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Star-studded line up at 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival

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The 74th Cheltenham Music Festival brings the very best of classical music to the widest possible audience (30 June – 15 July). A star-studded line-up includes a Festival debut from Maxim Vengerov, Sir András Schiff with the OAE, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, Mahan Esfahani, Steven Isserlis, Benjamin Grosvenor and The King’s Singers plus Sir Mark Elder and Louise Alder with The Hallé and Martyn Brabbins with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

The Festival marks the anniversaries of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Hubert Parry as well as the world premières of Joseph Phibbs’ chamber opera, Juliana, a retelling of Hansel & Gretel by Matthew Kaner and Simon Armitage; four Quartet premières by the Ligeti Quartet; and Festival commissions from Gavin Higgins, Eddie Parker, Kenneth Hesketh and Richard Blackford.

Based in some of the Cotswolds’ most spectacular spaces, the Music Festival includes star performers in Cheltenham Town Hall, the very finest chamber music in Pittville Pump Rooms, and roof-raising choral concerts in Gloucester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey. Central to the Festival’s work is providing a platform for a new generation of artists, championing new music and attracting new audiences, particularly children and families, to experience classical music.

I am thrilled to be taking over the helm of Cheltenham Music Festival as we announce a particularly fantastic line up for 2018 – bringing the very best of classical music to the broadest possible audience, and making it possible for both Cheltenham and the wider community to experience this great art form in all its glory.

Alison Balsom, Cheltenham Music Festival’s new Artistic Director

As well as picking up the reins of the Festival, the virtuoso trumpeter is giving a free master class. Trumpeters of all ages are invited to apply for a public one-on-one coaching session with the triple Classical Brit award winner at Cheltenham Town Hall on 8 July.

Greats at Cheltenham Town Hall

Charismatic Grammy award-winning Russian violinist Maxim Vengerov comes to Cheltenham Music Festival for the first time in a chamber music programme which includes Brahms violin sonatas and Mendelssohn’s Octet. (5 July).

The Hallé conducted by Sir Mark Elder perform Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 and a selection of Mozart and Richard Strauss songs with soprano Louise Alder, winner of the Audience Prize in the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World (4 July).

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales takes up residency for three days (6 – 8 July), under the baton of Martyn Brabbins. They’ll perform Elgar’s Cello Concerto with rising star Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Brabbins also conducts the orchestra’s strings in a world premiere Festival commission by Richard Blackford dedicated to former Festival Director Meurig Bowen. And the orchestra provides a Festival first – a family concert with full symphony orchestra presented by CBBC’s Naomi Wilkinson featuring music from the Festival’s flagship Musicate playlist and BBC Ten Pieces.

Sir András Schiff leads the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment from the keyboard in an all-Haydn programme including the Harmoniemesse (8 July).

English country-house opera is staged in the Town Hall’s Pillar Room for one night only. The internationally renowned companies of Iford Arts and Opera della Luna perform Bernstein’s satirical masterpiece Candide in the round. This sparkling new production from director Jeff Clarke continues Opera della Luna’s reputation for inventive, irreverent, hilarious and high energy shows.

The Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow, with a nearly 100-strong orchestra, massed chorus and soloists, perform three masterpieces of the Russian operatic canon including Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances in their only UK concert performance of 2018.

Pittville Chamber Encounters

The Festival’s morning recitals at the elegant Pittville Pump Room are a lynchpin of the programme. A dozen 11am concerts run daily from 4th-15th July featuring the finest pianists, singers and chamber ensembles, beginning with Dame Sarah Connolly (4 July) with the first outing of a new programme of English song by composers from the Royal College of Music. Dazzling young pianist Benjamin Grosvenor (8 July); cellist Steven Isserlis (13 July); The Sitkovetsky Piano Trio (5 July); the Carducci Quartet (6 July); the UK’s leading Haffner Wind Ensemble (7 July); the Berkeley Ensemble (14 July); the Eberle Masurenko Helmchen Hecker Quartet (12 July); and Chineke! Chamber Orchestra (15 July) also star at the Pump Room as well as this year’s BBC New Generation Artists (see below).

Rising Stars

An annual highlight of the Festival is the BBC New Generation Artists series. This year features the exceptional New York-based Calidore Quartet and trumpeter Simon Höfele (9 July). The Calidore Quartet (10 July), joined by cellist Andrei Ioniță, and viola player Eivind Holtsmark- Ringstad; and pianist Mariam Batsashvili (11 July). All three concerts are recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

Following a sold out series in 2017, the Festival’s BBC Young Musician Rush Hour concerts return with more of the finest young musicians of recent years. 2014 finalist, Sophie Westbrooke, 2012 winner Laura van der Heijden and one of the 2018 BBC Young Musician finalists will perform.

The Carice Singers, a vocal ensemble of sixteen young professional singers conducted by George Parris, give their Cheltenham debut in a programme of Sir Hubert Parry performed in his home church, Holy Innocents in Highnam (5 July).
Cheltenham is also showcasing harpist Richard Allen, a current member of the Countess of Munster Musical Trust’s young artist scheme, for a recital in St Swithin’s Church, Quenington (12 July) and a double recital by two Gloucestershire Young Musician award-winners (11 July).

World Premières and New Music

The Festival has over twenty world premières this year include a new chamber opera Juliana by Joseph Phibbs based on Strindberg’s Miss Julie with Nova Music Opera conducted by George Vass at the Parabola Arts Centre at Cheltenham Ladies College (15 July).

Poet Simon Armitage retells Hansel and Gretel in an extended lyrical poem with chamber music by Matthew Kaner performed by the Goldfield Ensemble, shadowplay and puppetry by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and produced by Kate Romano (7 July).

The Ligeti Quartet performs four world premières (11 July), with works from Michael Zev Gordon, Sarah Rimkus, Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Bethan Morgan Williams (supported by the Susan Bradshaw Composers’ Fund) plus a new work from young composer Christian Mason.

Loose Tubes flautist and composer Eddie Parker holds a life-long passion for the music of Claude Debussy and brings together a unique new ensemble of twelve outstanding jazz and classical performers including singers Brigitte Beraha and James Gilchrist for Debussy Mirrored (13 July).

A new work Gursky Landscapes by Gavin Higgins is performed by the Carducci Quartet and David Cohen (6 July), The Berkeley Ensemble perform Kenneth Hesketh’s The Singing Bone (14 July) and Martyn Brabbins conducts the strings of BBC NOW in a world première of Kalon by Richard Blackford (6 July).

Now in its sixth year, the Festival’s Composer Academy invites twelve of the most outstanding early-career composers to have their compositions work-shopped, performed and recorded and to receive advice from industry experts, resulting in around a dozen world premières (13-14 July).

Colin Riley’s touring multi-media song cycle, In Place, inspired by Robert McFarlane’s Landmarks stops off at the Festival on (8 July).

Spectacular Sounds and Spaces

A four-concert series in the breathtaking surroundings of Syde Manor pays tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach’s favoured Leipzig coffee house, Café Zimmerman (30 June/1July). World renowned Iranian-American harpsichordist and J.S. Bach specialist Mahan Esfahani stars in this specially programmed weekend of intimate concerts and conversation featuring music by Buxtehude, Albinoni and Erlebach alongside plenty of Bach, including a performance of the Goldberg Variations.

A strong choral thread running through the Festival includes The King’s Singers in Tewkesbury Abbey covering everything from Thomas Tallis to Paul Simon (9 July); an atmospheric late night concert by the Choir of Keble College, Oxford in a programme of Dupré Fauré and Duruflé (5 July); the Choir of King’s College Cambridge sing psalm settings including Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Parry’s I was glad (11 July); massed choirs take over Gloucester Cathedral for Berlioz’s monumental Grand Messe des morts (14 July); and The Bevan Family Consort (including sopranos Sophie and Mary Bevan, siblings and cousins joining together for one night only) perform contemplative liturgical works in All Saints’ Church, Pittville (13 July).

Widening engagement

Last year, Cheltenham threw away the classical concert rule-book for Classical Mixtape and, due to popular demand, it’s back. Short pieces of live music from different stages in Tewkesbury Abbey surround the audience in uninterrupted, sequenced bliss, as they stand, sit or lie where they like (10 July).

Composer and arranger, Robin A Smith, Music Director for 2012 London Olympic Opening Ceremony, brings together the most recognizable soundtracks from blockbusters, TV favourites and best-selling games in Thrones, Swords and Fantasy for a thrilling live concert experience in Cheltenham Town Hall (7 July).

For families, The Nutcracker and I by pianist Alexandra Dariescu and ballerina Désirée Ballantyne is a new and magical story with beautiful hand drawn digital animations. (14 July). And there are workshops on Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker with the Royal Academy of Dance.

Landing in Cheltenham Town Centre is the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Virtual Reality Orchestra, inviting visitors to experience Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony intercut with scenes from interstellar space shot by Google’s VR team in partnership with NASA. The performance celebrates the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, and the Golden Records they each carried. (Daily free drop-in sessions.)

Running alongside the Festival is a year-round education and talent development programme offering inspirational opportunities for young people including workshops in schools in the month preceding the Festival and the hugely popular Concert for Schools and Music Explorers during it. The Festival’s flagship music education programme, Musicate, enables teachers and their pupils to work alongside inspirational conservatoire students to share and develop a deep love of jazz and classical music. Also this summer, schools will have access to five new, freshly trained gamelan tutors. Subsidized workshops are available throughout the summer term with this great music-making resource.

Comedy, Film and Spoken Word

The A-Z of Orchestral Triangle Playing by Mick Doran, Principal Percussionist of the English National Opera Orchestra is an irreverent, humorous and moving account of life amongst the timps (6 July). The Bernstein Double Bill – Walter & Lenny (one-man play) and On The Town (film screening) is the first event in a three-day celebration of American composer Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. (10 July). Verbal: Poetry Infused Music with Cheltenham Poetry Festival brings pop, beat boxing, electronica and poetry infused indie. (12 July)