"If ever after I'm dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills," Edward Elgar said of his cello concerto's opening theme, "don't be alarmed. It's only me." But come this autumn, visitors to Malvern need not climb the hills to hear music, and nor need they rely on the whims of ghosts. The annual Autumn in Malvern festival runs at a gentle pace for a month, from late September to late October, featuring four concerts and a series of related events, which will not only celebrate local boy Elgar's enduring legacy through historical walks, talks and visits, but will present some beautiful chamber music by others as well, all in the idyllic West Midlands surroundings so close to Elgar's heart.
Autumn in Malvern is just one of a number of classical festivals in slightly calmer locations around the UK, which are hard to find out about but easy enough to enjoy. Particularly with so much focus on the UK's more prominent urban areas coming up this summer, it's worth remembering that there's plenty to celebrate further afield. A quick trip away from the city might just be the order of the day, in fact, so take a look at a few more of our selections and start planning your escape.
Set in an area with just as rich a musical history as the Malverns, the William Alwyn Festival will be enjoying its second year this October. It's set in various venues around Suffolk, including several which were of particular significance to the composer Alwyn himself, a local figure and an associate of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. It's not just a celebration of Alwyn's own music, though, but also a celebration of a number of other local composers, especially contemporary and 20th-century ones. As well as the inevitable (though always welcome) Britten, the concert programmes include a David Matthews world première, to be played by violinist Madeleine Mitchell and the (also local) Prometheus Orchestra.
A short skip down from Suffolk, the Roman River Festival takes places in a number of stunning locations around Essex: not only a number of local churches and village halls, but also The Minories, a Georgian townhouse just across the road from Colchester's beautiful new art gallery, Firstsite. While this festival is particularly notable for the intimacy of its venues and events – you can hear a number of top performers (Philharmonia Voices, Maggie Cole) up close and personal – Roman River is bringing this chamber feel to some larger-scale repertoire this year, with its first ever orchestral and choral concert set in the beautiful environs of St. Mary's Church, Stoke by Nayland. It's another part of the country which is well worth exploring, and especially so when this standard of soundtrack is on offer.
Heading north is the Carlisle Summer Music Festival, running in mid July. Celebrating in particular the centenary of contralto Kathleen Ferrier's birth, in the town she lived in when she first found fame, the festival includes a commemorative recital from acclaimed soprano Joan Rodgers – a singer whose career was launched after receiving the 1981 Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship – and a talk by Ferrier's biographer Dr. Christopher Fifield. A few other concerts, all in Carlisle Cathedral, round out the festival programme: the perfect supplement to a Lake District trip this summer.
Further east along the Scottish border, it's the second year of the Northumberland Music Festival, which will take place in several stunning Northumberland halls in November, a stone's throw away from Northumberland National Park, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, and the Scottish border. Though only recently established, the festival is hosting top company Opera North, who will present a series of opera highlights on the first two nights of the festival. Other events include a piano workshop as well as a concert from concert pianist and tutor Murray McLachlan, and several Gilbert and Sullivan evenings too. A ticket includes the price of a meal at the venue, and with accommodation available as well the scene is set for an ideal relaxing mid-autumn break.
At the other end of the country, the Two Moors Festival operates from venues in the national parks Dartmoor and Exmoor. The festival has been going since 2001 – it was originally designed to help regeneration in the area following the foot and mouth disease disaster – and has continued to grow in size, no doubt helped by its association with Classic FM. This year, the strong roster of performers includes the Brodsky Quartet with Martin Roscoe, the Military Wives' Choir, and pianist Cédric Tiberghien. Classical guitar virtuoso John Williams will also be playing, partnered by the esteemed jazz guitarist John Etheridge, and it will be fascinating to see how the styles mix and merge. This is just one stop for the pair, who are playing at several venues in the UK and further afield – but surely nowhere quite as calm as St. Peter's Church in Devon. I am sure Two Moors festival mascot Schubert the Sheep would love to see you there.
29 June 2012