2023 Cheltenham Music Festival programme revealed
By David Wood
From world premieres at Cheltenham Town Hall and emerging talent in the Pittville Pump Room, the festival once again brings together music from across the classical spectrum, in venues across town
Running from July 8-15, Cheltenham Music Festival continues to spark musical curiosity and celebrate classical music's vivacity through its 2023 line-up.
Across eight days, venues around Cheltenham will be filled with wide-ranging musical offerings from leading international artists and young up-and-coming talent. The 2023 line-up reflects the festival's aim to bring high-quality classical and contemporary classical music to a wider audience, showcasing the vibrancy that classical music has to offer.
Venues range from Cheltenham Town Hall and Pittville Pump Room to the DEYA Brewery Taproom, The Old Courthouse and historic Regency-era Cheltenham drawing rooms.
Michael Duffy, head of programming at Cheltenham Music Festival, said: "It's a pleasure to share this year's Cheltenham Music Festival programme, which is inspired by both our heritage and our future. The festival celebrates the vibrancy of classical music today.
"I'm delighted we're welcoming artists who are pushing the boundaries and innovating, alongside the very best of next-generation talent. We feature music by 40 living composers, including five Cheltenham Festivals commissions.
"I hope that audiences will indulge their curiosity and enjoy the wide range of experiences on offer, from music in the splendour of Cheltenham Town Hall and the Pittville Pump Room to an intimate musical tour of private drawing rooms and our popular Mixtape at DEYA Brewery.
Extraordinary musical experiences
This year, Cheltenham Music Festival presents Byrdwatching, a brand-new promenade experience to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Byrd's death. Musicians from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire take audiences on an exclusive tour of Cheltenham's historic drawing rooms in a series of intimate performances exploring works from Byrd and his contemporaries and beyond - including a newly commissioned work from Composer Academy graduate Aileen Sweeney [9 July].
The popular Mixtape concert returns once again for an evening of relaxed, rule-free classical music - taking place at DEYA Taproom for the very first time [12 July]. Audiences are invited to sit back and sample both drinks and short classical works, featuring top-class musicians such as the Manchester Collective and The Carice Singers, with more to be announced.
Exploring new electronic possibilities
This year, Cheltenham Music Festival presents two innovative late-night electronic sets at The Old Courthouse, a historic venue in the heart of Cheltenham. Laura Cannell combines recorder with electronics to embody the beauty of birdsong in a performance from her latest album, Antiphony of the Trees [8 July] and Rakhi Singh's set features music by Alex Groves, Emily Hall, Edmund Finnis, Nicola Matteis and more [14 July].
Throughout the Festival, audiences are invited to experience Sound Voice at Cheltenham's Everyman Studio Theatre, an interdisciplinary collaboration between professional musicians and individuals who have experienced voice loss. The project tells the stories of these individuals through an audio-visual journey that highlights their real-life experiences and sheds light on what it means to find a new voice. The project aims to create a thought-provoking space for discussion and reflection on the relationship between voice and identity [8-15 July].
To close the festival, the Scottish Ensemble will join forces with award-winning composer Anna Meredith for a performance of her work ANNO, a work originally written for the ensemble back in 2016 that reimagines Vivaldi's Four Seasons for string ensemble and electronics [15 July].
A destination for new music
Cheltenham Music Festival continues to be a champion of new music in the UK, commissioning and performing music by leading and emerging composers year after year. This year's opening concert with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra features the world premiere of a work by James B Wilson which is a response to Vaughan Williams's ideas and philosophies in works such as The Lark Ascending [8 July]. James B Wilson was himself a former participant of Cheltenham's long-running Composer Academy programme, underlining the Festival's commitment to developing and fostering contemporary composition.
The Carice Singers and their director George Parris also return to the festival to perform the world premiere of a work by Soosan Lolavar, featured as part of a programme inspired by light and luminosity [9 July].
The festival regularly collaborates with other festivals and venues both in the UK and internationally to co-commission new works. Laurence Osborn's TOMB! is a co-commission with the Norfolk and Norwich Festival and Kings Place, London, and will be performed by the 12 Ensemble and GBSR Duo in a genre-crossing programme that brings together classical and non-classical music in an exploration of unsettling film soundtracks, moving from Mica Levi through to a new arrangement of Brian Eno and Harold Budd's Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror [14 July]. Similarly, James MacMillan's We Are Collective is a co-commission alongside the Haddo Arts, Sound Festival and Spitalfields Music and will be performed at Cheltenham Music Festival by the Maxwell Quartet in a programme also featuring the quartet's own arrangements of Scottish folk music [9 July].
In addition to new commissions and premieres, previous commissions and other contemporary works also feature in the programme. Laura van der Heijden and Jâms Coleman perform Michael Zev Gordon's Roseland, which premiered at the Festival in 2008 [14 July]. Other contemporary highlights in the programme include works by Thomas Adès, Jonathan Harvey, Cecilia McDowall, Caroline Shaw, Anna Meredith and many more. In a mark of the festival's commitment to contemporary talent, the programme features work by 40 living composers.
Bringing world-class musicians to Cheltenham
The 2023 line-up once again spotlights leading musicians from around the UK. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra perform the opening-night concert with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Andrew Gourlay conducting, and earlier in the day sees clarinettist and composer Mark Simpson perform a chamber recital with The Doric Quartet [8 July]. The Chineke! Wind Quartet explore 20th Century woodwind works in a later recital at Pittville Pump Room [11 July].
Later on, the ground-breaking Manchester Collective build on their reputation for energetic musical explorations with a concert at Cheltenham Town Hall featuring works from exciting composers Wojciech Kilar and Pulitzer Prize-winning Caroline Shaw alongside monumental works by Strauss and Shostakovich [13 July].
A platform for emerging talent
The festival continues its commitment to emerging young talent, spotlighting some of the most exciting up-and-coming artists of today in recitals at the Pittville Pump Room throughout the Festival.
This year's morning series hosts world-class talents including Alasdair Beatson and the Maxwell Quartet [9 July], Laura van der Heijden in recital with pianist Jâms Coleman [14 July] and a solo recital by Pavel Kolesnikov [15 July]. Countertenor Hugh Cutting also joins the line-up, with a double bill of Bach concerts with the Dunedin Consort which will be recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3 [10 July].
Musicians from the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists [NGA] scheme will also perform morning recitals in partnership with BBC Radio 3, which will all be recorded for future broadcast. The Leonkoro Quartet, who recently won the Wigmore Hall's International String Quartet Competition, join previous NGA Elisabeth Brauß for a performance of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E flat Major [10 July], and Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha sings alongside Kunal Lahiry in a programme that features works from Rangwanasha's native South Afrika as well as Lieder, musical theatre and American spirituals [11 July]. The NGA recitals continue with the Mithras Trio's interpretation of Dvorak's Dumky Trio and the lyrical birdsong of Cecilia McDowall's Cavatina [12 July] and culminate with James Newby's programme exploring displacement with music from a range of composer including Hanns Eisler and others who left Germany and Austria in the 1930s to resettle in California [13 July].
Following his win at the 2022 BBC Young Musician competition, percussionist Jordan Ashman performs a recital at St Gregory's Church [11 July], and local talent features too with a recital from the winners of the 2023 Gloucestershire Young Musicianof the Year competition and Keith Nutland Award [12 July].
Championing music education and mentorship
Music education remains an important staple in the Festival's programme, with multiple events for families and children. At the start of the Festival, musicians from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra present an interactive musical experience exploring Oliver Jeffers's The Way Back Home for children aged 4-7 [8 July], whilst musical storytellers MishMash Ensemble offer 7-11 year-olds and their families a guided exploration of woodwind instruments with five leading players [15 July].
The Gloucestershire Youth Chamber Orchestra perform in the festival's annual Concert for Schools, aimed at Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils. The concert features engaging storytelling alongside live orchestral music to create an interactive journey through classical music [13 July]. The following day, the orchestra returns to perform the Relaxed Concert for Schools, an interactive event designed for young people with special educational needs and their caregivers [14 July].
2023 marks the 10th year of Cheltenham Music Festival's Composer Academy, which supports early-career composers who are looking for professional advice and mentorship. Part of the festival's Spotlight Talent Development programme, young composers aged 18+ will work with director and mentor Daniel Kidane to workshop, perform and record their works with The Carice Singers, culminating in two Composium showcases [13 and 14 July].
Full festival details can be found at www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/music
Members' priority booking opens on 24 March. General public sale opens on 31 March.
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