Worcester 2020: Full programme announced

Three Choirs Festival say they will “weather the storm” as new programme is announced

Amid a flurry of cancellation announcements for the early part of the summer festival season, the celebrated Three Choirs Festival has announced the full programme for its 293rd edition, saying that it will continue to plan for the event to take place until such time as it is impossible to do so. Due to take place in and around Worcester from Saturday 25 July – Saturday 1 August 2020, festival organisers say that they remain optimistic that the festival can go ahead and will put tickets on sale in April as planned. The festival will be the first with new Worcester Artistic Director Samuel Hudson at the helm, who took up his post as Director of Music at Worcester Cathedral in September last year.

Somewhat ironically in the present climate of travel restrictions and uncertain futures, Samuel had taken journeys as a starting point for his programming, saying:

“Journey is an inevitable part of life. Some journeys we think nothing of, some we don’t even notice, but others are so significant and transformative that they shape our lives and our history. I’m thrilled my journey has brought me to Worcester, and to my first Three Choirs Festival programme. The theme of voyage will be strong, not least as we mark the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey from England to the USA in 1620, taking the opportunity to feature music by American composers.”

The festival will feature over eighty events this year and around a thousand performers: from major choral and orchestral events in Worcester’s majestic cathedral, to chamber music, late night jazz and musical explorations, fun-filled family events, sung cathedral services, intriguing talks and a peppering of al fresco theatre, walks and excursions spread throughout the county and beyond. In between, audiences can share in the welcoming atmosphere of the festival village which offers a range of food, drink and outdoor entertainment. At the heart of the headline concert series, a stellar line-up of soloists join the festival’s own chorus and orchestra-in-residence, the Philharmonia Orchestra, while the three cathedral choirs of Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester cathedrals come together throughout the week.

An update on COVID-19: Book with confidence

Chief Executive, Alexis Paterson, explained that the festival team is working on a range of contingency measures in order to respond swiftly and positively to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation:

“From looking at how we can go on sale as planned by offering a reassuring refund policy to bookers affected by the outbreak, to accommodating a delayed start to chorus rehearsals and adding extra handwashing facilities and hygiene measures at the festival itself, we’re doing everything we can to weather this unprecedented storm while keeping the welfare of audiences, performers and staff at the forefront of our minds. I’d like to appeal to audiences to get behind us and any arts organisation who’s still carrying on. Simply by booking with confidence, you can help us to keep contracts in place with all of the many individual performers, contractors, staff and local suppliers who will be depending on events starting up again as soon as restrictions on gatherings are lifted. This event – thought to be the oldest classical music festival in the world – has survived a few international crises in its three-hundred-plus years, and we’re absolutely committed to sharing the power and joy of making music for as long as we possibly can. I sincerely hope this summer will be a celebration of our communities coming together again after such a challenging time.”
Full details of the programme are now available on the festival’s website. Amongst an outstanding range of visiting performers and local talents, some of the highlights include:

Anglo-American Adventures

The story of the Mayflower’s voyage is the catalyst for exploring musical links across the pond. English and American composers rub shoulders: Edward Elgar, Herbert Howells and Cecil Armstrong Gibbs are paired with Aaron Copland, Stephen Paulus, Nico Muhly and Randall Thompson. The 1899 festival, and first Three Choirs performance of American music in Horatio Parker’s Hora Novissima, is recalled on Sunday evening, while the importance of African American musical styles in marked with David Briggs’ new work celebrating the Harlem Renaissance, and a late-night celebration of jazz and spirituals.

Today’s Voices

Since the festival’s eighteenth-century beginnings, it has celebrated each new generation of composers, and this programme features over seventy works from today’s voices. This year’s major commission, for chorus and orchestra, is The World Imagined by Gabriel Jackson. For families, Gaspard’s Foxtrot is the latest instalment in the Gaspard the Fox series, authored by Zeb Soanes, illustrated by James Mayhew, and with music by Jonathan Dove (co-commissioned by the Philharmonia, Docklands Sinfonia, RSNO and RLPO), for the combined cathedral choirs a new piece from John Rutter, and premieres written by Roderick Williams, James Francis Brown, and Dani Howard.

Also featured is the UK premiere of Ēriks Ešenvalds’ The Pleiades, and projects featuring specially commissioned music from Thea Musgrave, Huw Watkins, Judith Bingham, David Matthews, Amy Bryce, Daniel Kidane, George Stevenson, and Philip Sawyers. The Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir will revisit their first commission, from Dobrinka Tabakova, and Roderick Williams will revive Colin Matthews’ outstanding The Great Journey.

Composers in Focus

2020 marks two important composer anniversaries: 250 years since the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, and 150 years since the birth of Louis Vierne.

Beethoven’s legacy illuminates voices of the past century: his Grosse Fuge with Schnittke (National Youth String Orchestra), a string quartet with Howells and Bliss (Elias Quartet and Robert Plane), a symphony with one fresh off the page (ESO and James Francis Brown), and shorter orchestral works. His violin sonatas are reflected by composers of today (Krysia Osotowicz and Daniel Tong), and fragments reimagined in a beautiful late-night show (Sound Affairs LUDWIG). His exceptional life is explored alongside that of William Wordsworth (David Owen Norris) and in an event for children (Beet(Who)ven?).

Meanwhile, every organ recital at the festival includes a piece by the remarkable Vierne. Renowned for his organ music, but with the rest of his output little-known, Erika Mädi Jones and Panaretos Kyriatzidis explore his extensive collection of songs and Jeremy Begbie takes a look at the remarkable life of this accomplished musician blind from birth.

This year the festival will continue its Festival Firsts scheme, which provides free tickets for concerts and events to Worcestershire residents who want to attend the festival for the first time. The tickets are paid for by donations from long-standing supporters of the festival, who are invited to donate the price of a seat when they book their own festival tickets. The Cavatina Chamber Music Trust has also generously provided free tickets for under 26-year-olds for several chamber music recitals throughout the week. Entry to rehearsals in the cathedral is also free for the first time this year, enabling members of the public to look behind the scenes of the festival into the rehearsal process.

There are many ways to get involved. The festival welcomes applications from potential volunteers, and keen singers aged 14-25 who would like to join the youth choir.

Booking opens in April. Ticket Office: 01452 768928 10 am – 4 pm, Monday to Friday. A local ticket office will open in Worcester’s King’s School on Monday 22 July.


Programme online: Friday 20 March 2020
Member booking: from Monday 6 April 2020
General booking: Wednesday 15 April 2020
Three Choirs Festival: Saturday 25 July – Saturday 1 August 2020