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STOP PRESS


The winners of the 2014 Young Festival Critics competition have been announced. The judges remarked this year on the high standard of writing, in particular the sophistication of some of the reviews and the level of observation and detail. Many thanks to all who took part – we hope it was a rewarding experience.

 

The winners are:

 

1st Prize James Chater (English Chamber Orchestra concert review)

2nd Prize Alex Carter (Jeremy Paxman talk review)

3rd Prize Lorna McCurdy (Eric Whitacre concert review)

 

Congratulations to our winners who have been notified.

 

On This Page >

How To Be a Critic

 

Register To Be a Critic

 

The Competition Prize

  Edward Seckerson
  2013 Reviews
  2012 Reviews

 

 

 

2014 Festival Reviews

10th English Chamber Orchestra
  The Big Chris Barber Band
11th Dante Quartet
12th K'antu Ensemble
  The Highclere Concert
14th Aurora Orchestra
15th Fugata Quintet
  Eric Whitacre Singers
16th Trish Clowes Trio
  The Sheepdrove Recital & Supper
  Catherine Bott and James Bowman
  YolanDa Brown
17th Gwyneth Herbert and her Band
  Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
18th Piano Competition Final
  Film: West Side Story
  Myrthen Ensemble
19th Piano Competition Winner
  Anne Reid In A New Key
20th Voces 8
  Unexpected Opera's Opera Naked
21th Benjamin Baker violin Ji Liu piano
  Call Me Merman Rosemary Ashe
  Chilingirian String Quartet
22th Jeremy Paxman
  Kinsky Trio Prague
  Ballet Central
23rd The Phantasy Trio
  Django Bates' Beloved
  London Symphony Chorus
24th From your Ever Loving Son, Jack
  Symposium: The Great War
  Film: All Quiet on the Western Front
  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

 

How to be a Young Festival Critic

 

It's simple. Come to a Festival event and write a review of your experience.

 

Young Festival Critics is an exciting scheme enabling young people, who have a passion for the arts and writing to explore new experiences while building their writing and CV skills.

 

We will ask the critics to focus on writing meaningful observations looking at the relationship between the performing arts and reviewing. The Festival offers a world class programme of events to cover. The scheme enables young people to not only experience new work, but also attend some of the Festivals amazing venues around Berkshire.

 

The reviews can be anything from a tweet to a video diary and anyone between the age of 16 and 30 can apply to be a YOUNG CRITIC. We will provide our YOUNG CRITICS with a reviewer's pack and tips on how to write a review as well as feature the best ones on this website.

 


Education is an important part of the Newbury Festival. We have worked hard to develop our young people's programme, which is present in many elements of the festival, from the educational programme, our master classes, the schools programme, the Piano Competition and Young Artists Lunchtime series.

 

  YOUNG FESTIVAL CRITICS 2012 Includes reviews & winners YOUNG FESTIVAL CRITICS 2013 Includes reviews & winners

 

The Reviews

The Phantasy Trio, Young Artists Lunchtime Recital 6
23 May, Corn Exchange

A single piano waits silently unlike the audience who shuffle in from the rain. The young trio appear from the darkness and begin with Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio KV498 III Rondeaux Allegretto for piano, viola and clarinet. Instantly, Peter Mallinson (viola) and Rosemary Taylor (clarinet) convert melodies into colourful imagery and characters. Gregory Drott (piano) provides not just harmonic support but another soloist in his delicate right hand playing.

Drott, introduces the second piece Schumann's Märchenerzählungen Op 132 where once again Peter Mallinson demonstrates his range of expression and delicately compliments the counter melodies of Rosemary Taylor on clarinet who is technically superb at carving out melodies with precision and clarity.

A particular highlight was the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata arranged for piano, viola and clarinet which held the concert hall in silent rapture. A soulful arrangement combined with a touching interpretation and clear love of the piece offered a new perspective of the renown piece.

Following a lovely restful lullaby by Brahms, Song arranged for Trio, was the concert's final piece Glinka's Trio Pathetique in D minor, where the virtuosic skill of Gregory Drott (piano) shone via a controlled soft touch and the ability to make long phrases sing easily.

During the concert the relationship between the viola, clarinet and piano varied from three friends chatting over coffee, siblings arguing, to three lovers fighting for perfection. A beautiful triangular concert to linger long in the ears.

David Williams, 29

 

Myrthen Ensemble, Songs to the Moon
18 May, St Mary's Church, Shaw

This collection of songs, lots of German, some French and one Russian, made for a very engaging evening. The four singers kept swapping. They took turns singing solos, duets and one or two pieces all together. There were sad songs, romantic ones, two funny ones and one exciting one. Two things tied it all together: the theme of the moon that came up in all of them, and the brilliant pianist, Joseph Middleton, who undergirded it all with his steady, skilful playing.

The ensemble were clearly enjoying themselves, the mezzo soprano in particular, which was totally contagious. They indulged us with some opera-style acting when the songs told enough of a story. There were also some spectacular moments when the soprano unleashed her whole voice in incredibly clear, high, pitch perfect notes. Amazing what a varied and vibrant performance can be inspired by the quiet waxing and waning of the moon.

Ellen Hunter Smart

 

Eric Whitacre Singers
15 May, Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton

Douai Abbey church, with sunlight streaming through its random gold squares of glass onto the chalky Bath Stone interior, was a perfect setting for the inspiring and harmonious performance given by the Eric Whitacre Singers. When the choir first entered the abbey, they walked around half of the audience, encircling us. This unusual positioning proved to be a very effective opening, as the beautiful singing soared over our heads and the crystal clear voice of the soprano soloist pierced through up into the gothic heavens of the church.

After reconvening in front of the audience, the choir went on to sing various exquisite pieces, many of which Whitacre composed himself. Before performing the last piece of the first half, Whitacre described how he came to write it, and what influenced him. His description presented a wonderful insight into his very personal process of composing, and when the choir came to sing it, you could see just what he meant. The repetition of the word 'Sanctus' seemed to reverberate holiness around the white walls of the abbey, just as he had seen holiness, or Sanctus, beaming down with the sunlight from the blue windows of the Sainte-Chapelle church in Paris when writing the piece.

The unique architecture of the abbey, a combination of a tall and narrow neo-gothic choir and a very open and wide modern nave, not only provided marvellous acoustics for the singers, but was also an interesting parallel to the music of the concert, which was a combination of old and new, in fact, as Father Oliver put it, 'the abbey seemed made for Eric Whitacre.'

Lorna 24

 

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
17 May, St Nicolas Church, Newbury

With six double basses, too many violins to count, and a hoard of other string and wind instruments spanning all the way to the back of the church, the enormous Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra was bound to be something out of the ordinary. This was firmly established by the rousing opening piece, Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, which the orchestra, led by the marvelous conductor Yuri Botnari, played with great fortitude, making an extremely dramatic start to the concert.

The second piece was Tchaikovsky's renowned Violin Concerto in D major. The soloist, Alexander Sitkovetsky, played the seemingly impossible piece with both immense skill and passion, which is exactly what it required. He kept the orchestra at his own pace, indulging Tchaikovsky's romantic melodies and harmonies to the delight of the audience. After the compelling opening movement, the audience burst out into spontaneous applause, and although Botnari the conductor looked faintly annoyed, it couldn't be helped, Sitkovetsky's playing had been too spectacular. The second and third movements were played with equal virtuosity by the soloist, who made his violin sing in the second movement, and by the end of the third had hairs from his bow flying around.

The third piece, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, allowed the orchestra as a whole and several individual members to shine. Botnari led them magnificently through the dynamic piece with his flicking, twisting and jerking, and endless rapturous applause persuaded them to play two encores, bringing to a close a concert of enormous proportions, and enormously wonderful results.

Lorna 24

 

Jeremy Paxman, Great Britain's Great War
22 May, Long Gallery, Englefield House

"Our generation is the luckiest that ever lived." This quote from Jeremy Paxman elicited a chorus of approval as he neared the conclusion of his fascinating talk about the First World War and its effects on Britain today. The grand, stately Englefield House hosted personal anecdotes about the esteemed journalist's great-uncle Charlie, and familiar yet harrowing accounts of 450 miles of squalid Western Front trenches. Additionally, Paxman drew attention to differences between the Great War and recent Iraq and Afghan wars. The British Expeditionary Force of 100 years ago was efficient but outnumbered by the Germans; claims of a small army cannot be made against modern western war machines.

Yet, this talk wasn't all about serious military business. Blackadder was quoted to great amusement, and we were reminded that women over 30 were granted voting rights after hard work in the munitions factories of the Great War. Nobody can dispute that social changes sparked by the conflict have resonated through the start of the 21st century. We now have the freedom to indulge in luxuries and rights unthinkable to many a century ago. One key message from this talk was to never forget what the war effort gave to us as a nation.

At the book signing afterwards, I couldn't help but ask the man himself that if his generation is the luckiest that ever lived, what does that make my generation?

Paxman's typically deadpan and witty reply: "Well, you're the second-luckiest generation..."

No arguments there either.

Alex Carter, 21

 

London Symphony Chorus
23 May, St Nicolas Church

The London Symphony Chorus, under renowned conductor Simon Halsley, promised an evening of magical, top quality choral music. They certainly did not disappoint.

Opening with Thomas Tallis' astonishing 40 part 'Spem in Alium', the chorus filled the church with a spine tingling sound that would continue throughout the evening. Imaginative positioning of the eight choirs around the church exploited the texture of the music to its full extent, as voices weaved and circled across the building.

The120 strong chorus gave a wonderful variety of colour and expression in their singing - including a tenderness and sacred feel to Mealor's achingly beautiful 'Ubi caritas' and (a personal favourite), Lauridsen's 'O magnum mysterium'. Rachmaninov's Vespers built on this in the second half, carrying us through every emotion. The superb musicianship of this choir and the Alto and Tenor soloists made it easy to be swept into the intricate, sensitive music and caught in sudden intensity that seemed to come from no-where and then die down again almost as quickly.

How is it that discord can both melt and chill the heart at the same time? Such is the case with music, communicated so beautifully and intimately as this. The enjoyable addition to the program 'Let all the people praise thee, O god' by William Mathias showcased a more celebratory side to choral music with an organ solo that simply made you smile.

A performance, then, that was thoroughly deserving of the loud and lengthy applause given by a thoroughly moved, impressed and delighted audience!

Katherine Valentine, 16

 

Ballet Central
22 May, Corn Exchange Newbury

As the lights went down and the auditorium went into silence for a highlight of the festival Ballet Central. Ballet Central is a touring ballet show which showcases the years graduating students from The Central School of Ballet located in London. The students performed with fantastically and danced with pure emotion. The music fitted with the dances which some performed live with a piano. The different scenes in the show made it very interesting to watch, seeing each emotion produced through dance. As always Ballet Central kept up to their very high standard of contemporary ballet and show stopping dances. I would highly recommend everyone to see Ballet Central as it produces new talent and it's always a fresh show each year.

Simon Ball, 19

 

Django Bates' Beloved
23 May, Corn Exchange Newbury

While admittedly not a connoisseur of jazz, I could not help but be in awe of the 3 individuals' that filled the Corn Exchange with chaotic, energetic and impeccably timed arrangements. The three humble members of Django Bates' Beloved lit up the stage with an eclectic mix of both diverse interpretations of Charlie Parker's works and their own original pieces. Interspersed between these, Django warmly addressed the audience with tales and anecdotes from their travels about the globe together as a trio; evolving the show into a more intimate experience, bringing the audience and performers together.

The stage lighting (also praised my Django himself) wonderfully mirrored each piece to create a great ambience within the venue reflecting the undulating motions of the trio's compositions. Perhaps my only criticism of the stage setting itself was the inability to clearly view the drummer. Therefore, I was only lucky enough to view half of what appeared to be the highly skillful and fluid movements of a most talented artist.

I am sure to any jazz aficionado Django Bates Beloved will not disappoint and will in fact inspire and enlighten you. However if, like myself, jazz is not your usual flavour of choice you may perhaps find yourself overwhelmed by the intensity of the three instruments' dissonance. On the other hand I would say this is no reason to be deterred from relishing the opportunity to experience an evening with this trio as their technical ability and warmth would be very difficult to deny.

Christine Sutton, 25

 

  Django Bates' Beloved
23 May, Corn Exchange Newbury

On a clear may evening, the jazz lovers of Newbury and its surrounding towns gathered in the foyer of the Grade II listed historic Corn Exchange in the centre of the town. There was an eager murmur of anticipation whilst the audience got in their beverages and admired the art on display leading into the 400 seat auditorium.

On entering, the stage was ready, the instruments lovingly placed and awaiting their absent partners in crime. Django Bates and his talented colleagues, Peter Brunn and Petter Eldh took to the scene; the playful, almost flirtatious piano began and the audience was silenced by their cool, charismatic tunes.

Many of the songs the trio play are compositions by the revolutionary Charlie Parker, carefully reworked by Bates: for example they opened with 'Scrapple For The Apple' which was incredibly charming. However, listening to some of Django's own compositions was an even greater privilege - his piece 'Peonies As Promised' was what one could describe as the sound of falling in love, and was played with all the tenderness of it.

Bates addressed the audience between tunes, sharing amusing anecdotes which received a very positive response. Django also quite rightly noted how beautifully executed the lighting of him and his musicians was, at times giving them a backdrop of stars in the night sky and at others bathing them in gentle golden light.

Whether you are a jazz connoisseur or a novice to the genre, this is an event I would highly recommend. With its passionate and accomplished instrumentalists and hint of ethereal vocals, it's a moment of frisson not to be missed!

Laura Prime, 21

 

  Django Bates' Beloved
23 May, Corn Exchange Newbury

Jazz - while it is not everyone's cup of tea, the Django Bates Beloved certainly offer a wide range of different blends. From the top-tapping, tempo-shifting Earl Grey interpretation of Donna Lee to the calming Peppermint tea of Star Eyes to the Chili-dashed Chai Latte of Now's the Time, I was entertained throughout. However, for those wanting a mug of calming Camomile before bed then a Django Bates concert is not for you.

Like being subject to random explosions of colour, the Django Bates trio relentlessly sprayed the concert hall with the whole spectrum, unperturbed by any potential faux pas. My senses were colour blind before the concert began and at the end of the concert. However, during the concert my senses were massaged by a supremely talented trio of passionate musicians, both delicately and ruthlessly, pursuing an invisible adventure.

A personal highlight were the original compositions by Django Bates, which were beautifully assisted by the sensitive controlling of stage lighting and were emotionally connecting and moving.

Just like a train journey which takes you from one destination to another through unfamiliar territory, the concert, at times, wildly accelerated but was never in danger of coming off the rails. I was, however, glad of a cup of Camomile tea before bed.

David Williams, 29

 

Chilingirian String Quartet
21 May, Long Gallery, Englefield House

The Long Gallery at Englefield House provided a wonderfully eighteenth century setting for the Chilingirian String Quartet, an extremely accomplished group of musicians. The charming room, with its delicate mouldings, gently curved ceiling, and Chatsworth Tapestries was almost like a drawing room, making the opening piece, a polite Haydn quartet, feel thoroughly at home. The Chilingirian Quartet opened their concert with a flourish of professionalism playing Haydn's String Quartet Op 76 No. 5, and it was a joy to watch and listen as they made their way through the merry movements.

The second and third pieces were both rather complex string quartets by Beethoven. The first: Op 59. No 3 Razumovsky, involved the phrases and melodies being passed around between the instruments, creating a sense of harmonious movement, as well as a good contrast for when the music veers off from the theme into frenetic scale experiments. The second Beethoven: String Quartet in E flat Op 127, with it's very rich opening, was played by the Chilingirian musicians with great resonance. As the evening grew darker, and the room became even more atmospheric, the quartet became more and more emotive, playing the first of Beethoven's extraordinary late quartets.

After lots of well-deserved applause, the Chilingirian Quartet finished with an encore of Haydn's D major minuet, a perfect way to round off a marvellous concert, played with great competence and feeling.

Lorna, 24

 

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
24 May, St Nicolas Church

As always, there was an exciting atmosphere of anticipation for the 'last night of the festival' as the audience crowded into the large church, but this evening it felt even more special as we were about to see the enormous talent of pianist John Lill.

Opening with Mendelssohn's concert overture: The Hebrides Op. 26 Fingal's Cave, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Rory Macdonald, set the scene for a thoroughly Romantic concert. The crescendos and diminuendos, and the constant buzzing of the strings, created an uncannily exciting atmosphere, and was a brilliant start the performance. The second piece was Schumann's Symphony No 2 in C major Op 61, of which the orchestra gave a very polished rendition, appropriate with their smart attire of white tie and tails. Taking the audience through the piece, which was at times quite manic, but never out of control; and at other times very rich and melodious; the orchestra gave a wonderfully slick performance.

The last piece of the concert, and for many the most eagerly awaited, was Brahms' Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor performed by the celebrated pianist John Lill. Playing in total harmony with the orchestra, Lill gave a masterful performance, and together they brought to an end a sensational evening.

Lorna, 24

 

  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
24 May, St Nicolas Church

The RPO brought the Newbury Spring Festival 2014 to a spirited conclusion with an immensely popular, all-Germanic programme under the direction of Rory MacDonald.

The evening began with the famously atmospheric Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn. The overall effect conjured by Macdonald was mesmerizing. Although not a principal conductor of the RPO, it seemed that he had a mature yet democratic relationship with the musicians, and an ability to elicit an immediate response from any area of the orchestra with great tact. The melodies were sumptuously handled, as was the development section; the burgeoning tension guided masterfully. Perhaps the only criticism was that the typical 'Mendelssohnian' agitato sound world was not realised to its greatest extent in some episodes. It all sounded beautiful, but at moments there could have been more unrestrained vigour and bite. Throughout this work and Schumann's 2nd Symphony, what was most striking was the orchestra's cohesiveness and sensitivity. In the opening sostenuto, the subtlety of Schumann's orchestration was fully audible thanks to the intelligence of the playing. Similarly throughout the symphony, the orchestra had the wonderful capability to seamlessly pass melodic material between different sections, giving rise to a directive texture.

After the interval, John Lill took to the stage for a superlative performance of Brahms' Piano Concerto No.1, the final work of the evening and festival. Lill's pianistic technique was never self-indulgent or histrionic, yet still had astonishing flair. He gave the vast first movement coherence, and in the second he forged a sound that was utterly ethereal. The Rondo finale brought the festival to a rousing conclusion; the audience responding with rapturous applause. It seems that the best of this year's festival had very much been 'saved until last'.

James Chater, 18

 

  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
24 May, St Nicolas Church

I entered the familiar St. Nicolas Church with a mixture of excitement and apprehension; while I played percussion in Berkshire youth wind bands in the past, orchestral music isn't my automatic entertainment form. Nevertheless, this Royal Philharmonic concert, accompanied by the renowned pianist John Lill throughout the second half, was hugely impressive. Beforehand, we were led through deserved thank you messages; this being the festival's final day, the big guns have been rolled out for a fitting finish.

in his early 30s, young-but-experienced Sottish-born conductor Rory MacDonald guided the way with flurrying arms. The final two movements of the second piece, Schumann's Symphony No 2 in C major Op 61, were the most emotional passages of the first half. Mournful C minor violins practically cried out with pain before giving way to an Allegro resurgence of optimism to conclude the piece, with the orchestra in full flight.

After a 20-minute interval, the famed pianist John Lill stepped up with a half-century length career resulting in no need for sheet music tonight. The 45-minute, three-part Piano Concerto No 1 in D minor Op 15 by Johannes Brahms may be considered wearisome for some (even Mahler demanded that Brahms "must economise"), but the time flew by as quickly as Lill's hands, as his dazzling virtuosity shone through. Towards the end, it seemed as if the orchestra and Lill were feeding off each other, as one then the other hurtled towards a punchy staccato finale.

In a word: spectacular.

Alex Carter, 21

 

English Chamber Orchestra
10 May, St Nicolas Church

There was a world of difference between a cold May evening, whose wind threw itself around the church walls, and the enchanting fairytale glade painted by the harp’s first notes in Elgar’s Sospiri. The English Chamber Orchestra’s stunning performance of this short but achingly beautiful piece under conductor Stephen Barlow entranced the audience from the very start.

The first half’s magic continued as the orchestra transported the audience, through the idyllic summer of Butterworth’s Edwardian England into the delicacy of Grieg’s ‘The Last Spring’. The orchestral playing captured beautifully both intimate moments and soaring melodic climaxes.

The orchestra and soloist Ruby Hughes in Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Handel’s ‘Eternal Source of Divine Light’ between them produced gorgeous and balanced sound with an exquisite trumpet aria played by Neil Brough.

When Anna Huntley, Thomas Herford and Morgan Pearce joined the performers for Mozart’s Requiem the top quality singing continued, with the four communicating excellently between each other and the audience - entirely captivating us all.

The festival chorus had settled by the third movement of the Requiem and gave an energetic and full sounded performance, casting aside the first half’s quiet intensity in the drama of Rex Tremendae and exhilarating hosannas of Sanctus. By the final chords we were confident to step back into the wild evening with ears ringing with the wonderful music of a fantastic start to the festival.

Katherine Valentine, 16
 

 

English Chamber Orchestra
10 May, St Nicolas Church

The 2014 season of the Newbury Spring Festival began with a remarkable concert by the English Chamber Orchestra and the Festival’s Chorus. The concert fittingly took place in St Nicolas Church, in the heart of Newbury, a church adorned with the plaques of fallen soldiers, family and friends; a subtle reminder of the evening’s theme, World War I. In terms of this theme, the programme for the concert was its greatest asset.

All the works of the first half had an air of serenity, but similarly, a latent emotional intensity; an intensity fully realised in the drama and fervour of Mozart’s Requiem. The choir relished in performing this work, and kept the audience gripped, particularly in the stirring opening three movements. The orchestra had a rich and homogenous sonority; the leader, Stephanie Gonley, was outstanding. All four of the soloists were poised and assured, delivering beautiful and intelligent performances. Underpinning all of this, however, was the orchestra’s conductor, Stephen Barlow. He led with a quiet and understated authority, where no movement was extraneous. As the final chord came to a thunderous conclusion, he became the focus, as the audience were left in an absolute silence which lasted some ten seconds, waiting for the conductor to finally relax, and the work to end. Silences of that length at the end of a concert are rare, but in those ten seconds of complete quiet, ironically, the theme of war was encapsulated.

James Chater, 18

 

 

English Chamber Orchestra
10 May, St Nicolas Church

One of the opening concerts of the Newbury Spring Festival 2014 at St. Nicolas Church featured four young singers, a full choir and the English Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Stephen Barlow (it was a nice surprise to see his wife Joanna Lumley in the audience!)

The first part of the concert consisted of several lesser known orchestra pieces by Elgar, Butterworth, Grieg, Handel and Mozart. This included the amazing Sospiri by Elgar which I had never heard before. Although there is little relation between the composers there was an overall theme to this carefully selected music. I would call it shades of sorrow. Indeed, from the mixture of anguish and passion of Elgar through the melancholy of Grieg I was taken on a journey through various degrees and nuances of sadness, mixed with moments of hope and calmness.

The highlight of the concert though was the magnificent Requiem of Mozart. The contrast between the parts was well underlined by the responsiveness of the orchestra. I was deeply impressed by the truly top class performance of the musicians; this was the full strength English Chamber Orchestra visiting us in Newbury. This was matched by the Spring Festival Chorus performance which seamlessly fitted into the entire ensemble as if they had always been part of it. The soloists were all stars in their own right and were so well-rehearsed they didn’t even need to look at the conductor.

I knew it wasn’t just me that left with a memorable experience.

Alexandra Belyakova, 30

 

 

English Chamber Orchestra
10 May, St Nicolas Church, Newbury

Elgar's atmospheric Sospiri, written shortly before World War I, made a brilliant opening of the Newbury Spring Festival this year. The conductor on the night, Stephen Barlow delivered a moving interpretation of this intense piece. Butterworth's The Banks of Green Willow was next on the programme. Although I could tell it was a well-prepared performance (French horn were outstandingly good), I was wondering if another piece could be played instead? Barlow’s interpretation of Grieg's The Last Spring was colourful, but somehow lacking personal touch. I was slightly confused by his sense of rubato here. Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine and Mozart’s Laudate Dominum were a great preparation for latter’s Requiem in the second half. There was a pleasant touch of organ playing basso continuo in Mozart, something that is rarely heard on the modern day stage. The piece has a vocal part in it. Ruby Hughes, BBC New Generation Artist, was a brilliant soloist on the night. Her musicality was convincing and technique extremely satisfying.

Mr Barlow’s interpretation of the Requiem was once again lacking personality. That could not be said about Newbury Festival choir’s performance on the day. Love and admiration of the immortal piece were shining through every note they sung. English chamber orchestra demonstrated some exquisite playing. Overall, it was a great opener of the festival. The performing forces on the night were excellent, but I was wondering if the conductor could present a stronger leadership.

Alexander, 30

 

  English Chamber Orchestra
10 May, St Nicolas Church, Newbury

This concert marked the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in a poignant and powerful way. The sadness of the opening piece, Elgar's Sospiri, followed by the beauty and vibrancy of George Butterworth's The Banks of Green Willow was enough to appropriately sober the heart, especially upon reading that the composer was cut down during the Battle of the Somme soon after he wrote it, aged only 31. The presence of four outstanding young soloists for the performance of Mozart's Requiem, all the same age as many of those who died, was a constant, subtle reminder of the cruel tragedy of war.

This concert was also a perfect way to open this year's festival, with wonderful music being performed to an extraordinarily high standard. Of course the famous orchestra were brilliant, of course the professional soloists were superb, but the real delight was the presence and zeal of the Newbury Spring Festival Chorus who sang so fantastically well! As a local, they made me proud.

Ellen Hunter Smart

 

The Big Chris Barber Band
10 May, Corn Exchange Newbury

From the moment the music started, all I can feel was the vibrations of tapping feet, it must be the sound of jazz! It was the one and only Mr Chris Barber. As I first hear the music, it sounds relaxing and I couldn't resist but to tap my feet along with the music. The music is inspired of that which was first heard in 1920's New Orleans. The band consisted of a variety of instruments which included: Drums, Electric Guitar, Trumpets and a Double Bass. To some it brought back memories back to when Mr Barber created his band but to myself who hasn't listened to jazz music before it brought a new genre of music to my life. This band of eleven people were absolutely brilliant, each one brining their own sound and talent to the show. I really liked how each person had their own part of the show to shine, some were extremely talented.

I would highly recommend seeing The Big Chris Barber Band because jazz is such an amazing genre of music, which some haven't even heard of and because of all the talented musicians.

Simon Ball, 19

 

Dante Quartet
11 May, St Mary’s Church, Kintbury

The Dante Quartet opened the Newbury Spring Festival’s series of Chamber Music concerts in the charming St Mary’s Church, Kintbury. The small church provided an extremely intimate setting, so there was not only an immediacy to the sound, but an ability to see how the quartet interacted together on a visual level. The communication between the musicians was evident in the Haydn Op.50 No.5 Quartet, and consequently, their synchronicity was impressive. Stylistically, there were some very personal touches to this performance, although at times the cellist, Richard Jenkinson, may have been a little heavy handed in his articulation for such a light-hearted work. That being said, he had a great ability to lead harmonically, granting the sound a constant sense of direction. In the Vaughan William’s, the violist, Yuko Inoue, took centre stage and handled the numerous solos with aplomb and with effortless musicality. The second movement had undeniable resonances of the famous Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, a testament to the quartet’s ability to draw out fantastically expansive lines. After the interval, the quartet’s wonderful sense of harmony was again shown through Schubert’s Quartettsatz, a work which modulates and meanders through a vast number of keys. Somewhere through the first movement of the Ravel Quartet, the stage lights suddenly turned off and the stage was left in a state of semi-light. Although initially distracting, it actually added to the atmosphere of the venue and only accentuated the feeling of intimacy between audience and quartet. Yes, each work was brilliantly handled individually, but the quartet’s true strength was being able to capture in an instant the greatly differing sound worlds of each composer they presented, leaving a lasting impression.
James Chater, 18

 

Dante Quartet
11 May, St Mary’s Church, Kintbury

The concert performed by the Dante Quartet was a delightful display of a group of musicians who seemed to thoroughly enjoy playing together. This was no-where more evident than in the opening piece, the charmingly Spring-like Quartet in F major (Op 50 No 5) by Haydn. Playing the quartet with incredible ease and fluidity, the players were constantly smiling at each other, and through their amiable communication with one another and also with the audience, they created an atmosphere of joy and serenity in the pretty church of St Mary’s, Kintbury. The sense of pleasure in creating something wonderful together was especially evident in the four exuberantly raised bows after the final note of the Haydn.

The second piece of music was a rarely performed quartet by Vaughn Williams, Quartet No 2 in A minor. The stormy and turbulent opening movement was an interesting contrast to the charm of the Haydn, and all the players seemed at first to be moving separately, before coming together to play dramatically in unison. The second movement was a sorrowfully beautiful piece full of resonating harmonies, which the Dante Quartet played with great emotion. The opening dialogue between the viola and violin was especially moving, and although totally different to the Haydn, there was an extremely strong sense of collaboration among the players, which was enchanting to witness.

The second half of the concert consisted of a lovely single-movement quartet by Schubert known as ‘Quartettsatz’, and Ravel’s Quartet in F major, which was a magical concoction of shimmering strings and pizzicato, and which brought an end to a truly superb performance.

Lorna, 24

 

 

The K'antu ensemble - Early Music
12 May, The Corn Exchange

The K’antu ensemble was the first in a series of young artist’s lunchtime concerts. Having attended out of curiosity, they provided an intimate and engaging break from the day, taking us back in time to the 16th century, where much of their repertoire originates from.

The huge variety of instruments used by the performers included a visually impressive and unusual archlute and viola da gamba (think squished double bass and you’re on the right lines!) to the more recognisable authentic versions of recorder and violin. The use of these uncommon instruments gave the music an array of truly enchanting sounds.

Pieces, such as ‘A la vida bona’, had a light, summery sound that ultimately left the listener with the same happiness the title implies. Other pieces showed the more resonating warm sounds capable of both instruments and players, particularly those of the Mexican guitar which, coupled with a slow hollow drum beat, created a beautiful yet haunting atmosphere.

While moments of the drinking songs perhaps could have benefited from a more developed sound, the overall energy of the concert was high. Several moments, including the shining climax of the ‘Three Bransles’, were capturing and lively to the extent of subconscious toe tapping.

The moments taken to explain a short history of the instruments and pieces added an interesting extra dimension to the concert. The clear passion and dedication the musicians have for the music is evident in their sensitive approach to each piece, capturing the tone perfectly and making for an enjoyable and educational hour.

Katherine Valentine, 16

 

 

Highclere Concert
12 May, Highclere Castle

Within the slightly faded grandeur of Highclere Castle, we were treated to a dazzling performance by a trio of exceptional musicians: Alexander Sitkovetsky playing violin; Yevgeny Sudbin on piano; and Alexander Chaushian playing the cello.

The first two performances (César Franck’s Sonata in A major; and Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor) allowed both the cellist and violinist to really show off their tremendous skill. The intensity with which the cellist played the Franck was astonishing, and what made it even better was the close proximity of the audience to the musicians. Every twitch of Chaushian’s eyebrow that emphasised an emotional discord could be seen by the audience. Sitkovetsky too gave a lively performance, bringing a nymph-like quality to his playing.
Sudbin was an impeccable accompanist in the first two pieces, but it was in Schubert’s sublime Notturno in E flat major, that he was really able to do justice to his tremendous skill. All three players excelled in the Notturno, a truly beautiful piece; perhaps if Schubert had heard them playing it, he would not have rejected the piece for one of his trios. The Brahms Piano Trio in C major was a triumphant culmination of a splendid evening, the musicians playing with fervour and skill to the very end.

Many of the audience no doubt felt lucky to be in the stately surroundings of Highclere Castle; having champagne in the library whilst looking out onto a sunlit folly in the distance certainly added a degree of charm. However my pervading thought of the evening was that our luck lay in seeing and hearing three such talented musicians come together, which they had never before done in public, and give such an entrancing concert.

Lorna, 24

 

 

Aurora Orchestra
14 May, Holy Cross Church, Ramsbury

Another beautiful May evening, another splendid concert from the Spring Festival. As the audience trailed in chatting jovially, members of the orchestra wandered on and off stage, tuning up and playing fragments, all in a very relaxed manner. However, the extremely skilful playing of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro quickly dispelled any sense of casualness. Ravel wrote the music as a showpiece for a new type of harp, and the Aurora ensemble succeeded in showcasing the extensive range of the harp marvellously. The picturesquely long-haired harpist, playing her magnificent golden harp, seemed to fling her arms around the strings as she glissando-ed up and down making the most wonderful sounds. The other players of the ensemble ably supported the harpist, the flute and clarinet being particularly lovely.

The next piece of music was a contemporary string quartet by Thomas Ades; The Four Quarters. The quartet played the complex piece with great feeling, and as the Cellist had enthusiastically explained beforehand, you really could hear the randomness of “independent twinkling stars” in the first movement. The second movement, ‘Morning Dew’ was a cacophony of plucked strings, more reminiscent of the dawn chorus in its strident beauty than morning dew.

The last piece, Mozart’s Serenade for Thirteen Wind Instruments Gran Partita, led by an Oboist and Clarinettist who both played with great delicacy and beauty, was a joyfully mellow end to a very refreshing concert. The diversity of the pieces performed made for a thoroughly interesting and thought provoking concert, performed by an animated and extremely competent orchestra.

Lorna, 24

   

 

 

The Competiton

 

 

There are a prizes for the best an most well written reviews

 

£100 top prize and 2 x £50 for the runners up.

 

The Judges:

 

Edward Seckerson - Formerly Chief Classical Music Critic of the Independent, still reporting for several national newspapers.

Kate Green – Editor of Country Life magazine.

Trish Lee – Arts Editor, Newbury weekly News

Giles Woodforde – Arts Critic, Oxford Times

 

 

Edward Seckerson

Chief Classical Music Critic, The Independent

 

"Criticism is still so misunderstood. Is it good or bad, the best or the worst, we critics are asked - and no matter how many times we care to explain that things are rarely black or white and it's the shades of grey in between that make something interesting or not the most sensational quotes will always make their way on to the hoardings and the well written, well balanced, review will more as not be put to one side.

 

For me the opinion has always mattered less than the way in which it is expressed and in an age where the most outspoken among us don't always feel it is necessary to substantiate their views in any thoughtful, meaningful, way it's great that schemes like Newbury's Young Festival Critics are giving a platform to budding young arts enthusiasts with something to say.

 

Sharing the experience of a play, a film, a concert, or piece of art or literature is what it is all about. The best critics make us feel part of that experience whether or not we were there ourselves. I like to think that doing so is an art in itself."


 


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