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Music and Vision at the Presteigne Festival

Presteigne notes

Further news from the continuing
Presteigne Festival in Wales

Simon Mundy and Fiona Southey at Old RadnorIn an introductory speech at the opening reception, Vice-President Simon Mundy (who, pictured here, introduces Fiona Southey, composer manager at Novello and Co. Ltd., to the beautiful view from the churchyard at Old Radnor) referred to Presteigne as a 'composers' festival'. As this year's six day Festival draws to a close, we can appreciate the richness of new exposure to the music of living composers Graham Fitkin, Celia Harper, Alun Hoddinott, Robin Holloway, John McCabe, Rodney Newton, Adrian Williams and Ian Wilson. Presteigne is also a pianists' festival, and yesterday we heard John McCabe play a very personal programme of music by Haydn, Alan Rawsthorne and Alun Hoddinott. McCabe is connected with each of these composers in a special way - his performances and recordings of Haydn are legendary. Rawsthorne was and Hoddinott is a personal friend, and McCabe is Rawsthorne's biographer - Alan Rawsthorne - Portrait of a Composer is, as McCabe explains, hot on the press, and will be available from Oxford University Press very shortly.

Stephen De Pledge at Presteigne. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichAward-winning New Zealand pianist Stephen De Pledge has been playing at Presteigne too - his exciting (and often wild) evening recital on Sunday featured Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata, two pieces by Liszt - Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude and the Mephisto Waltz No 1, Schumann's Carnaval and another piece by Graham Fitkin - the strange, twisted and jazzy Furniture. Stephen came to study in London in 1993, and his competitive successes include the Guildhall's highest award - the Gold Medal. His second UK concert tour culminated recently in a highly acclaimed debut concert at the Purcell Room. You can hear Stephen again tonight at St Andrew's Presteigne, playing Mozart's Concerto in G, K453. Next year he gives a concert tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Gretel Dowdeswell is Presteigne's busiest pianist - in this year's Festival she plays chamber music with David Campbell, Alice Neary, Alison Smart and Ruth Watson. Alice Neary, David Campbell and Gretel Dowdeswell at Presteigne. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith BramichGretel's solo repertoire includes works by John McCabe, Rhian Samuel, Hilary Tann and Adrian Williams, and she has performed concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg, Mozart, Schumann and Stravinsky. Yesterday (as shown here) she appeared with cellist Alice Neary and clarinettist David Campbell - a superb recital of Schumann and Brahms. In the same concert, Alice and Gretel gave the world première of McCabe's Sonata for cello and piano - a strong, dark coloured piece based on McCabe's recent ballet Edward II. The BBC recorded this concert, and it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 shortly.

Alice and Gretel's final recital at this year's Festival this afternoon (and I've just heard rumours about them both returning next year) featured a sensitive performance of Spring Requiem 'In memoriam Aleksander Miletic' by the Festival's founder Adrian Williams. Alice presented the audience (which included composers John Joubert, John McCabe and Graham Williams) with a helpful (and illustrated) introduction to the main sections of this piece, which depicts the funeral in Belgrade in 1993 of Adrian's ex-wife's architect father. Spring Requiem has been recorded by Raphael Wallfisch and Adrian Williams, and is featured on the new CD of the cello and piano music of Adrian's music - available shortly.

The Canterbury Chamber Choir with George Vass at Old Radnor. Photo copyright (c) 1999 Keith Bramich

The Canterbury Chamber Choir's popular concert yesterday afternoon at St Stephen's church, Old Radnor included a performance of Rodney Newton's Six English Folksongs. Conductor George Vass commissioned this work in 1985 for performance by the Fairfield Choral Society, with funds from the Ralph Vaughan Williams trust. Yesterday's concert was the Canterbury Chamber Choir's final appearance in this 1999 festival, and they are due to return to Presteigne in 2002. This concert provided another opportunity to hear harpist Catherine Beynon in solo harp music by Hasselmans and Dowland.


This year's Presteigne Festival is nearly over ... as I write this, we have only tonight's final concert to look forward to, and a pre-concert talk by Graham Fitkin. Next year's festival, from 24 - 29 August celebrates the music of David Matthews, J S Bach and Graham Williams, along with composers from Portugal and Spain. Artists appearing next year will include the Ovid Ensemble, Buddug Verona James, the Exmoor Singers, Mark Ashford, Sarah-Jane Bradley, the Festival Orchestra and George Vass.

Copyright © Keith Bramich, August 31st 1999

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