Elgar Jubilee Festival

By Christopher Morley

It was a childhood experience which made Anne Renshaw briefly wish she hadn't been born a girl.

"I grew up in East Anglia and went to school in Peterborough. We were occasionally taken to the cathedral to hear Choral Evensong. At 11 years old I was blown away by it and it was the only time in my life I wished I'd been born a boy – I so wanted to be a chorister, when of course that wasn't possible," she confesses.

"Both my parents sang in our local church choir and choral society so I was brought up on singing. School and college choirs followed, then nothing until moving to Worcestershire and eventually joining Worcester Festival Choral Society, the Three Choirs Festival Chorus, more recently Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir and now, the Elgar Festival Chorus."

And it is now the Elgar Festival Chorus which is foremost in Anne's thoughts, in her role as trustee and strategic director. though Elgar's renowned choral music is not the only feature of the programming, as Anne says.

"It is an opportunity to explore the whole of Elgar's output over the course of successive festivals with the aim of making his work accessible to all – 'Elgar for Everyone'!

"The newly established Elgar Festival (incorporated by Worcester City Council in 2018) is the official annual celebration of England's greatest composer in the city of his birth and life. At the heart of the festival is the resident English Symphony Orchestra and its conductor Kenneth Woods who is also the Festival's Artistic Director.

"The highlight piece each year might be one of the big oratorios, or the symphonies, or a concerto. We'll put thought into each year's programming to focus attention on aspects of Elgar's work linked to what was going on his world and that of his contemporaries, alongside what is happening in our world today and those walking in Elgar's footsteps.

"A Choral Celebration is this year's focus: we welcome The Carice Singers and their conductor George Parris in a programme of Elgar and Samuel Coleridge Taylor, with a pre-concert discussion about Elgar's admiration and support of that composer, and we also launch our own Festival Chorus made up of 82 experienced singers from choirs across Elgar country."

Anne has lived in Worcestershire for 30 years. How was her life beforehand?

"Ironically, I pulled out of music college in London and a career in music, and worked at the sharp end of retail management in Oxford Street for a few years instead! Loved every minute of it, working in some challenging stores through difficult times but with some really great people. It was how I met my husband, and his career move eventually brought our family to Worcestershire and for me a return to music with all that Worcester and the region has to offer ….. something to do with the "music in the air, music all around us" perhaps?

The Elgar Festival seems like a rebirth. What are the guiding lights behind it?

"It is a rebirth in the sense of it having now been established as the official, annual celebration of Elgar's life and music, and we're on a mission – an Elgar for Everyone mission with high quality events and access, access, access! Many events are free of charge, and ticket prices for the Gala Concert start at £5.

Our bright orange graffiti profile image of Elgar whizzing along on his bike, hat flying off (a wall painting at the National Trust The Firs Elgar Birthplace in Lower Broadheath), performed small miracles for our marketing and publicity. It looks like a festival. It is fun, inclusive and appealing.

*The Elgar Jubilee Festival runs from June 2-5. All details on www. ElgarFestival.org

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