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Music and Vision at the Presteigne Festival

Presteigne notes

News from the continuing
Presteigne Festival in Wales

Ruth Watson talking to Alice Neary. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichOboist Ruth Watson (pictured here after her concert yesterday, talking to cellist Alice Neary) runs a restaurant called 'The Hat Shop' in Presteigne, and she has apparently taken the week off from the kitchen, so she can play in the Festival. Her Marcello Oboe Concerto and yesterday's Six Metamorphoses after Ovid (Britten) were superb.


Alison Smart at Presteigne. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichNot all of the Festival's artists are fortunate enough to live in the town, and another of Presteigne's stars, soprano Alison Smart has unfortunately returned to London. A Senior Choral Scholar at Clare College, Cambridge, Alison is now a staff member of the BBC Singers, and appears regularly as a soloist within the group. As an oratorio soloist, Alison recently sang Tippett's The Vision of St Augustine with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The astonishing sound of her performance here in Presteigne yesterday with pianist Gretel Dowdeswell of Graham Fitkin's Nasar remains in our heads. Graham Fitkin and Alison Smart, following Alison's performance of 'Nasar'. Photograph copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichWritten in 1992 for Nicola Walker Smith, Nasar is constructed from twelve sentences from Cronica de una Muerte Anunciada by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the words are more than colourful, describing (for example) Nasar's relaxed mood on the day of his own death - he calmly wanders around, his own entrails in his hand, commenting on the weather. Fitkin's music is constructed very simply, to wonderful effect. If you're in Presteigne, you can hear Fitkin talking about his own Agnostic on Tuesday, prior to performance in the final concert of this year's Festival.

George Vass with members of the Vanbrugh Quartet. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichThe sublime Vanbrugh Quartet have also now left Presteigne, leaving us the memory of two wonderful concerts. McCabe's String Quartet No 5 (read Paul Rooke's review of the CD) followed Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' in the first of these. Clarinettist David Campbell joined them for a superb Mozart Clarinet Quintet in the second half. Each of Presteigne's concerts this year features at least one contemporary work, and yesterday the quartet featured Ian Wilson's striking Winter's Edge - music which has its roots in the life of the apostle Paul - in their second concert. The Vanbrugh Quartet (members of whom are pictured above, drinking a quiet pint outside The Royal Oak with Musical Director George Vass) have a unique residency with RTE in Cork which has (so far) lasted fourteen years, and Greg Ellis, the Quartet's first violinist, is amazed that no other broadcasting organisation or funding body has yet awarded such a residency. Cork wanted an orchestra, and RTE's financial chiefs said no to an orchestra, but yes to a string quartet.

Composer Rodney Newton has arrived in Presteigne to hear the Canterbury Chamber Choir perform his Six English Folksongs (click here to listen). Rodney composes and arranges for film and TV, having contributed to BBC Radio programmes on film music, and he has lectured at the National Film Theatre. He has also written symphonies, tone poems, chamber music and song cycles. His recent involvement with the brass band movement has led to his appointment as Co-ordinator of Light Music with the Williams Fairey Band. Rodney's varied career has also included five years as principal timpanist with the orchestra of English National Opera.


Getting away from it all ... ten minutes by car from Presteigne is unspoilt Welsh border country - looking towards Presteigne from Stonewall Hill.

Landscape near Presteigne.

Copyright © Keith Bramich, August 30th 1999

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