samuel Barber's Three Songs, Op. 10. These were written in the period 1935 to 1937 when Barber was in Rome as a result of winning the Prix de Rome which gave him a period of study at the American Academy in Rome. Barber set poems from James Joyce's 1907 collection, Chamber Music. Barber wrote a number of settings of Joyce, but published three, Three Songs, Op.10 as a group. All three are linked musically and thematically; though very different poems each is about a love affair: Rain has fallen, Sleep now and I hear an army. They are terrific songs and Farnsworth and Baillieu treated us to a thrilling performance of them.

Our concert finished with four musicians who play at the festival, Jamie Campbell and Maria Wloszczowska violins, Ruth Nelson viola and Cara Berridge cello, coming together to give a terrific performance of Dvorak's String Quartet No. 12 in F Major (The American). A work written in 1893 during Dvorak's summer holiday from his job as director of the National Conservatory in New York. For all the American tag, and possible American influences in the melodic material, the work is full of Dvorak's familiar melodies and sprung Czech rhythms, and the young players gave us a vibrant and vivid performance.

Haydn's Creation at the 2014 Southwell Music Festival, conducted by Marcus Farnsworth
Haydn's Creation at the 2014 Southwell Music Festival,
conducted by Marcus Farnsworth
The centrepiece of this year's festival will be Mendelssohn's Elijah, which Marcus Farnsworth with conduct with soloists Sarah Tynan, Madeleine Shaw, Nick Pritchard and Andrew Foster-Williams. There will also be a performance of Haydn's Seven Last Words and plenty of other things too. Concerts take place in the minster itself, the state chamber in the old Archbishops Palace and the Old Theatre Deli, with there being afternoon, evening and late-night concerts. There is a fringe programme, involving young people and local musicians and Hugh Canning will be interviewing Dame Felicity Lott who is founder patron of the festival.

The present Southwell Minster dates back to the 1100's but the building is on the site of an Anglo-Saxon minster which was re-built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The minster survived the Reformation relatively unscathed and became a cathedral in 1884.

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