Set in the rolling Surrey Hills the Investec International Music Festival though modest in size manages to attract some of the biggest names in classical music. This year they’ve commissioned a triple concerto from Charlotte Bray for the Sitkovetsky Trio, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Pierre-André Valade. Composers Edition’s Dan Goren caught up with Charlotte together with festival founder and Sitkovetsky Trio violinist Wu Qian to find out more.
DG: Qian, Now in its 10th year the Festival has attracted an impressive array of performers. Tell me about how it’s developed over the past decade.
WQ: Since the first year, our single most important criteria has been artistic excellence. We have always felt that if we can get the best artists to come, then the audience will follow and that is exactly what has happened. Our Gala concert has already been sold out since the beginning of the year and if we had the chance we could probably put on a second concert of the same program and sell that out as well. Of course we are very lucky to collaborate with some of the world’s most important musicians, and I think that they genuinely enjoy coming and playing at our festival. We have an amazing team, full of creativity and enthusiasm, working behind the scenes to make the festival a success and also an devoted and passionate local audience which seems to expand every year. Our festival is both international in its scope and local to the Surrey Hills area. We have partnerships and workshops with local schools and many of our artists have a direct connection to the region which I think makes it even more special.
DG: This year you’ve commissoned a triple concerto from Charlotte for the Philharmonia Orchestra, with Pierre-André Valade and your own Sitkovetsky Trio – a very grand thing to do!…
QW: As an arts organisation that has established itself over the past 10 years, we place a lot of responsibility on our shoulders to support musicians and the future of Classical Music. For this special Anniversary year we wanted to commission a work that will hopefully be a vital addition to the Piano Trio Repertoire. There are very few triple concertos performed today and really only the famous concerto by Beethoven is heard regularly. The piano trio is a wonderful constellation; it provides a perfect balance between a musician’s solo instincts and chamber music sensitivities. Charlotte’s is one of the most interesting and individual voices today and after the stunning success of her BBC Proms commission, we were very excited to ask her to write us this piece. We just recently got the finished score and we can’t wait to begin our preparations. To have the Philharmonia Orchestra and maestro Valade join us for this special event is absolutely amazing and is the king on the cake!
DG: Charlotte – Composing for these forces, the Beethoven Op. 56 must be hard to ignore! How have you navigated that?
CB: Impossible to ignore, yes! I decided to focus on it for this reason, rather than look away, and took tiny cells from the Beethoven as starting points for each of the four movements in my new work. In most cases these become very hidden, but a careful ear might seek them out.
DG: You’ve undertaken a number of regional festival commissions. What do they particularly offer you as a composer?
CB: There is always a great buzz around festivals so I enjoy these commissions and premieres enormously. They have provided me with the opportunity to work with a huge variety of musicians too.
DG: Well there’s sure to be a buzz around this concert which also features Nicola Benedetti performing Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. And there’s more. Qian – tell me about the other concerts in this year’s programme.
As with each festival that we have put on, this year brings a wonderful diversity of music and artists which are sure to please our concertgoers. A recent feature that we have introduced, and which has proven extremely popular, has been an introductory insight evening, which takes place in the weeks leading up to the festival, where the fantastic Sandy Burnett will preview the program and talk about the music and the artists that the audience will hear.
The festival proper will start with the return of the wonderful Claire Teal and her sensational Jazz Trio. They will perform a brand new program for us and we can’t wait.
The Gala evening we have already talked about and it is truly going to be a memorable occasion for all involved. We will then have one of the best pianists today, Juho Pohjonen, come and join me for a fantastic “Two piano” program. I have worked with him many times in New York and other US Cities, and I can’t wait to introduce him to our audience. Everyone will be blown away!
We have always made voice an integral part of the festival program with appearances by Sarah Connolly DBE, Lucy Crowe and Suzy Digby OBE. We round off this year’s festival with the remarkable Tenebrae, presenting an amazing and unique program of early choral works from the Renaissance era.
Creative and diverse programming is at the heart of our philosophy and this year’s festival program will provide that in spades!
DG: And great to have a Charlotte Bray commission amongst all you offer! Thanks to both of you for talking with me.
Saturday 4 May 7.30pm
Mairlot Hall, St Teresa’s, Effingham
The Philharmonia Orchestra, Pierre-André Valade, conductor