Stratford Festival preview



by Christopher Morley
After nearly a quarter of a century of its existence, the Stratford on Avon Music Festival this year takes a fresh look at itself as it launches a packed week of events in the middle of September.
A community weekend of activities, many of them geared towards the family, ushers in a week of chamber music, but before all that begins, this year's Festival opens with one of the country's favourite baritones, Roderick Williams, singing Jeremy Sams' new English translation of Schubert's great song-cycle Winter Journey ("Winterreise"). Christopher Glynn is the pianist for this performance given in the round at the Stratford Playhouse, venue for all but one of the Festival events (September 13, 7.30pm).
David Mills, the Festival's artistic director, hopes this year's offerings will attract new concertgoers of the future.
"I've never believed that you either like classical or pop music," he says. "There is, or should be, room in everyone's spectrum of musical taste to enjoy the best of both."

He goes on to tell me about the seating arrangements in the Playhouse, "with the seating -- it's flexible -- set up in the round, or rather, in a horseshoe. We tried this a couple of years ago, and it worked very well, creating a perfect intimate atmosphere for chamber music."

David then talks about his own passion for chamber music.

"A theme of the week is "+ 1" , that is, string quartets or a piano trio with an extra instrument. I've played the clarinet since I was at school, and had enormous pleasure as principal clarinet of the Royal Amateur Orchestra in London for many years, but nowadays I get a huge kick out of playing with others.

"This year we have two clarinet quintets - two completely different ways of approaching the form. In the Brahms the clarinet (Jack McNeill here) is deeply embedded in the quartet texture (the Gildas Quartet) and the piece has such a lovely autumnal feel you can almost catch the falling leaves, while the Weber is to all intents and purposes a concerto with mini-orchestra, music for a blustery day in Spring (the Gildas Quartet joined by Katherine Spencer).

"Then we have a piano trio with added viola in the two greatest piano quartets, Mozart's G minor and Schumann's, and to end the Aris Quartet with Elisabeth Brauss - all of them Radio 3 New Generation Artists - in Brahms' great piano quintet.

"What I l love about chamber music is the intimate conversation between musical friends; but when you add an instrument to an established group it's like inviting a special guest to a family dinner."
David remembers how he came to love music.

"There was always music in my family. My first concert was at the age of five in Gibraltar, where my father was based after the war. It was the Rachmaninov second piano concerto with Malcolm Sargent conducting, and I was entranced. There was always music, either on the radio or on record, and I bought my own first record when I went to university - Dinu Lipatti. His Bach B-flat Partita is still the best ever.

"I played in scratch orchestras as a student. Later, for a while I concentrated on recorders, but the clarinet won, and I have had huge pleasure from it. Gervase de Peyer was a client of the law firm I founded, and became a good friend. He gave me a few lessons, and what he told me has never left me - always look for the phrase; notes hardly ever stand on their own"

And what connects David with Stratford?

"I lived within a few miles of Stratford for almost 50 years, between Shipston and the most northerly of the Cotswolds near Ilmington. While I was working it was for weekends and holidays, and then for the last ten years it was my main home.

"I loved living in the country but it's not the best place if you happen to be ill with no-one to look after you. My wife died last year, so I've moved to London where my children live. But I must admit that my heart is in south Warwickshire. On the other hand, there is masses of music where I am now, and I've found a string quartet that would like to play with a clarinet from time to time."

David explains how the Orchestra of the Swan was created to take part in the first Stratford Music Festival in the later 1990s, and here Debbie Jagla, Managing Director of OOTS, chips in to tell me about the orchestra's involvement in the Festival today.

"A sense of place is a collection of characteristics – visual, cultural, social – that provide meaning and identity and makes our physical surroundings worth caring about. Achieving a sense of 'Place' relieves social isolation & engages young people, enabling the community to experience new things together.

"Orchestra of the Swan's new model of 'Immersive Residency' aims to contribute towards this sense of place by putting on activities for and with the community that cater for the needs of that community. Our partnership with the Stratford Music Festival, delivering 3 events for the community, kicks off the orchestra's 2019/2020 residency in Stratford upon Avon, and will tie in with the National Heritage Open Days Festival (13-22 September), whose central principle is to throw open the doors to buildings so that the local community can learn, explore and have fun by sharing the treasures on their doorstep for free. OOTS is thus joining a 25-yr-old movement with over 5000 events taking place nationally."

* All details of the Stratford on Avon Music Festival 2019 are available on 01789 333990, www.stratfordmusicfestivalcom.

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