THE great pianist Alfred Brendel has described St James’ Church in Chipping Campden as having one of the finest acoustics he has encountered in his 60-year career. This is quite an accolade from someone who has played in some of the top concert venues in the world over a very long period.
It is also an indication of the enormous prestige of the annual Chipping Campden International Music Festival — held at St James’ — that artists of Brendel’s calibre have become so engaged with it since it was first launched by local wine merchant, Charlie Bennett, in 2002.
The 2017 festival starts at 7.30pm on Sunday, 14th May, with the renowned cellist, Steven Isserlis, discussing his new book, Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians. This is an event which has been organised in conjunction with the Chipping Campden Literature Festival.
The following night Mr Isserlis will be performing in a candlelit concert in the church, from 8.45pm to about 10.45pm, and his programme will include three of J S Bach’s six magnificent suites for solo cello — No 1 in G major BWV 1007, No 5 in C minor BWV 1011, and No 6 in D major BWV 1012.
Every evening throughout the following two weeks artists from around the world will be gracing St James’. The festival will close on the morning of Saturday, 27th May, with Alfred Brendel himself delivering a lecture on Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas. That event, which is being held at Chipping
Campden School, begins at 11.15am and is expected to end around 1pm.
The festival’s ability to attract the interest of musicians of the highest quality is demonstrated by the fact that its president is the acclaimed pianist, Paul Lewis, who studied with Alfred Brendel. Its patron of education is the distinguished cellist, Julian Lloyd Webber.
In welcoming people to this year’s festival Mr Lewis, who will be performing in two of the concerts, highlights the stature of the musicians who are taking part while at the same time paying tribute to the extent to which young musicians at the outset of their careers are also nurtured. This is a reference to the lunchtime concerts that are held throughout the festival to enable talented young people to display their musicianship.
He added: “In a world in which commercialism and short-term gain can often take priority over substance, the values that have always been promoted by the festival are to be cherished more than ever.”
Meanwhile, Mr Lloyd Webber praises ‘the great educational work’ done by the festival. He says that this year it has continued its work in local primary schools, which involved around 300 students working for an intensive three-week period.
It also provided workshops in composition, brass and wind instruments at secondary schools, as well as a concert for early years’ children.
He adds: “The festival’s priority for 2017 is to extend its support of orchestral playing in the secondary school sector.”
For his part, the founder and organiser of the festival, Charlie Bennett, pointed out that the two-week long event was now widely acknowledged as one of the finest and most important music festivals in the UK, attracting visitors from as far afield as the USA, Canada, Russia, New Zealand and Australia, alongside a loyal following from mainland Europe.
He said: “Demand for tickets has been phenomenal, with all the reserved seating selling out on the first day of bookings for some of the concerts. By the end of February, with over two months to go until the start, sales had already exceeded the final total of the 2016 festival.”
Apart from Mr Isserlis and Mr Lewis, the artists appearing this year include the brilliant baritone Roderick Williams, who lives at Kineton, accompanied by pianist, Iain Burnside, the pianists Richard Goode and Nicolai Lugansky, the Takacs String Quartet, the Academy of Ancient Music, the Freiburger Barockorchester and Vox Luminis, and the Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra led by Ruth Rogers and conducted by Thomas Hull.
As Mr Bennett pointed out, the festival academy orchestra is made up of 50 per cent established professionals, drawn from the UK’s leading orchestras, and 50 per cent graduate trainees elected by audition.
“This year there were in excess of 130 applications for the 21 academy places — a sign that the CCFAO is now seen as one of the UK’s leading training orchestras,” he said.
“In 2015 we also formed a Youth Academy, made up of 50 per cent graduate trainees [from the May festival] and 50 per cent secondary aged students. And in January of this year the festival formed its third orchestra — the North Cotswold Youth Orchestra — which will be made up entirely of secondary aged students from the local area.”
As we can see, Chipping Campden is turning into one of the cultural hubs of the UK because one man, Charlie Bennett, had a great idea and acted on it.
And I’ve only mentioned the town’s literature festival, which runs from 9th to 14th May, in passing — but that’s another story.
To book tickets visit www.campdenmusicfestival.co.uk or call 01386 849018