Meurig Bowen has announced the programme for the 64th – and his first – Cheltenham Music Festival (Friday 4-Saturday 19 July). Appointed last summer to succeed Martyn Brabbins as Director, Bowen quickly set about creating a programme of vibrant, layered richness that takes advantage of the Festival’s unique venues such as the Pittville Pump Rooms, Cheltenham Town Hall and Tewkesbury Abbey.

‘My musical enthusiasms are extremely broad,’ says 42 year-old Meurig Bowen, who comes to Cheltenham with extensive artistic planning experience at the Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Lichfield Festival and Aldeburgh Festival/Snape Proms. ‘So it has been hugely enjoyable planning a programme that features repertoire 800 years old and brand new – and much else in between. Music that ranges from the intimate to the spectacular, from the sombre to the joyous.’

There is no one over-riding theme as such – though the 50th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’ death does prompt a broad-ranging investigation of classical music’s connection with folk-song in the 20th century.

Alongside this folk-inclined RVW, Holst, Grainger, Britten, Bartok, Kodaly and Lutoslawski, there are focuses in the 2008 Cheltenham Music Festival on Manchester, Messiaen and Maxwell Davies, and on the song cycles, piano sonatas and chamber music of Schubert.

Highlights include:

  • Paired concerts from the BBC Philharmonic, to include Holst’s The Planets, Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra and VW’s The Lark Ascending
  • An opening-weekend early music triptych, featuring Trio Medieval, the Rolf Lislevand Ensemble and John Potter’s project with saxophonist John Surman
  • Schubert’s three song cycles, performed consecutively on the Festival’s final three days by Mark Padmore, Allan Clayton, Florian Boesch, Paul Lewis and Roger Vignoles
  • Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis sung by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
  • Handel and Vivaldi from mezzo Sarah Connolly and La Serenissima
  • A pianos and percussion extravaganza, combining Carmina Burana with Reich’s Sextet and Grainger’s The Warriors
  • Premieres by Peter Maxwell Davies, Mark Anthony Turnage, Tansy Davies and Jo Duddell

    The Messiaen centenary is marked with performances of the Quartet for the End of Time and Ex Expecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum – in the magnificent, lofty surroundings of Tewkesbury Abbey.

    The 80th birthday of former Cheltenham director Sir John Manduell is marked by the premiere of a work by his successor, Michael Berkeley – in his 60th birthday year – and conducted by his successor, Martyn Brabbins. And Manduell’s connections with Manchester, where he was Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music, are marked by performances by the Manchester Camerata, BBC Philharmonic, RNCM Wind Orchestra, and the Barbirolli and Elias Quartets.

    Also with strong Mancunian links, Peter Maxwell Davies is featured with two premieres – a violin sonata for Ilya Gringolts and a piano quartet – and performances of Seven In Nomines and Eight Songs for a Mad King.

    In a Festival whose performers range as widely as Romanian gypsy legends Taraf de Haidouks, Northumbrian pipist Kathryn Tickell and the Royal Marines Concert Band, the many mainstream artists appearing feature exciting, emerging talents alongside beloved, established names:

  • Singers Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, Alan Opie, Mark Padmore and Ailish Tynan
  • Pianists Paul Lewis, Ingrid Fliter, Marc-André Hamelin and Alexander Madzar
  • The Pavel Haas, Elias and Dante Quartets, the Schubert Ensemble and keyboards and percussion ensemble Three Strange Angels

    The published programme of the 2008 Cheltenham Music Festival will be available in early April, and public booking opens on 21 April.

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