This year marks the bicentenaries of the two greatest opera composers of the 19th century, Wagner and Verdi, and for the first time we will host an Opera Gala in their honour and present lectures on each. Benjamin Britten, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, was born 100 years later and his music will weave its way through the festival, with another lecture to mark his centenary.
Our international festival has a particularly Russian flavour this year, opening with Moscow State Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky, Rimsky & Khachaturian, welcoming back Russia's senior string quartet, the Borodin, and introducing one of her rising young stars, the soprano Gulnara Shafigullina. High profile international artists are balanced by some of Britain's finest, including this year's John Lewis Young Stars, among them Benjamin Grosvenor who returns after his remarkable festival debut in 2011.
Other major pianists appear in a variety of genres: Louis Lortie plays Beethoven & Liszt, Tom Poster accompanies Jennifer Pike in Schumann and Janaceck, and Mikhail Kazakevich is joined by Elena Zozina for a two piano recital of opera and ballet transcriptions. Derek Paravicini demonstrates his amazing and unique ability to play anything in any style, and Victor Borge is recalled by his natural successor, comedian and pianist Rainer Hersch. Legendary virtuoso John Lill joins the jury of the Sheepdrove Piano Competition which showcases some of the world's finest young pianists, and Lucy Parham extends the age range even further in her masterclass with local students.
We are delighted to return to many favourite venues, including Highclere Castle and Englefield House, and after twenty years, to St Paul's Church Ashford Hill. We also look forward to our first visit to Hamstead Marshall for the Orlando Consort's unusual concert The Pilgrim's Way, with music, food and a walk through Berkshire's beautiful countryside.
To all our artists and audiences, whether regular visitors or newcomers, I wish you a very warm welcome!
Mark Eynon - Festival Director