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Ensemble

Coming of age

KEITH BRAMICH was at the twenty-first
Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts

 

If you were asked to list works that most completely summed up the USA, its people and its music -- a tall order, to be honest, for such a vast, complex and multicultural nation -- you might choose Elvis, Rock'n'Roll, Sousa's Stars and Stripes, Samuel Barber's famous Adagio, in one of its many and various arrangements, something by Gershwin -- Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess, or maybe Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story or Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony. To capture the simplicity, purity and strength of the early settlers and their folk heritage, though, you couldn't do better, in my humble opinion, than Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, that famous Ballet for Martha (Graham) of 1944. A truly powerful piece, this, which resonates deeply with something simple and primordial in the depths of the human spirit. It's with a super performance of this particular American 'Icon' that George Vass chose to end the first concert at the 2003 Presteigne Festival on the Welsh/English Borders, a festival designed to celebrate Anglo-American connections and several important anniversaries, including the festival's own twenty-first birthday. Resonances were set up which spanned the six day festival, and there was Shaker as well as Border Marches magic in the air.

George Vass with the Presteigne Festival Orchestra at the end of the Morris Dodderidge Memorial Concert on 26 August 2003 in St Andrews Church, Presteigne. Photo: Keith Bramich
George Vass with the Presteigne Festival Orchestra at the end of the Morris Dodderidge Memorial Concert on 26 August 2003 in St Andrews Church, Presteigne. Photo: Keith Bramich

The very special atmosphere of this up-and-coming festival, centred in the old capital of Radnorshire on the Welsh/English Border Marches, was apparent on the day it opened -- the friendly feel of the town, the quiet buzz of preparation and arrival, the joy of pure silence in St Andrew's Church, the meeting of old friends from the town and from festivals past.

Lynden and Gareth Rees Roberts celebrate the twenty first anniversary of the Presteigne Festival. Photo: Keith Bramich
Lynden and Gareth Rees Roberts celebrate the twenty first anniversary of the Presteigne Festival. Photo: Keith Bramich

Founded in 1983 by, amongst others, Adrian Williams and Lynden and Gareth Rees-Roberts, it really did feel this year that an important milestone had been reached. George Vass took over the Artistic Director's role in 1993, and has built on Adrian Williams' earlier work to forge an event that many now compare with Cheltenham and Aldeburgh for its programming of contemporary classical music.

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Copyright © 5 October 2003 Keith Bramich, London UK

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