This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the great symphonists of the 20th century and the Newbury Spring Festival celebrates his work with a series of special Vaughan Williams events.
On Saturday May 14, the middle weekend of the two-week festival, the BBC Symphony Orchestra visits St Nicholas’ Church. As part of the BBC’s complete cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies, Ryan Wigglesworth will conduct the rarely performed Symphony No 4, described by Walton as the “greatest symphony since Beethoven”. The concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
In 1904 the agnostic Vaughan Williams set out to introduce folksong into The English Hymnal. This groundbreaking hymnbook was devised by Percy Dearmer, who wanted to rid the Anglican Church of the turgid hymn tunes of the 19th century. After the project was completed, Vaughan Williams admitted that his work on The English Hymnal had been “a better musical education than any amount of sonatas and fugues”. Those wishing to learn more about Vaughan Williams and his role in introducing the folk song to the English anthem can join Professor Jeremy Summerly for a talk, From hedge to bench at St George’s Church, Wash Common on Thursday 12 May.
On Sunday May 15, the Tredegar Town Band (famous for their contribution to the BAFTA-winning film Pride will present an afternoon concert with major works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (which they will record for a new CD). Gavin Higgins and other top composers will also feature solos from some of the world’s finest brass performers.
The 6pm festival service on Sunday 8 May at St John’s Church is free and attendees can enjoy a performance by The Carice Singers, one of the UK’s most distinctive vocal ensembles. The choir will sing the Vaughan Williams mass in G. The setting of the mass will be paired with an Introit by Tallis and the hymn A Hymn to Christ written by Imogen Holst, one of Vaughan Williams’ students.
On Friday, May 13, at Holy Cross Church in Ramsbury, Words spoken and sung weaves together works by Purcell, Liszt, Vaughan Williams, Holub, Shakespeare, Auden and many more to create a wonderful blend celebrating words, spoken and sung from the 16th to the 20th century.
Petroc Trelawny, BBC radio and TV star and face of Cardiff Singer of the World joins mezzo-soprano Claire Barnett-Jones and tenor Ben Johnson, both winners of the Dame Joan Sutherland People’s Choice Award at the Cardiff Singer of the World, and accompanist Tom Primrose (Newbury Spring Festival Choirmaster), for an evening of song, poetry and literature.
The festival hosts a master class from renowned violinist Tasmin Little on Saturday, May 14. Little is highly regarded for her interpretation of RVW’s music and is an ambassador for RVW150.
As part of the RVW 150 launch event, Tasmin spoke of the enduring popularity of RVW’s music: “Often regarded as the father of modern British music, his works remain a staple on UK concert stages. United, as well as overseas. But why is his music so popular and resonating with people of all ages and nationalities? Is it perhaps because there is an emotional honesty in his writing that audiences respond to? I remember as a young girl being intensely drawn to his music – the distinctly personal style, the imagination, the power, the beauty. His language is one that can be appreciated on so many levels.
Whether you’re already a fan of Vaughan Williams or just curious to find out more, the Newbury Spring Festival will present some of the finest interpretations of his work. A treat for anyone who loves music.
There is, of course, more on the program than Vaughan Williams and although the Newbury Spring Festival is best known for its classical music, the diversity of events draws from all areas of music including folk, world, jazz, tango and more. To find out more visit