Cheltenham Music Festival announces 10 days of creative programming for its 76th Festival in July, as innovator and composer Jules Buckley joins as Guest Curator. 40 events will take place across 12 venues in and around The Festival Town of Cheltenham. One of the most in-demand conductors and arrangers of contemporary orchestral projects, Buckley has curated several BBC Late Night Proms and is Creative Artist in Association with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. He has worked alongside Head of Programming, Camilla King, on a Cheltenham Music Festival designed to bring classical music to the widest possible audience.
Jules Buckley, Cheltenham Music Festival Guest Curator, said:
“I am very honoured to have been asked to be Guest Curator for Cheltenham Music Festival. Alison Balsom [Artistic Director for the 75th Cheltenham Music Festival] is a good friend of mine and I’d always been a great admirer of her work. The reach of this Festival is significant and over the years the different artists that it has attracted and the different programmes the Festival has put together has been very appealing to me.”
Accessibility is at the heart of the Festival, with its Free Stage in Imperial Square at the heart of Cheltenham returning for the Opening Weekend in partnership with Classic FM. New audiences are invited to ‘pay-what-you-can’ for Classical Mixtape at Tewkesbury Abbey, while tickets under £15 are available for the majority of events.
• Jules Buckley conducts The Heritage Orchestra in The Music of Moroder. This will be the first European performance of the show created especially for Vivid Festival at Sydney Opera House celebrating the 80th birthday of ‘Father of Disco’ Giorgio Moroder [4 July]
• World-leading ensembles include Aurora Orchestra, Bliss Wind Ensemble, Carducci Quartet, The Heritage Orchestra, The Philharmonia, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Tenebrae
• Top international artists include Matthew Barley, Ian Bostridge, Dame Sarah Connolly, Imogen Cooper, Bjarte Eike, Anna Fedorova, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Miloš Karadaglić, Elizabeth Llewellyn, Tasmin Little, Rachel Podger, Hilary Summers and Elizabeth Watts
• Beethoven 250 celebrations start with an immersive weekend of chamber music in an idyllic corner of the Cotswolds [28/29 June]; includes Beethoven Up-Close in privately-owned Cheltenham town houses [12 July] and new programme Ludwig by Matthew Barley [6 July]. Further Beethoven performances by New English Ballet Theatre, Bliss Wind Ensemble, The Philharmonia, Ian Bostridge & Imogen Cooper, and the Albion and Carducci Quartet
• 14 world premieres including Playing for Time by Sarah Nicolls and Maja Bugge, a new immersive work combining scientific data, spoken word and music to illuminate the urgency of climate change [4 July] and organist Anna Lapwood premieres new works by Daniel Fardon and Freya Waley-Cohen [10 July]
• An abundance of new talent with the BBC New Generation Artists, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his siblings Isata and Braimah [9 July]; new choral group Sestina presenting a theatrical performance of Bach’s music [7 July], and BBC Young Musician finalists Ben Goldscheider [7 July] and Alexander Pullen [9 July]
• Propellor Ensemble work with local primary school children for a major community project inspired by local folk tales to evoke the essence of Gloucestershire [12 July]
- Events putting accessibility at the heart of the Festival include an Opening Weekend of free folk, world, indie and classical music in Imperial Gardens in partnership with Classic FM, the UK’s most popular classical music radio station, and Cheltenham BID. There’s a family concert Summon The Superheroes with the RLPO [11 July], a musical ramble in the footsteps of Hubert Parry, taking in the wildlife sanctuary of Highnam Woods [3 July], ‘pay-what-you-can’ Classical Mixtape in picturesque Tewkesbury Abbey [8 July] and the Festival finale ‘Alehouse Sessions’ with Barokksolistene bringing Purcell’s music alive [12 July].
Bringing the best
Jules Buckley – the Festival’s new Guest Curator – puts disco and electronic music in the spotlight with The Heritage Orchestra and producer/co-founder Chris Wheeler [4 July]. Celebrating the 80th birthday of Giorgio Moroder, often referred to as the “Father of Disco”, the Orchestra and guest vocalists will take the audience through Moroder’s instrumental and soundtrack works in addition to his classic disco hits.
Visiting orchestras include the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and their conductor Vasily Petrenko join Tasmin Little who makes her final performance in Cheltenham before she retires [10 July] and The Philharmonia with their newly appointed Principal Conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali perform with pianist Alice Sara Ott [6 July]. Nicholas Collon and Aurora Orchestra take to the Cheltenham Town Hall stage to perform Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and tenor Andrew Staples [3 July]. Guitarist Miloš Karadaglić performs a programme spanning decades, countries and genres ranging from J.S. Bach’s Suite BWV 997 to arrangements of The Beatles’ hits Blackbird, Yesterday and While My Guitar Gently Weeps [4 July]. Pianist Anna Fedorova performs a programme of Scriabin, Liszt and Chopin, focussing on musical expressions of poetic forms [11 July]. The award-winning vocal ensemble Tenebrae present a newly conceived programme – Solstice – which contrasts music written for winter and summer, including the second performance of Joanna Marsh’s In Winter’s House which was written especially for the choir’s male voices [9 July].
Celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven, the great tenor, Ian Bostridge, and pianist Imogen Cooper, who celebrates her 60th birthday this year, perform an intimate recital pairing some of Beethoven’s early songs with his only song cycle An die ferne Geliebte in addition to works by Schumann [4 July]. Clarinettist Julian Bliss and his Bliss Wind Ensemble give a fresh perspective on Beethoven’s music for wind instruments with their programme of Beethoven’s Octet for Winds and Symphony No. 8 [5 July]. Cellist Matthew Barley takes to the stage with a unique take on Beethoven’s cello sonatas, combining performance with discussion, storytelling and improvisation [6 July].
Four string quartets perform recitals at the Festival this year; the Albion Quartet – who perform Beethoven and Walton string quartets alongside Freya Waley-Cohen’s Dust [3 July]; the Maxwell String Quartet combine arrangements of Scottish folk music with pieces inspired by the folk tradition [6 July]; Aris Quartet perform alongside BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists [7 & 8 July] and Carducci Quartet perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 for Piano and String Quartet with Clare Hammond [12 July].
Two hundred singers, including choristers of Gloucester Cathedral and the South Cotswolds Big Sing Group, come together in Gloucester Cathedral with Adrian Partington and British Sinfonietta to perform Mahler’s epic Eighth Symphony with soloists including Elizabeth Llewellyn and Elizabeth Watts [11 July].
Championing New Music
This year the Festival is proud to launch two new initiatives – RePlay and Retreat – to support the creation of new works and provide a platform for audiences to hear new works again.
RePlay aims to support new works beyond their premieres by programming repeat performances of recent compositions and this year’s Festival has programmed 11 pieces of music in this strand: Freya Waley-Cohen’s Dust, Joanna Marsh’s In Winter’s House, Joey Roukens’s Visions at Sea and works by up-and-coming composers Tom Lane and Nicholas Robert Thayer are performed as part of the New English Ballet Theatre’s Love Games. A highlight of the Festival’s Prelude Weekend at Syde Manor, is a performance of Bagatelles after Beethoven with music by six contemporary composers: Martin Butler, Michael Zev Gordon, Cheryl Frances Hoad, Gabriel Jackson, David Knotts and Jack Sheen [28 June]. The Festival’s new Retreat scheme offers a peaceful location in the Cotswolds for two sets of artists to stay with the purpose of creative development with support to help develop new projects.
Fourteen world premieres are at the centre of the Festival this year. Audiences will have the opportunity to experience Playing for Time, an immersive new work by pianist Sarah Nicolls and cellist Maja Bugge which focusses on the urgency of climate change, bringing scientific data, spoken word – including audio of activist Greta Thunberg – and audience participation together with music to inspire change [4 July]. Sarah and Maja will be the first recipients of the Festival’s Retreat bursary.
Organist Anna Lapwood brings old and new together in a candlelit recital in Cheltenham College Chapel, featuring a performance of Patrick Gowers’ Tocatta – premiered at the Festival five decades ago – and the world premieres of new works by Daniel Fardon, an alumnus of the Festival’s Composer Academy, and Freya Waley-Cohen [10 July]. Other premieres include two new works by Lillie Harris featured in Classical Mixtape [8 July], Improvisations by Matthew Barley [6 July] and a new work by the Propellor Ensemble [12 July] alongside eight new works from the Cheltenham Festival Composer Academy composers, performed by members of Chineke! [13 July].
The Cheltenham Composer Academy, a key part of the Festival’s Spotlight talent development programme, returns for the eighth year. The Academy will be directed by composer Daniel Kidane and sees eight early-career composers (aged 18+) have their compositions work-shopped, performed and recorded by members of Chineke! in addition to having access to industry professionals and mentors [13 July]. As part of the Academy, the Festival presents Composium, a day-long event celebrating the Festival’s foundation as a place for composers and new music. The day, led by broadcaster and performer Kate Romano, will include world premiere performances of the eight brand-new works by the participants from the Composer Academy [13 July].
Cheltenham Music Festival continues to showcase the talents of both well-established young artists and rising stars, providing a platform for the next generation of world-class musicians. Alongside recitals, the Festival will once again host its Free Stage in the Imperial Gardens, featuring the best of UK folk, world, indie, jazz, country, gospel and classical music.
BBC Young Musician finalists, both past and present, feature prominently throughout the Festival, with performances by past finalists Ben Goldscheider [7 July], Sheku Kanneh-Mason [9 July] and Alexander Pullen [9 July] all performing recitals in addition to one of the finalists from BBC Young Musician 2020 who will have competed just two months before [8 July]. Darcy Beck, 2020 winner of Gloucestershire Young Musician, performs a recital with the 2018 Keith Nutland Award finalist April Perrott [11 July].
Musicians from BBC Radio 3’s prestigious New Generation Artists scheme, which this season celebrates 20 years, feature across three concerts: tenor Alessandro Fisher, soprano Katharina Konradi, mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska, pianist Elizabeth Brauss, violinist Johan Dalene, cellist Anastasia Kobekina and the Aris Quartet [7, 8 & 10 July].
Sestina, an early music ensemble comprised of young musicians from Northern Ireland performing alongside established performers, join forces with violinist Rachel Podger to celebrate the impact of the Bach family, which spanned over 300 years and seven generations of prominent musicians through a semi-staged performance directed by Thomas Guthrie [7 July].
Making a Difference Through Year-Round Education & Outreach
The Festival’s commitment to ensuring access to the best music and artists has resulted in engaging the local community year-round, inclusive of diverse socio-economic areas of the town. Year-round the Festival provides outreach programmes including workshops and concerts for schools, a community gamelan project and Musicate, a primary school music teaching and appreciation programme which partners 12 local primary school teachers with six young musicians from Birmingham Conservatoire.
This year, the writer and librettist Miranda Walker once again works with pupils from the local St. Thomas Moore Primary School to create Loom, a work with the cross-genre Propellor Ensemble which carries the identity of wherever it is performed. The pupils will work with Walker to create shared stories inspired by local folk tales and legends, which the ensemble will combine with field recordings, improvisation and experimental electronica, baroque and contemporary classical music [12 July].
Unique Musical Experiences
Classical Mixtape returns this season in the medieval surroundings of Tewkesbury Abbey, encouraging audiences to enjoy sets by artists including Isata and Braimah Kanneh-Mason, Ben Goldscheider and the Chapel Choir of Merton College Oxford in an informal setting for a ‘pay-what-you-can’ fee (minimum £3) [8 July].
George Parris leads a musical guided-walk around Highnam following the footsteps of Hubert Parry followed by tea and cake in the Parish Rooms [3 July] and Grammy Award-winning contralto Hilary Summers performs her comedy show What’s So Great About Opera? with champagne afternoon tea [5 July].
The Festival returns to the elegant drawing rooms in and around Imperial Square for ‘Beethoven Up-Close’, giving the audience an opportunity to experience Beethoven’s music in an afternoon of intimate chamber recitals in the domestic settings for which they were originally written [12 July].
The National English Ballet Theatre – which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year – showcases its ground-breaking work through a collection of five fully-staged ballets connecting live music and dance._ Jeux, Unbridled Blood, Domino, Rosamunde_ and All in Passing explore the marriage of classical music and dance, with music ranging from Beethoven and Debussy to contemporary composers Tom Lane, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nicholas Robert Thayer. The five inspired choreographies are by Ruth Brill (First Artist of Birmingham Royal Ballet), Wayne Eagling (former member of The Royal Ballet), Peter Leung (creator of the world’s first virtual ballet), Eric Montes (First Artist of The Royal Ballet) and Morgann Runacre-Temple (freelance choreographer) [5 July].
Alasdair Malloy presents this year’s Family Concert ‘Summon the Superheroes’ with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Rebecca Tong. Families can enjoy music from films such as Batman, Spiderman, The Incredibles, Moana and many more [11 July].
Bringing the Festival to a close is Norwegian violinist Bjarte Elke and his ensemble Barokksolistene with a double-bill of ‘Purcell’s Playground’ and ‘Alehouse Sessions’ performed in the round at Cheltenham Town Hall. The ensemble explores the variety of Purcell’s music in ‘Purcell’s Playground’ followed by the music of 17th century English taverns – including sea shanties, folk music and anecdotes – in ‘The Alehouse Sessions’ [12 July].