Worcester Elgar Festival


by Christopher Morley

After well over a year of Covid lockdown postponements Worcester's Elgar for Everyone Festival is back up and running, packed with an exciting weekend of events.
Kenneth Woods, principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and Festival Director, tells me about this rebirth of interaction between performers and audience.
"Chris, there's excitement, elation, expectation and trepidation," he begins.

"There's nothing to compare to live music - even the best possible filmed performance is ultimately only flashing lights on a screen and speakers moving back and forth. Concerts are where connections happen. And festivals, even more so. For all that we've missed the thrill of music being made in the moment and shared by all, we've also missed the community around the music. We've missed the connections, seeing friends, collaborating with colleagues. We chose Elgar's Enigma Variations this year as the centrepiece of the festival for this reason - it's about friendship, it's about connection."

In the Festival press release he refers to Elgar as this country's greatest composer, I remind Ken. How would he defend that statement to the champions of Purcell, Walton, Britten and others?

"Well, any statement like that must be made with a smile, as we know these kinds of judgements are, to an extent, subjective and statements like this are meant to be more playfully provocative than statements of gospel truth.

"There may well be a composer greater than all of these that has slipped below the radar - when one thinks of the kind of obscurity that engulfed Bach and Mahler for several decades after their deaths, you must admit that we never fully know what is out there until time works its magic. But, of all British composers, it's hard to think of any composer who, at their best, took music to such incredible emotional and spiritual heights as Elgar. I still think he's very underrated in most of the world."

This Festival boasts a really varied line-up of events. How did the planning go?

"The planning went fast!", Kenneth Woods emphasises, speaking in capital letters.

"We were heartbroken when the festival couldn't proceed this spring. Once we saw an opening in October, there was precious little time to put together a programme and get funding in place. Our plan was to keep the festival more modest in scale this time, but, on that front, we've failed. There's a real feast of music to be had, pretty much all weekend."

And Ken concludes with words echoing what I have heard from so many other conductors and soloists.

"Just on a human level, I would like to remind readers that when they come to a concert this autumn or winter, they should know just how much it means to every single musician on stage.

"This has been an incredibly difficult time for performers in all the arts. There have have been huge professional setbacks, financial challenges, and the health worries we all share in this era. But what we have missed most is you, the listener, the friend, the neighbour, the supporter. And we think you've missed us, too."

Many of the places with whom Elgar had strong personal connections figure as performance locations during the weekend-long Festival, none more prominent than Worcester Cathedral.

This will be the venue for a Gala Concert on Saturday October 30 (7.30pm), celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Worcester Charter. Kenneth Woods conducts the English Symphony Orchestra in an all-British programme including Vaughan Williams' Housman-inspired song-cycle On Wenlock Edge, Mark Wilde the tenor soloist, and Elgar's Enigma Variations (I published my obvious solution to Elgar's gnomic poser in the Birmingham Post many, many years ago).

Mark Wilde is also soloist in a recital of English song, accompanied by David Owen Norris. Two Worcestershire composers of the Victorian era are featured, Elgar himself and Walter Battison Haynes, as well as a contemporary one, Worcester-based Ian Venables.

Venables has been described in Musical Opinion as "Britain's greatest living composer of art songs", and in this recital at Huntingdon Hall his song-cycle The Last Invocation, based on poems by Walt Whitman, receives its premiere.

Much more is on offer all over the city during this busy weekend (October 29 - 31), with all details available on www.elgarfestival.org or elgar@elgarfestival.org.

Popular posts from this blog

Jacquie Lawson e-card music

Some Enchanted Evenings at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne