A look ahead to Newbury Spring Festival 2018

PUBLISHED: 11:43 24 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:20 24 April 2018

Sheku Kanneh-Mason will perform the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Photo: www.photonottingham.co.uk)

Sheku Kanneh-Mason will perform the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra (Photo: www.photonottingham.co.uk)


Arabella Christian takes us behind the scenes as this musical celebration with a deserved international reputation marks 40 years

Imagine trying to work out how to build a platform for an orchestra of 50 players to fit into the naive of a church, or having to find a soloist at the last minute due to a cancellation, or pianos going out of tune within minutes of being tuned due to the damp May weather or even having to find a lost instrument.

These are regular occurrences and causes for headaches for the organisers of the Newbury Spring Festival. Yet to the outside world the festival’s extensive programme appears to run seamlessly, if only they knew…

This year the Newbury Spring Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary and when it first started was heralded by the Newbury Weekly News as Berkshire’s ‘most artistic venture to be launched for a decade’. It has become a festival of international repute and regularly features artists from the worlds of classical, jazz, dance, Bollywood, folk, cabaret and world music all of whom descend on Newbury for this two week period in May.

The idea of creating an arts festival for the town came from Jeanie, Countess of Carnarvon, then Lady Porchester, who had organised a fundraiser in the Corn Exchange for the newly-refurbished Arts Workshop of which she was president. It was a wonderful event and featured two musicians fresh from the Yehudi Menuhin School, one was an outstanding young violinist who has gone on to become one of the best known in the world – Nigel Kennedy. At first the Festival was a week long, but momentum grew and many great orchestras and artists were attracted to Newbury including the LSO, the Philharmonic, the Halle, The Academy of Ancient Music, Murray Perahia, John Lill, Yehudi Menuhin to name but a few.

By 1985 the Newbury Spring Festival was being acknowledged as one of the top 20 arts festivals in the country. As it grew the programme extended from a week to two weeks, reaching out from its main venue of St Nicholas Church into the local villages.

To help get the Festival off the ground it received financial help from the English Tourist Board and the local council, but nowadays it receives no government funding at all and other than ticket sales, the Festival’s income is made up of donations from charitable trusts, corporate sponsorship, individual donations and the Friends subscription.

General Manager Ashley Morris says: “We are so lucky to receive so much support from both the local business community and individuals who year after year return to support the Festival. This enables us to have a programme of world-class concerts and to keep the ticket prices down.”

What started off as a festival of classical music now has a much more diverse programme designed to appeal to people of all ages which includes young children in over 40 concerts and performances. Festival Director Mark Eynon relishes the challenge of developing young audiences and increasing the community involvement, the most notable being the creation of the Newbury Spring Festival Chorus which takes part in a concert every year. Last year it was the opening concert Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius and this year it is the closing one with the glorious Mozart Great Mass in C minor.

So what’s on the programme for 2018?

Embracing some of West Berkshire’s stunning locations, the classical concerts are held at venues in and around Newbury with St Nicolas church being the Festival’s concert hall, which is big enough to hold the orchestral concerts. The opening night sees the exciting young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason perform the beautiful Elgar Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Edward Gardner. In the middle of the two weeks the well known English pianist John Lill returns to play the Beethoven Piano Concerto No 1 and the closing night is a popular programme of Mendlesson and Mozart with Symphony No 40 and the Mass in C minor.

The Festival always has a tradition of great choral music. In celebration of the 40th anniversary Ex Cathedra return with a programme of 40-part music from both Elizabethan Ages at Douai Abbey, well known for its acoustics. One of the great masterpieces of the classical repertoire, the Bach Mass in B minor, will be sung and played by dynamic baroque collective Solomon’s Knot at Holy Cross Church in Ramsbury. They will perform the entire work from memory without a conductor.

On a lighter note, the traditional cabaret evening at picturesque Combe Manor sees Sophie-Louise Dann explore the life and music of Leonard Bernstein, a dynamic character who embraced the Broadway Stage as much as he did the world’s great concert halls.

The intimate musical evening will contain a cocktail of stories and songs from West Side Story, Candide and On The Town. If the weather permits you can bring a picnic to enjoy in the beautiful gardens before the concert. A Taste of France is a French-themed evening held at the Vineyard where you can enjoy French cheeses and wines selected by the hotel’s sommelier Romain Bourger. Following the wine tasting there will be a concert by the award winning French quartet Van Kuijk Quartet who will perform some of the greatest works in the French quartet repertoire.

Not just classical

If classical music isn’t your thing, the Festival doesn’t disappoint as the Corn Exchange in the centre of Newbury has a daily programme of events. On the opening night the Piccadilly Dance Orchestra present a night of razzle dazzle where you will be transformed back to the world of sophistication, glitz and glamour of the 1920’s and 30’s. A show not to be missed is the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers, Europe’s only professional touring company of this thrilling and energetic Japanese performing art.

A tribute to Gene Kelly is an evening performed by Joe Stilgoe. The show celebrates the incredible genius of a man who was one of the greatest screen stars of all time and Joe’s greatest hero. You will be able to hear many of the hit songs from a string of ground-breaking and joyous films including Singin’ In The Rain, An American in Paris and On the Town.

Family events

The Newbury Spring Festival has always had an element of the programme specifically for children providing concerts for all ages, even for those who can’t sit still for too long. Sound Beginnings is a relaxed performance of an introduction to classical music and the wonderful world of Prokofiev. Lasting just under an hour parts of the great ballet score Romeo and Juliet, are specially arranged for two pianos with the story narrated by Richard Morris who has the ability to capture the imagination of young minds so brilliantly. The performance is followed by a lunch of delicious organic food using produce raised and grown at Sheepdrove Organic Farm. Travelling by Tuba will take the audience through a fascinating voyage of this weird and wonderful instrument, never failing to make children hoot with laughter due to the rude sounding noises it is capable of making. With plenty of audience participation this is a delightful programme for children of all ages.

There is also fun for all the family where everybody can come and join in with Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. From the comfort of your seat in the Corn Exchange you will rehearse the well known songs under the expert Gilbert and Sullivan conductor Ian McMillan before being joined after the interval by soloists in costume for a performance where anything can… and does happen.


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