A personal review by Artistic Director, Gareth Stainer
The ending of our 2017 Thaxted Festival in mid-July marks the completion of twenty years in my role as Artistic Director of the Festival, and I am pleased to reflect on the success of another ambitious and varied season.
The three concerts that attracted the largest audiences in 2017 were:
In addition there were large audiences for the Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge and for the piano recital by our President, John Lill.
Thaxted Church can also be a wonderfully intimate venue for more specialist performances; in an enchanting and varied programme, violinist Jennifer Pike’s Méditation from Thaïs was spell-binding as she played beneath the arches of the tower.
In 2016 we celebrated the centenary of Gustav Holst’s first Festival in Thaxted. One can think of 2017 as the centenary of his second Festival; as a lifelong teacher I believe he would have been very pleased to see how fully children and students contributed in both years:
The Festival included an inspiring, varied and challenging concert of fully professional standard from the string orchestra of the Yehudi Menuhin School. The concert by the choristers and undergraduates of St John’s College, under their director Andrew Nethsingha, was equally impressive. Student performances sometimes convey qualities of freshness and enthusiasm, as here, that seasoned adult performers find elusive.
Three ensembles made a particular impression on their first appearance this year. The first was the New York-based Escher Quartet, giving a heartfelt and rivetting performance of Schubert’s bitter-sweet masterpiece, Death and the Maiden. Pop-up Opera gave us an amusing and idiosyncratic performance of Cimarosa’s opera Il Matrimonio Segreto, the action illuminated by their trademark witty captions. Jennifer Pike’s mother is Polish and her recital, accompanied by her father, Jeremy Pike, introduced us to music by some less familiar Polish composers. Their recital turned out to be a real gem and we certainly hope to hear them again.
Tim Kliphuis, heir to the great jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli, has given us several great gigs over the last decade. This year his trio was on top form; after much impressive improvisation they finished their concert with a jazz version of Morgen, one of the four last songs of Richard Strauss. It was beautiful and breathtaking.
Tenebrae’s closing concert was exceptional. In Bruckner’s magical and very apt motet, Locus Iste (‘This place was made by God’) they achieved the most delicate of pianissimos. Towards the end of their concert they achieved an unamplified fortissimo of an intensity that must have ranked amongst the loudest our magnificent building has ever heard; and there, supporting this thrilling climax, were three trombones! Surely Holst’s ghost must have lain behind this serendipity?
It is good to be able to conclude, as I take my leave as Artistic Director after 20 years, that the 2017 Festival has been one of the best. I am confident that my successor, Trevor Hounslow, will pick up this baton with distinction. Both I and Marijke Curtis (who relaunched the current Festival with Philip Curtis in 1986 and was its first Artistic Director) will provide him with all the support we can as he works himself into the role.
Thank you to all our loyal audiences, to our sponsors and supporters, to our magnificent performers, and to the whole team for making Thaxted Festival such a success in this latest as well as in all previous years.
Artistic Director 1998 - 2017