Wednesday 22 March 2023

Pilgrim's Progress, The Faery Bride, The Age of Aspiration & more: the Three Choirs Festival launches its 2023 programme for Gloucester

The Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral (Photo: Michael Whitefoot)
The Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral (Photo: Michael Whitefoot)

This year's Three Choirs Festival takes place from 22 to 29 July 2023 in and around Gloucester, with over 60 events featuring 21 premieres and music by 50 living composers. The festival is continuing its celebrations of Vaughan Williams' 150th birthday with performances of Sancta CivitasPilgrim's Progress and Flos Campi along with other large-scale works such as Elgar's The Apostles and Bach's St John Passion

A new feature at this year's festival is the Three Choirs Festival Voices, a choir which is open to everyone, with no audition required and a reduced rehearsal period in comparison to that of the Three Choirs Festival Chorus. It is hoped that the Three Choirs Festival Voices will provide more opportunities for local singers to take part in the festival and this year, the new choir will be performing Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs  and Graham Fitkin’s The Age of Aspiration, his 2021 work drawing on the life of the Cornish chemist, Humphrey Davy, to illuminate the social and political effects of the industrial revolution.

The main Three Choirs Festival Chorus is drawn from auditioned singers in and around Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester, with the largest contingent each year coming from the host city. Amateur choral singers have been taking part in the festival since the middle of the 19th century to augment the cathedral choirs of boy trebles and male altos, tenors and basses. In 2010, the Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir was established for singers aged 14-25. 

The festival opens with Adrian Partington conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra (resident at the festival) in a programme which includes Elgar's Violin Concerto, Vaughan Williams' Sancta Civitas and a new work by Eleanor Alberga (22/7/23). On the Sunday (23/7/23), RVW's Flos Campi is performed alongside a new work by Ronald Corp and Gavin Higgins' The Faery Bride, his cantata based on the ancient Welsh legend of the Lady of the Lake, which premiered at last year's Aldeburgh Festival, with Martyn Brabbins conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

RVW's opera The Pilgrims Progress (24/7/23) is being performed in a semi-staged production in collaboration with British Youth Opera. Charlotte Corderoy (an alumna of the festival's Youth Choir) conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the festival Youth Choir, with Ross Cumming as Pilgrim and an array of young soloists from British Youth Opera.

Bach's St John Passion (27/7/23) will feature James Gilchrist as the Evangelist with the Three Cathedral Choirs and Corelli Orchestra, conducted by Geraint Bowen. And there is also a chance to hear Stölzel’s Passion, a work that Bach performed in 1734 and which influenced the Christmas Oratorio. Other interesting repertoire includes Holst's wonderful Ode to Death, and a choral version of RVW's Tallis Fantasia. 

The festival closes with Elgar's The Apostles, with Adrian Partington conducting the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and Philharmonia Orchestra with soloists Philippa Boyle, Martha McLorinan, Michael Bell, John Savournin, James Geidt , and Dingle Yandell as Jesus.

Further new and contemporary music at the festival includes works by Randall Svane, Francis Pott, Liz Lane, Nilufar Habibian, Jonathan Dove, David Bednall, Judith Bingham, Roxanna Panufnik, James MacMillan, Janet Wheeler, Roderick Williams, Anna Clyne, Pawel Łukaszewski and Paul Fincham's opera for young people, The Happy Princess.

Of course, the festival is not just about the large-scale evening concerts, mornings, afternoons and late evenings are full of events, and there is the regular programme of choral services in the Cathedral. There is also the Festival Village when you want to take a moment to relax

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