Meurig Bowen delivers a stellar Cheltenham Music Festival (1-16 July) to mark his 10th anniversary as director. Superstar artists in the Town Hall, chamber concerts in the Pump Rooms, spine tingling choral music raising the rafters of Tewkesbury Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral, and musical experiences for all the family, from relaxed events for toddlers to virtual reality orchestras on the High Street are all on offer this year.
The 2017 Festival sees an appearance from the great Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel the CBSO with their new Music Director, 30-year-old Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, a Monteverdi celebration from I Fagiolini and Academy of Ancient Music; ballet in the Everyman Theatre; Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony in Gloucester Cathedral and celebrates 70 years of The Hallé in Cheltenham. Star soloists include violinist Tasmin Little, baritone Roderick Williams and BBC Young Musician 2016 winner, Sheku Kanneh-Mason. The music of over 50 living composers is represented, including 20 premieres.
We want to celebrate the sheer range of music a festival like this can offer: a showcase for big names and emerging talent alike, a hothouse for new music as much as a banquet of beloved, familiar repertoire.
The Philharmonia’s Virtual Orchestra comes to town – the first time people outside of London will be able to witness this remarkable virtual reality experience, featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra in the closing minutes of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. (1-16 July, Cheltenham High Street).
Throwing away the concert rule book is Classical Mixtape (Tuesday 11 July) which invites festival-goers to enjoy the magnificent space of Tewkesbury Abbey in a completely different way. During two 40-minute sets, performed from a variety of stages around the Abbey, the audience can stand up, lie down, share the experience on social media and bring drinks in. Each short piece is carefully chosen and sequenced by Meurig Bowen to show off the extraordinary acoustic of one of his favourite buildings. Classical Mixtape attendees can choose what to pay for this experience, from only £1. And every other festival event has tickets available to Under 25s for only £5 – demonstrating the Festival’s drive to widen access to classical music by making ticket prices as affordable as possible.
Chapel Arts is an exciting new arts space on the Cheltenham scene and the Music Festival has programmed a whole fortnight’s worth of innovative ways to use it. The brand-new Rush Hour series showcases recent finalists and winners of the BBC Young Musician competition which in recent years has featured Meurig Bowen among the distinguished judges.
The development of events for children has been a priority for Meurig Bowen. And this year, with the publication in April of a new book that he has written with his wife Rachel, The School of Music , a specially-devised event brings alive this book’s wide-ranging material in a series of sketches and interactive musical activities (Saturday 15 July).
Other family events include The Bear and the Piano (Sunday, 9 July), a specially devised concert that brings the 2016 Waterstones Children’s Book award winner’s book to life with live piano music and a reading by the book’s author David Litchfield. The recorder consort, Palisander, perform Dr Dee’s Daughter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sunday 16 July), a story of magic and adventure with puppets, Rust and Bone. And Lilliput Concerts present Music for Tiny People, ideal for ages 0-4.
Festival Director Meurig Bowen said: “Weekenders can submerge themselves with musical excellence from 11 in the morning to evening Prom concerts as well as late-night after-concert chats at the Festival bar. There’s entertainment for all the family with puppetry concerts, toddler concerts and award-winning children’s books brought to life with music.”