A vacation in Welsh border country
KEITH BRAMICH introduces our six day visit to the Presteigne
Festival of Music and the Arts
Welcome to Welsh border country and to the Presteigne Festival, which begins this afternoon with a
children's concert, an opening reception and then an evening concert. Tonight's
concert at St Andrew's Church (literally a stone's throw from the border
between England and Wales) introduces some of the festival's main characters
- John McCabe, composer
in residence, will hear a performance of his Sonata on a Motet (click to listen), oboist Ruth Watson (who lives in Presteigne)
will play Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor, and harpist Catherine Beynon
takes a break from her employment with the Royal Danish Orchestra to play
Mozart's Concerto in C, K 415, arranged for harp and orchestra. Conducting
all the orchestral concerts at Presteigne is George Vass - a man under great pressure during these six
days of music, not only because of a heavy rehearsal and concert schedule,
but also because he is the Festival's artistic director and must, for example,
speak at receptions, welcome artists, sponsors and visitors, and guide the
Festival through its six days of music-making. This year, George welcomes
the Vanbrugh Quartet,
who will play on Friday and on Sunday, in programmes including Winter's
Edge by composer Ian Wilson from Belfast, and John McCabe's String Quartet
No 5. (Have you read Music & Vision's review of the Vanbrugh Quartet's recent CD of McCabe Quartets?).
George Vass has brought his own Canterbury Chamber Choir to Presteigne this
year, and on Monday you can hear their rendition of Rodney Stephen Newton's
Six English Folksongs (click here to listen),
accompanied by Catherine Beynon.
I'll attempt to set the scene by describing the town hosting the festival.
Presteigne was county town of what used to be Radnorshire. When the
British government shuffled the boundaries and created new counties with
names like Powys, Presteigne found itself a county town without a
county - a medium-sized but sleepy town, complete with a court room, a jail,
assembly rooms, many public houses and a large church, straddling the border
in beautiful countryside between Wales and England, and ideally placed to
attract visitors from both countries. In 1982, along came composer Adrian Williams,
looking for a town large enough to host an important classical music festival,
and the Presteigne Festival was born. Adrian's ten years as Artistic Director
culminated in 1992 with a celebration of the European Community in newly
commissioned music - composers from twelve countries were invited to the
town to hear their premières. Now Presteigne, known as 'town of festivals'
attracts an assortment of events throughout the year, including a folk music
festival - Sheep Music.
Possibly less well-known than the neighbouring music festivals of Cheltenham
(whose artistic director Michael Berkeley lives near Presteigne, and who
is Presteigne Festival's President) and the Three Choirs Festival - this
year at Worcester, Presteigne manages to hold its own, in spite of its location
in a sparsely populated rural area. Presteigne attracts well-known artists
and fills local halls and churches with visiting music-lovers, and usually
hosts a recording for BBC Radio 3. This year, the BBC will record Monday
evening's recital, which includes Alice Neary and Gretel Dowdeswell's world
première of John McCabe's Cello Sonata and which also features clarinettist
David Campbell, and includes music by Brahms and Schumann.
Tickets are still available for most of Presteigne's concerts by phoning
the box office on +44 (0)1544 267800, and the full programme of events is listed on the Festival website.
If you can't visit personally this year, Music & Vision will
be here until the final concert on Tuesday night, and will endeavour to
keep you informed over the six days of the Festival, with an emphasis on
the music of John McCabe. On Saturday, for example, Basil Ramsey will review
EMI's re-release of McCabe orchestral music, to coincide with the Presteigne
Festival Orchestra's evening performance of Red Leaves. Also on Saturday,
Christopher Morley (chief music critic of the Birmingham Post) will interview
John McCabe, and visitors to Music & Vision can hear this interview
We hope you can enjoy the Festival - either by visiting personally, or
via our pages.
Copyright © Keith Bramich,
August 26th 1999
A Message of Welcome
This year the Presteigne Festival celebrates seventeen years with a feast
of exciting events in and around the cultural capital of Radnorshire. We
are particularly pleased to have John McCabe as our Composer in Residence
in his sixtieth birthday year, and highly honoured that he has written a
new work for Alice Neary and Gretel Dowdeswell, commissioned with support
from the Arts Council of Wales. With a particularly wide mix of music, there
is something to suit everyone's taste this year, from Vivaldi and Bach through
Mozart and Haydn via Brahms and Schumann to the composers of today. There
are 'mini-features' of music by Alun Hoddinott and Graham Fitkin, and each
programme includes at least one work by a living British composer - no less
than eighteen contemporary works in all.
A new departure
in 1999 is to have three events specifically designed for children; the
Festival Orchestra give a Children's Concert and there are to be two storytelling
sessions by Jeanette Hodgson and Michael Harvey.
Last year's Presteigne Festival was short-listed for a Royal Philharmonic
Society Prize won by the Barbican Centre - some measure of the success being
currently enjoyed by our friendly but ambitious festival.
I hope that your visit to the 1999 Presteigne Festival will stay long
in the memory, and that you will continue to return year after year.
Have a wonderful festival.