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Welcome to the 2021 Newbury Spring (Autumn) Festival

After the most challenging time in the Festival’s history, with three cancelled programmes and many false dawns, it gives me so much pleasure to finally welcome you back to this year’s Newbury (not Spring but Autumn) Festival, where you will be able to experience many of the artists we had been looking forward to last year, and some others who had been long scheduled for this Spring and who are fortunately still available for our September dates. We are confident that social distancing regulations will no longer be in place, but to be on the safe side in case things change, we have decided to focus on our largest venues, St Nicolas Church, Newbury Corn Exchange and Douai Abbey.

It seems especially appropriate to open the Festival with one of music’s greatest treasures, Bach’s incomparable St Matthew Passion, with tenor Ian Bostridge as the Evangelist, a hymn of thanksgiving to welcome us back to the joy of live music. I am thrilled that on the following Saturdays we will hear two of Britain’s great orchestras, Royal Philharmonic with Paul Daniel and Jennifer Pike, and London Philharmonic with Richard Farnes and Paul Lewis, who the following day will join the jury for the final of the postponed 2020 Sheepdrove Piano Competition. With its focus on Beethoven, it is very appropriate for one of the world’s leading Beethoven interpreters, not to mention the former director of Leeds International Piano Competition, to join us at Sheepdrove.

I am absolutely delighted to welcome back another of Britain’s greatest pianists, Benjamin Grosvenor, for his fourth appearance with us since his festival debut aged 18 a decade ago, in a ravishing programme of Chopin, Brahms and Liszt. We also welcome, as always, many other outstanding young musicians at the start of their careers with this year seven lunchtime recitals, including organist Charles Maxtone-Smith, Westminster Abbey’s current organ scholar.  The evening programme also features a showcase of more established young talent, including a quintet from  Vienna’s Kammersymphonie, members of our National Youth Jazz Orchestra, celebrity guitar buskers Duo, folk group Kabantu, young Spanish saxophone star Manu Brazo, the  brilliant young Castalian String Quartet, the all female Behn Quartet, and from London’s Royal College of Music, under the direction of rising conductor Nicolo Foron, an ensemble of their finest wind players for a concert to include Mozart’s divine Serenade for 13 Winds, his Gran Partita.

The Corn Exchange programme finally opens with popular young a capella group Sons of Pitches, and we are lucky to still welcome IDMC Gospel Choir, Solid Steel Ambassadors, Dominic Alldis Trio, Derek Parvicini, Bounder & Cad and Clare Teal, all postponed from last year. I am also pleased to finally welcome Sir Nicholas Kenyon and Andrew Roberts for their postponed talks, and to introduce Colin Harrison from the Ashmolean Museum, who will talk about their famous collection of historic instruments including Antonio Stradivari’s Messiah. Rachmaninov’s extraordinary life story is brought to us in words and music by writer Michael White, accompanist Sholto Kynoch and Russian soprano Ilona Domnich while British soprano Ruby Hughes returns to Newbury’s St Nicolas Church in two contrasting events, firstly in Baroque mode with her own trio in Heroines of Love and Loss and later as part of a quartet of four outstanding singers in an evening of popular arias, ensembles and songs under the direction of the festival’s Chorus Master Tom Primrose.

For reasons to do with limitations on rehearsals for amateur choirs, we have had to postpone the return of the Festival Chorus to next May (when they will open the Festival with what I had planned for 2020) but we still have a feast of outstanding choral concerts to look forward to this year: Armonico Consort in Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Carice Singers in a programme of mainly English 20th century gems, Tenebrae performing Russian Treasures at Douai Abbey, and Solomon’s Knot for an evening of Bach Cantatas, bringing us full circle to the world of our opening night on the penultimate evening at St Nicolas Church.

I am so proud of what we have been able to achieve this year, so grateful to our immensely generous and loyal sponsors and to you our equally loyal audience for enabling us to survive. I know how much we are all longing to hear live music again, and I wish everybody a very warm welcome back to Newbury for this year’s unique Autumn Festival.

Mark Eynon,

Festival Director