Tuesday 14 March 2023

Welcome to Cheltenham Music Festival 2023: Music by 40 contemporary composers and the 10th anniversary of the Composers Academy

The Old Courthouse in Cheltenham (Photo: Mark Watkins, from Gloucestershire Live)
The Old Courthouse in Cheltenham, venue for two late-night electronic sets at Cheltenham Music Festival
(Photo: Mark Watkins, from Gloucestershire Live)

This year's Cheltenham Music Festival will feature the world premieres of works by James B Wilson, Soosan Lolavar and Aileen Sweeney plus performances of newly commissioned works by James MacMillan, and Laurence Osborn.

At the opening concert, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra premieres a work by James B Wilson which is a response to Vaughan Williams’s ideas and philosophies in works such as The Lark Ascending. James B Wilson was himself a former participant of Cheltenham’s long-running Composer Academy programme. The concert also features Richard Rodney Bennett's Partita, a work that Bennett described as 'lively and I hope accessible'. It was commissioned by BT in co-operation with the Association of British Orchestras, to be performed by seventeen different orchestras between October 1995 and July 1996!

The Carice Singers, director George Parris, return to the festival to give the world premiere of a work by Soosan Lolavar, as part of a programme inspired by light and luminosity. Laurence Osborn’s TOMB! is a co-commission with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and Kings Place, London, and will be performed by the 12 Ensemble and GBSR Duo in a genre-crossing programme that brings together classical and non-classical music in an exploration of unsettling film soundtracks. James MacMillan’s We Are Collective is a co-commission alongside the Haddo Arts, Sound Festival and Spitalfields Music and will be performed at Cheltenham Music Festival by the Maxwell Quartet in a programme also featuring the quartet’s own arrangements of Scottish folk music.

Byrdwatching is a promenade experience commemorating the 400th anniversary of William Byrd’s death. Musicians from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire take audiences on a tour of Cheltenham’s historic drawing rooms in a series of intimate performances exploring works from Byrd and his contemporaries and beyond – including a newly commissioned work from Composer Academy graduate Aileen Sweeney.

In addition to new commissions and premieres, previous commissions and other contemporary works also feature in the programme. Laura van der Heijden and Jâms Coleman perform Michael Zev Gordon’s Roseland, which premiered at the festival in 2008, and there are works by Thomas Adès, Jonathan Harvey, Cecilia McDowall, Caroline Shaw, Anna Meredith and many more. In all, the programme features work by 40 living composers.

The popular Mixtape concert returns with an evening of relaxed, rule-free classical music at DEYA Taproom, whilst there two innovative late-night electronic sets at The Old Courthouse, an historic venue in the heart of Cheltenham. Laura Cannell combines recorder with electronics to embody the beauty of birdsong in a performance from her latest album, Antiphony of the Trees, and Rakhi Singh’s set features music by Alex Groves, Emily Hall, Edmund Finnis, Nicola Matteis and more.

At the start of the festival, musicians from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra present an interactive musical experience exploring Oliver Jeffers’s The Way Back Home for children aged 4-7, whilst musical storytellers MishMash Ensemble offer 7-11 year-olds and their families a guided exploration of woodwind instruments with five leading players.

The Gloucestershire Youth Chamber Orchestra perform in the Festival’s annual Concert for Schools, aimed at Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils. The concert features engaging storytelling alongside live orchestral music to create an interactive journey through classical music. The following day, the orchestra returns to perform the Relaxed Concert for Schools, an interactive event designed for young people with special educational needs and their caregivers.

2023 marks the 10th year of Cheltenham Music Festival’s Composer Academy, which supports early-career composers who are looking for professional advice and mentorship. Part of the festival’s Spotlight Talent Development programme, young composers aged 18+ will work with director and mentor Daniel Kidane to workshop, perform and record their works with The Carice Singers, culminating in two Composium showcases.

Full details from the festival website.

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