Chipping Campden Music Festival – unfaltering world-class quality

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The Takacs String Quartet. Photo courtesy of Amanda Tipton Photography.

THE enormous range of the Chipping Campden Music Festival, and its unfaltering world-class quality, is what makes it such a special annual event in this beautiful part of England, writes Preston Witts.

This year’s festival – the 18th organised by its founder and artistic director Charlie Bennett – continues in the style to which we have become accustomed, with a glittering array of musicians of exceptional talent at the height of their powers.

Opening on Saturday, 11th May and concluding on Saturday, 25th May the festival offers, night-after-night for two weeks, some of the greatest music ever written performed by artists of global renown.

As Charlie Bennett points out, the festival features a mix of musicians, some of them new to Chipping Campden and others returning to what has become one of their favourite venues – St James’ Church. The pianist Alfred Brendel has described the church as having one of the finest acoustics he’d encountered in his 60-year career.

Among those performing at the festival for the first time are the BBC Singers, the newly-formed Orsino Ensemble – comprising some of the UK’s top wind players – the mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and the legendary American pianist Garrick Ohlson.

Festival regulars will include the internationally-famous Takacs String Quartet; the equally renowned cellist Steven Isserlis, the baritone Roderick Williams, and the pianists Imogen Cooper, Steven Osborne and festival president, Paul Lewis.

And the London Mozart Players will be returning after “a long absence” under the direction of their co-leader and much-loved member of the festival “family”, Ruth Rogers. (Ms Rogers is also the leader of the festival’s academy orchestra and a regular soloist with it.)

An exciting development for the festival this year is the commissioning of a concerto for orchestra by the English composer David Matthews. The work will receive its world premiere with the academy orchestra under the baton of its regular conductor Thomas Hull on the last night of the festival. That final evening will also include Chopin’s first piano concerto, with soloist Eric Lu, and Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

The first night of the festival will actually be a discussion rather than a concert. The distinguished cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who is now the principal of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire of Music – as well as being the festival’s education patron – will be in conversation with the novelist Patrick Gale about his latest book, which contains a character based on the legendary cello teacher Jane Cowan (who taught Steven Isserlis, among others).

They will talk about the vital importance and lifelong effect of great teaching. The festival gets fully under way on Monday, 13th May with a performance of Handel’s great oratorio Israel in Egypt with the BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of the acclaimed young conductor Gergely Madaras.

As Charlie Bennett puts it: “The inclusion of a large choral work has become a feature over the last few years and it was a challenge to top 2017’s Monteverdi Vespers and Bach’s B Minor Mass of 2018, but we hope audiences will agree that Handel’s Israel in Egypt, with the BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music, will make a wonderful opening concert.”

He added: “This year also sees the final concert of the festival’s three-year project to present the great song cycles of Franz Schubert, and the inclusion of Paul Lewis’ four-concert series of focusing on the sonatas of Haydn, the late works of Brahms and the Beethoven bagatelles.”

A major highlight of this year’s festival will be two evenings with Steven Isserlis and the pianist Robert Levin performing Beethoven’s entire repertoire for cello and piano. There is also, this year, a significant involvement with the Leeds International Piano Competition.

Charlie said: “Paul Lewis is co-artistic director of the competition and was chairman of the 2018 jury. The first prize winner, Eric Lu, will perform a piano concerto with the academy orchestra on the final night; the second prize winner Mario Haring will give a recital on the morning of the middle Saturday and, on the Tuesday morning of week two, Paul Lewis will give a masterclass involving three very advanced young players.”

He added: “The festival academy orchestra is now widely regarded as one of the UK’s leading training orchestras, and conductor Thomas Hull has auditioned 130 hugely talented conservatoire candidates for the 20 available places.

“Each of these young musicians will share an orchestral desk with a highly experienced professional player. Three large-scale orchestral concerts in the space of one week is a big undertaking for them but the experience they get is invaluable to them as musicians.”

Details of the festival can be found at http://campdenmusicfestival.co.uk