CLASSICAL MUSIC Cheltenham Festival

One accusation that could never be levelled at the Cheltenham International Festival of Music is that it comes "off the peg". At this time of year, with the country bristling with festivals, all too many of them present sameness and tameness. But when festival directors are asked to turn cart-wheels on a high wire to make the books balance, it's not difficult to see why: repeated concerts spell amortisation of costs. But not interesting festivals. Cheltenham is an interesting festival.

With a composer as artistic director, it comes as no surprise that new work should figure prominently. But what is surprising is the quantity and the notable quality. In 15 days, there are no fewer than 20 world premieres, with two major British premieres. Michael Berkeley, displaying a little of his own "private passion", insists that every programme must contain 20th-century music. Fudge is usually the rule - just drag up the most palatable work, whether or not it fits the programme. But this is decidedly not the case here: new work has not only been chosen carefully but is of equal importance, placed in a context that supports and illuminates.

Of course, not all new works turn out as expected and Vic Hoyland's A- Vixen-A was a case in point. Originally commissioned by the BBC for John Drummond's final Prom season, ill-health prevented the work being written. Now we have a substantial 30-minute piece for substantial orchestra including a very large kitchen- sink department. With such forces, the platform of Cheltenham's Town Hall was not large enough to accommodate everybody for last Friday's concert, so the BBC SO was placed on the flat - sight-lines compromised but the sound, normally a mush, magnificent. Hoyland's work should have been placed between Brahms's Second Symphony and Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen - the usual sandwich technique. But an inspired last-minute decision was taken to change the order to Brahms, Mahler, Hoyland - which said everything about debts: Mahler's to Brahms, and Hoyland's to Mahler.

Hoyland, a product of the heady 1970s York University Music Department, has written a powerfully expansive work. It evokes the spirit of Mahler in its use of predominantly dark harmonic colours, sensuous use of sustained strings, and high muted trumpet, while embracing the force of Messiaen with gongs, tam-tam, marimba and crotales. An oddly successful (and original) synthesis of German and French sensibilities refracted through British eyes.

Context said it all again in a ravishing late-night concert given on Saturday by Gothic Voices, Christopher Page's ace team of four specialising in the wondrous mists of ancient time - medieval a cappella vocal music - in Cheltenham College Chapel, a mini King's College, Cambridge.

What an ear-cleanser! Nearly 1,000 years of music - with a gap of about 500 years in the middle - provided a magically soothing end to the day. Hildegard of Bingen, that mystic Abbess of 1098-1179, rubbing shoulders with "anon", Guillaume de Machaut - the experimental master of the 14th century - and our own Bayan Northcott. Northcott's Ave regina clorum is a cunning ficta based on one of the Marian antiphons. From an opening straight rendition of the plainchant, Northcott gradually absorbs and translates the material in ways both contemporary and medieval, intelligently illuminating the closeness of the two worlds in a pleasingly compact piece.

Another compact but dully derivative work found its way into the programme of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment earlier that same evening. In fact, the Choir of the Enlightenment took on the task - His Winding- sheet by Betty Roe. Context in works of Bach provided no help and perhaps the inexplicably small audience served to undermine the choir and OAE's usually spirited approach. Peter Harvey and Ruth Holton, soloists in the cantatas, sang well, while Paul Nicholson officiated from organ or harpsichord, never quite sure, it seemed, whether to face us or them. Annette Morreau

Sport
footballLIVE City face Stoke, while Warnock returns to Palace dugout
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + echSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    Clinical Negligence Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

    Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

    £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

    Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone