Music and leading lights
TWELVE glorious days of uplifting music, unique performances and UK premieres start next week as this year's Cheltenham Music Festival kicks off.
Established in 1945, the festival has a reputation for being one of the country's finest classical music events.
But in true Cheltenham Festival style, the event features much more than just a series of concerts, bringing a host of never-seen-before collaborations to the stage which will even interest those who don't consider themselves to be classical fans.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, famous for his role as the eccentric detective in the BBC drama Sherlock, will be reading a personally-chosen selection of poetry and prose from the First World War period in a performance which also includes wartime music by Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky.
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Miranda Richardson, best known for her comedic roles as petulant Queenie in the BBC's sitcom Blackadder and devious journalist Rita Skeeter in the film adaptation of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, will narrate the story of royal music in a concert that includes music by Handel, Parry, Elgar and Walton.
It also includes music by royalty itself – Henry VIII and Prince Albert. Performers include the Cheltenham Bach Choir, Schola Cantorum of Tewkesbury Abbey and the Flowers Brass Band.
And Egyptian actor Amr Waked, whose film credits include the recent box office hit Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which also starred Ewan McGregor and Kristin Scott Thomas, will tell the tale of a Baghdad romance, narrating the story of Hassan. Waked's narration will combine with music written for the first London production in 1923 by Frederick Delius.
In keeping with its long-held tradition, the festival also welcomes some true classical greats alongside the best emerging talents.
Other highlights include singer Sarah Connolly performing in Holst's Savitri the night after she opens the Proms, a performance of Ravel, Chopin and Bach by classical music's boy wonder Benjamin Grosvenor and Melvyn Tan performing Ravel's G Major Piano Concerto with the Orchestra of the Music Makers from Singapore, an award-winning group made up entirely of amateur performers.
Youngsters can also get involved as author and illustrator James Mayhew retells 1001 Arabian Nights, again accompanied by the Orchestra of the Music Makers.
There will also be a grand finale celebration of London with Steven Isserlis and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
Festival director Meurig Bowen's programming makes the most of the festival's Regency location with a huge range of performances in Cheltenham Town Hall, intimate chamber concerts in Pittville Pump Room, and a feast for the senses in cathedrals, abbeys and churches across the region.
For the full festival programme and to buy tickets, log on to www.cheltenhamfestivals.com. Tickets can also be bought from the box office on 0844 880 8094.