A vibrant and eagerly anticipated event on Hampshire’s cultural calendar, Winchester Chamber Music Festival is brought to you by the renowned cellist, Kate Gould as Artistic Director, alongside her international chamber music colleagues. Since its foundation in 2007 the Festival has grown and become more ambitious in its programming whilst staying true to bringing top quality chamber music to as wide an audience as possible.
A thank you message from Artistic Director, Kate Gould
I have been slowly, happily floating back down to Earth this week after the most buzzing and varied Festival yet. The concerts were so exciting and joyful with incredible performers sharing the stage. But it is you, the audience, whom I would like to thank here for your contagious enthusiasm! All of the musicians noticed what a great audience this Festival has. I am absolutely thrilled that numbers have recovered since Covid and that so many newcomers have also appeared on the scene. Since moving to Winchester I have become obsessed with spreading the word and encouraging new friends to come along, so I hope this is just the beginning and our 18th Festival next year will continue to grow!
I was very pleased to be involved personally in the creative workshops at Western Primary and the Family Concert at the Nutshell. The Year 5 song compositions performed at the Schools’ Performance were deeply inspiring and the family concert was great fun with lots of participation (I’ll never forget my sister as Wanda Ringbow!). Our other popular outreach events within the Winchester community were also very well received which means a great deal to all of us involved in putting on the Festival.
There were too many special concerts to single out as highlights but I hope you agree that the Chapel of St Cross made a fine setting for our Gala concert, performing there with our larger ensemble for the first time, and also what a privilege it was to have Huw Watkins as our composer in residence/ pianist and James Gilchrist singing so beautifully with his exceptional talent for conveying the meaning behind every word. I have always wanted to join in with the Donald Grant folk fiddling experience and can now understand what all the fuss is about!
None of this would be possible, of course, without the generous support of our Friends, Associates, Patrons, trusts and foundations, and exciting new corporate sponsors, Paris Smith and Christopher Jones Wealth Management, as well as the exceptional commitment and hard work undertaken by the trustees and volunteers team. I extend my deepest gratitude to you all.
I hope to see you next at the Autumn Concert – details of venue and date will be available before the summer – and at next year’s Festival 3 – 6 May 2024 as well of course.
Until then I leave you with a short clip of the Mendelssohn Octet performed in the Chapel of St Cross, a wonderful review Passion, energy and joy at the Winchester Chamber Music Festival 2023 – Seen and Heard International and many happy memories.
Very best wishes,
We also invited some of our friends to share their memories of the Festival
The beginning of May has become synonymous with Winchester Chamber Music Festival in our calendar, a fixture many of us look forward to with excitement and great expectation. This year we were treated to a cornucopia of delights with music from Purcell to the present day. As usual the organisers brought a variety of wonderful world class artists to perform the chosen pieces.
Whilst retaining the main features of previous festivals, 2023 saw many welcome innovations: a concert in the Chapel of St Cross, a Composer-in-Residence, an evening of folk inspired music, a visiting wind quintet and a chance for the Festival audience to hear the results of the education project. This was probably the most varied Festival yet with much imaginative programming, all carefully crafted by Kate Gould.
The Schools’ Performance on the Friday morning saw the hugely successful culmination of the Winchester Chamber Music Festival’s education project, led by the wonderful animateur and musician, Sam Glazer. Together with Artistic Director, Kate Gould, Sam had visited Western Primary School in the lead-up to the concert to work creatively with two Year 5 classes, helping each class devise and perform an original song inspired by the Amazon rainforest (a topic they were learning about in school). One of the songs featured sound effects that mimicked the sounds of the rainforest, adding a unique and joyful touch to the performance. The songs were accompanied by a professional string quartet from the Festival, which enormously enhanced the quality of the overall musical experience for pupils and audience alike. The Festival Quartet also performed some Purcell, Shostakovich and Beethoven, excerpts that linked in to the main Festival programme. According to one of the Year 5 teachers, ‘the children worked well as a team, and Sam was fantastic at pulling their ideas together. It was an excellent enrichment opportunity, and all the children gained something from it’. The event was made possible by the generous support of the funders, and the children gained a unique experience that will have a lasting impact on their cultural and musical education.
The first main concert of the Festival started with Joseph Suk’s Piano Quartet in A minor, Op. 1, a piece that has the exuberance and energy of youth, expressed through the dotted rhythms and virtuosic passages of the first movement. This is followed by a more introspective and lyrical second movement with beautiful melodies and harmonies. The third movement starts with a rather forbidding atmosphere which gradually becomes romantic and resolves in a more hopeful, energetic finale. It is a beautiful piece, somewhat reminiscent of Mendelssohn, through its variety of colour and high register.
Then there was the world première of a contemporary piece by Huw Watkins, played by the composer on the piano with David Adams on the violin. A truly elegiac and atmospheric piece, drawing us into a world beyond, the work was commissioned in memory of ‘une violoniste defunte’. The high ethereal register of the composition blended the two instruments beautifully with an unforgettable ending on one single note.
The third piece, Barber’s Summer Music, ‘evocative of summer’ in the composer’s own words, was rather a surprise as it was played, by the very able Lumas Wind Quintet, with a lot panache and humour! One to look out for again.
The last item in the programme was the well-known Beethoven String Quartet Op. 59, No 3 in C Razumovski). From the first chord of the opening we were taken straight into the Beethovenian atmosphere of anxiety, delight, pain and Promethean drive. All that we expect from Beethoven is gathered in this piece, the brilliance, the melodious aspect, the dissonance, the agony and the ecstasy and finally the joy, all beautifully performed by the musicians. A truly spectacular and fulfilling afternoon and a welcome chance to catch up with Festival Friends over drinks and canapés afterwards.
Winterreise, Friday evening’s offering – Schubert at his bleakest and most profound – is challenging to listen to: there’s little comfort to be found in this prolonged cry from the heart of a disappointed lover looking in vain among his memories for faint signs of hope but finding none. The challenge for the listener is as nothing compared to the challenge for the performers, however, so we were extremely fortunate to have the chance to hear a live rendition of what one celebrated interpreter has described as ‘this very strange work’.
James Gilchrist’s reading was an unusual one, in which the emphasis was less on the lover’s despair and the pain of rejection than on the anger – verging on fury – prompted by a love betrayed. As his excellent programme notes pointed out, the first twelve songs of the cycle are quite introspective, while the remaining twelve focus more on the poet’s surroundings as he journeys towards death – a destination which seems as elusive as requited love.
James Gilchrist displayed a complete mastery not only of the text but also of its dramatic potential. The pianist, Huw Watkins, accompanied him impeccably, interpreting Schubert’s score beautifully while responding sensitively to the singer’s emotional reading of it. In all, we were treated to a very satisfying version of what one some of us regard as one of Schubert’s greatest works.
On Saturday morning at The Nutshell, for this second Family Concert, Lenny and Festival musicians David, Lucy, James and Kate produced a fast-flowing, immersive and joyful musical entertainment with much light-touch education that kept children, parents and grandparents happy for an hour that zoomed by. There was a zany story line about a missing maestro, Mrs A Beat (not the best or the worst of a blizzard of excruciating musical puns and jokes) who was pursued through six musical venues where she might be found (but wasn’t) by dice-rolling children. There was lots of audience participation; stamping, clapping and arm-waving – all in time, of course. And there was a delightful octave of bell-ringing and percussion banging and shaking children. Lenny, with his scale-playing tie (yes, really) held the whole show together. In the midst of this happy riot, the musicians infiltrated three not-too short pieces of classical music by Bach, Schulhoff and Beethoven as well as A Very Silly March, a spot of Klezmer (look it up) and Guess the Detective Theme Tune which were listened to gratifyingly attentively. The team was rewarded with huge applause from all generations.
Our Saturday afternoon concert was especially inventive programming. Featured in the first and final pieces, James Gilchrist held us in thrall, as he had the previous evening, with his direct and dramatically charged singing. The sense of strong communication with his appreciative audience much was much aided by his singing from memory. The liquid cantabile playing of ’cellist Timothy Posner at the start of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom quickly dispelled any wish to have heard the original version for tenor, horn and piano. This beautiful piece, melodious and flowing with increased intensity in the middle was a real treat. From the first few bars of the Poulenc Sextet for Wind and Piano, Lumas Winds, were alert and highly fluent in swirling scales and complex, jazz-influenced rhythms. This young group in black with an effective dash of signature orange, were joined by acclaimed pianist, Huw Watkins. The slow, lyrical middle movement was beautifully played – a gorgeous oboe solo over a cushion of warm woodwind tone. A few days before, at the Arc, Lumas had proved a great hit entertaining members of Winchester Go LD in the Funky Lunch. These youngsters clearly enjoy playing and being together.
Huw Watkins’ Piano Quartet was a delight postponed from last year’s Festival. Originally commissioned by the Schubert Ensemble it was beautifully written featuring much pairing of instruments and interweaving strings with piano interjections. Then James Gilchrist sang the wonderful set of six songs, On Wenlock Edge, by Vaughan Williams. These poems by A.E. Housman really came to life with his superb performance, each so expressive in a different way. I have rarely heard such delicate string playing with masterly control of the quietest moments in high registers from Lucy Gould.
If any of the audience needed cheering up on Saturday 29 April, then Festival Folk at the Winchester Chamber Music Festival in St Paul’s Church was the place to go. These wonderful musicians gave us music with a wide range of emotions, but the dominant mood of the evening was having fun. The multi-talented Donald Grant introduced us to Scottish fiddle music and some of its traditions and even persuaded the audience to sing, while David Adams, Lucy Gould, Maia Cabeza, James Toll and Kate Gould played a hugely varied selection of works influenced by Eastern European folk music from the slightly familiar Kodály Serenade to the, to me, totally unfamiliar Schulhoff duo for violin and cello and Krasa Tanec. Beautiful playing and vivid spoken introductions made this a delightful evening.
The Festival’s Sunday afternoon was devoted to a single work – Bach’s Goldberg Variations arranged for string trio by Dmitri Sitkovetsky. Thirty variations bookended by two arias provided a continuous performance for about 70 minutes, and the Trio – Maia Cabeza (violin), James Toll (viola) and Kate Gould (cello) set to with a calm concentration that immediately communicated to the audience. Those who are familiar with the work in its original version for two-manual harpsichord or arrangements for single or double piano (and it has been arranged for many other combinations), will have found that the strings offer a wider palette, giving opportunities for more variation of the variations. The players made the most of this in the clear bright acoustic of St Paul’s Church, and the small ensemble enabled the audience to follow the players’ techniques for decorating the mathematical purity of the piece. Whether by coincidence or design, Robin Holloway, in conversation with Huw Watkins before the première of his Piano Quintet at the last concert of the Festival, referred to his own reworking for two pianos, known as Gilded Goldbergs, a neat and resonant connection.
The wonderful medieval church of St Cross was full for the Gala Concert on Sunday 30 April. I wondered beforehand how the tragic intensity of Shostakovich’s eighth quartet and the freshness and sparkle of the Mendelssohn Octet could be combined with Purcell in a single programme, but in the event the concert swept those doubts away. After opening with Shostakovich’s two pieces for String Octet Op. 11, the performance cleverly linked Purcell’s Fantasia upon One Note with Shostakovich’s quartet without a break. The segue was thought-provoking: the Purcell sounded fascinatingly modern, and the low string drones in the slow movement of the Shostakovich quartet echoed the viola’s single note in the Purcell to great effect. The tragic intensity of the quartet was excellently caught in this committed performance. After the interval, the musicians gave a splendidly vigorous and ebullient performance of Mendelssohn’s miraculous Octet: surely the greatest artistic achievement by a 16-year-old in the history of music. Particular congratulations should go to James Toll for stepping in at the last minute to replace an absent violist in the Shostakovich quartet, and doing so with such panache in this and other concerts.
Two groups took part in the Monday morning Masterclass where Kate showed her prowess as an enthusiastic and gifted teacher. The younger group, playing a Haydn piano trio, first two movements, were already practising when we arrived, only the second time they had met together. Aged 12 to 17, these three school children met on a national music course last summer and enjoyed playing the Haydn together. Kate was impressed by their musicianship. A very talented and technically excellent group, she said. She concentrated on injecting more freedom and contrasts, with characterisation, into the music and it was good to see these musicians actively responding to her sympathetic encouragement. We will surely see them again.
The second group were studying music at Southampton University with performance being part of their degree. They played the first movement of Dvořák’s American Quartet. Kate did a wonderful job helping them to relax, understand the music and make more of their own abilities. Dvořák visited and loved America, she said, especially the trains (still quite new to America) which provided an ongoing rhythmical background. Turn this chugging part into an American-style folk rhythm, passed from one to the next, and revel in the lyricism of his love for America. The performers relaxed, smiled, and the music took on a new life.
I have often wondered about the mystery that is composition. How do composers get ideas, how do they work through them, how do they know which instruments to use? So, listening to Huw Watkins in conversation with Robin Holloway, erstwhile pupil and teacher, about the latter’s composition Piano Quintet, was enlightening. Holloway recognised it as a tricky form with a danger that the piano and strings are in tension and fight each other. So, in his composition, he chose to write it as a conversation between different sections of the quintet. Seldom do all five instruments play simultaneously. There were times when he felt ‘it didn’t come right’. In a role reversal he listened to advice from Huw Watkins and was able to progress with the piece. It had never occurred to me how it must feel for a composer to hear their work played for the first time. Similarly, how does a group of players feel when, far from performing their own interpretation of a work, the composer is there telling them! Thus I was able to listen to the première with my ears open and even more in awe of this creativity.
Do you believe in coincidences? Well, having heard Beethoven’s String Trio (Op. 9 No 1) for the first time in a while in the Festival Finale concert, what should I notice in the following day’s Radio 3 Through the Night playlist but this very work! Quite different in mood from the better-known String Quartets Op.18, it was played with a deft lightness of touch, and made a wonderful start to a cleverly imaginative programme.
The central piece of this programme was another première – Robin Holloway’s Piano Quintet – a very approachable piece, much enjoyed, especially by those who had come early to hear the composer and pianist in discussion. The instruments were used in many combinations with the full ensemble reserved for very few points. Gently shifting harmonies of the strings, often in pairs, sometimes as a quartet, were punctuated by piano interjections, often very virtuosic. To this listener the piece had a natural and logical flow and seemed satisfyingly complete.
The previous evening largely the same group of players (obviously supplemented) had played the well-known Mendelssohn Octet, written at the stunningly early age of 16. To bring the Festival to a close, they now performed his String Quintet, written only two years before his premature death at the age of 38. Between the two works there is a considerable distance, in terms of sound world, as one might expect. But the second movement, in particular, is quite reminiscent of his Midsummer’s Night Dream incidental music, and the players brought this to life most creatively. All in all, a great way to end this year’s Festival, sending a packed audience on its way with a skip and a jump – at least, metaphorically!
Thank you to the following Festival friends for their contributions:
EG, PM, JM, CO, EP, RT, HW, DW, SW, LW, RY
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Take a look through the archives, who has performed which piece when. It’s all here!