What’s on at this year’s Sherborne Abbey Festival

Tenebrae celebrate the finest exponents of 20th century English choral music

Tenebrae celebrate the finest exponents of 20th century English choral music - Credit: Archant

Sherborne Abbey Festival offers world class musicians, a large percentage of free concerts, and supports the rising stars of its local music scene

Alexander Armstrong will close the Festival with a concert in the Abbey

Alexander Armstrong will close the Festival with a concert in the Abbey - Credit: Archant

Five days of glorious music and performances, with around 70% of concerts free entry, heralds the return of the multi-award-winning Sherborne Abbey Festival over the early May Bank Holiday weekend (3-7 May). Staged at Sherborne Abbey and venues across this historic market town, the 2019 event is set to welcome some 8000 festival-goers to 30 events ranging from pop-up opera and a children's rock guitar workshop to performances by world-class music superstars including Nicola Benedetti, Tenebrae and Alexander Armstrong.

"This year's Festival marks a celebratory milestone," says Festival Chairman, John Baker. "During what is our 20th season, we look forward to showcasing the very best of local and world class musical talent."

To mark its 20th season, the Festival has also revealed a distinctive new logo, created by Wyke-based designer Kevin Swindell, inspired by the Abbey's famous vaulted ceiling.

Nicola Benedetti performs Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto

Nicola Benedetti performs Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto - Credit: Archant

On Friday night violinist Nicola Benedetti CBE, a high-profile advocate for bringing classical music to the masses, performs Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto; accompanied by Dorset-raised lead violin Ruth Rogers with conductor Leonard Elshenbroich. Also on the programme, for this sell-out concert at Sherborne Abbey, is Mozart's Don Giovanni Overture and Beethoven's 3rd Symphony (Eroica).

On Saturday Dorset Opera Festival hosts a La Traviata Workshop at Sherborne Girls' new Performing Arts Centre. During the morning (10am - midday) three opera professionals will put workshop participants through their paces with a variety of styles and genres, incorporating technique, rhythm, movement and staging exercises. The newly-formed opera chorus will learn the famous Drinking Song from La Traviata, and perform it alongside the professionals at a free, 'pocket performance' of Verdi's masterpiece at 3pm outside Waitrose.

The stellar professional performances at Sherborne Abbey Festival are interspersed with free concerts by hugely talented students of the town's schools, choirs and music groups, ranging from early music, madrigal and chamber music to jazz and barbershop. One of these, on Saturday morning in the Abbey (10.30am), features Sherborne School Chamber Choir, which includes many ex-choristers of Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals, singing a programme of sacred and secular music. It includes a newly commissioned set of Canticles as well as pieces by William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Hubert Parry and Matthew Martin. A light-hearted barbershop number completes a dazzling 40 minute recital of choral music.

Claire Martin adn Ray Gelato explore the romance of the Great American Songbook

Claire Martin adn Ray Gelato explore the romance of the Great American Songbook - Credit: Archant

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On the Saturday night globally-acclaimed vocal ensemble Tenebrae takes full advantage of the wonderful acoustics in Sherborne Abbey with England's Finest - a programme celebrating the finest exponents of 20th century English choral music, in particular music by poet and composer Ivor Gurney (1890 - 1937). Gurney studied at the Royal College of Music (RCM) where he was taught by leading English composers of the day including Hubert Parry, Charles Stanford, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells - the latter becoming a lifelong friend and a champion of his music.

Sunday services with the Abbey's own choir are always a focal point of the Festival and Choral Evensong (5pm) promises to be extra special, with the world première of an anthem commissioned from locally-born composer David Bednall, which takes its text from Psalm 93 - "The Lord reigneth, he is clothed with majesty". David, an Old Shirburnian, was one of the Abbey's first organ scholars and has held posts at Gloucester, Wells and Bristol Cathedrals.

On Sunday evening the Festival swings into jazz mode at Sherborne School's Big School Room, when musical partners Claire Martin OBE and the UK's 'Godfather of Swing' Ray Gelato, come together for Let There Be Love (7.45pm) featuring romantic classics from the Great American Songbook such as Gershwin's Embraceable You, Let There Be Love and When I Fall in Love, made famous by Nat King Cole, and That's Amore, Dean Martin's signature tune. Claire and Ray are joined by a lively group of musicians representing the cream of British jazz talent.

We change gear yet again the following day when James O'Donnell, Director of Music at Westminster Abbey, presents Monday's popular organ recital (10am) opening with Marcel Dupré's transcription of the brilliant Sinfonia from Bach's Cantata 29, through a varied programme that ends with Stanford's Fantasia and Toccata; the feather-light whimsy of Whitlock's Scherzetto; and the swaggering pomp and circumstance of Walton's Orb and Sceptre, composed for Queen Elizabeth's 1953 Coronation.

Also on the Monday (2pm, Sherborne Girls Arts Centre), A Pity of War features Petroc Trelawny as narrator in what promises to be a poignant and moving concert inspired by the First World War. It features music by Debussy, Janácek and Elgar, narration from poems and letters written by Wilfred Owen and three violin sonatas composed around the time of the Great War.

Later that evening (7.30pm) the Festival's Chorus and Sherborne Classical Players perform Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah in the Abbey. Written for a British audience, its première at Birmingham Town Hall in 1846 was a huge success. With rich orchestral colour and stirring choruses, the powerful score is full of drama: earthquake, wind, fire and drought, famine, flood and resurrection are all there. The five soloists are led by bass David Soar as Elijah, who is much in demand on the concert platform and on stage at the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

The Festival concludes at 7.30pm on Tuesday with presenter, actor, adventurer, comedian and classical baritone Alexander Armstrong. Having been a chorister at St Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh and Trinity College, Cambridge, music has always been a huge love of Alexander's and he presents a weekend radio show for Classic FM. In 2015 his debut solo vocal album, A Year of Songs topped the UK Classical Charts. Expect an entertaining programme from this talented musican and comedian ranging from A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square to Girls Just Want To Have Fun. It's guaranteed to bring the house down in Sherborne Abbey as the Festival ends another incredible year.

For details on all events visit sherborneabbeyfestival.org or Sherborne TIC.

For young musicians...

Two free events on Bank Holiday Monday are aimed at younger audience members.

There's a relaxed screening of Fantasia, Disney's 1940 animation set to classical music, at the Digby Memorial

Hall (U Cert,10.30am). In the afternoon (2.00pm) the West End Hall in Littlefield hosts a pop and rock inspired Guitar Workshop for 'Kids That Rock' (aimed at 7-11 year olds), led by Matt Tidswell and introducing guitar playing in a simple and fun way, guitars will be provided.

Tickets for both must be booked in advance.

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