St Endellion Festival

The Collegiate Church of St Endellion

The Collegiate Church of St Endellion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mark Padmore was a guest on my radio show last year. One of the questions I asked was “when was he going to sing Gerontius ?”. I learned that he had already sung it and was going to be singing it at the Easter St Endellion Festival. (Mark is the director of the Summer Festival). This was the excuse I needed to persuade my wife that a week in Cornwall was just what was required at Easter.

The Easter Festival is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. St Endellion is a village a couple of miles from the sea on the north Cornwall coast, about 5 miles from Rock and Padstow (as the crow flies – but longer by road). Everything happens in the church which has a mixture of styles – mainly 15th Century in the Perpendicular style. The director of the Easter Festival is Fran Hickox, the widow of the much lamented Richard Hickox, who was the major driving force behind both Festivals.

The music is varied. Chamber music, early music, choral evensong on Easter Sunday, a song recital (by Padmore), a jazz evening, and then to finish the Festival two performances of Gerontius and one of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – along with the Tallis Fantasy and a Brandenburg concerto.  Serious large scale music requiring a lot of organization and commitment. The musicians are a mixture of professionals and amateurs.

A number of elements make Festivals like St Endellion so successful. The initial spark is caused by one or two talented musicians wanting to have a Festival, and inviting their friends to come along, engendering a combination of serious music making and fun. Welcoming locals who throw themselves into helping organize, and most importantly attend, the events. The opportunity for amateurs to perform with professionals, and the chance to mix with some “stars”. The commune-like spirit amongst the wider group of performers. At St Endellion the organizers have acquired a farmhouse and out building where everyone can stay. An attractive location where everyone is pleased to be – despite the cold, the sun has shone and the countryside and sea have looked radiant.

What of the music ? The Festival opened with the eponymous Endellion Quartet playing Beethoven’s early Bb Quartet, Britten’s 3 Divertimenti, and the Schubert Quintet. Great music in a wonderful setting, to a full house. Choral evensong was as lovely as one would expect. Padmore (accompanied by Mark Wigglesworth) produced typically thoughtful, intense performances of Schumann’s Liederkreis and Janacek’s Diary of One Who Disappeared. This was the first time I had heard the Janacek live, and it gains immeasurably from a live performance. Gerontius live always knocks me for six, and it did it again despite very crowded conditions, and a couple of the soloists clearly fighting the lurgy that has been so common.

Based on the quality of the music making and the enthusiasm of the audiences I can see the Festival easily achieving its 50th anniversary – and more.


Live Music

English: Portrait painting of John Henry Newman

English: Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berli...

English: Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) in Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner Deutsch: Sir Simon Rattle dirigiert die Berliner Philharmoniker (BPO) in Das Rheingold von Richard Wagner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone with a significant CD collection (and even a few downloads to show that modernity does not pass me by) who has got, and still gets huge pleasure from them, I am finding that almost every “Live” concert I go to is giving as much – or often greater – pleasure than most CDs. The revelation to me has been that even if the performance has not been particularly good or inspiring, I still get things out of the concert that one doesn’t get from listening to a CD.

A Live Concert forces you to concentrate. The performance or balance or audience, even if sub-optimal, forces you to engage your mind and emotions. When a performance is particularly good, because you are catching it on the wing, there is something magical or awe inspiring about it. I have just come back from the St Endellion Easter Festival. Hearing the Endellion quartet live – despite being, I felt slightly below par – was a treat. Gerontius, with a mixture of amateurs and professionals, despite a couple of the soloists clearly fighting the flu, did not diminish the visceral thrill of hearing Elgar’s masterpiece in the flesh. Before going on holiday I went to a not-very-good piano recital in London. Although underwhelmed, it made me think more about the music being played, why I wasn’t impressed, and what would constitute in my view a very good performance.

I put “Live” in inverted commas for a purpose. I have discovered the Berlin Philharmonic’s app (downloadable for free from iTunes). It gives access to most of their recent concerts, as well as the ability to listen to future ones. The subscription is £7.49 for 7 days, or around £25 for a month. During the subscription you can listen to as much as you want. There is a free concert – Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven 4 and Mahler 1 – which is excellent. The quality of the performance (and sound) convinced me that this is a real winner. I listened via a reasonably fast wifi connection, in HD video, on an iPad, with a pair of good quality Bose headphones. The video production is excellent, picture quality is superb, and the sound is more than acceptable. I have signed up for a week, and so far have “attended” an Abbado concert of Berg and Schumann, and a Thielemann/Pollini concert of Schumann, Mozart and Liszt. Because the video is in front of you on the iPad you concentrate on the music. My conclusions so far: the orchestra are very good indeed; Rattle is in the form of his life; Abbado’s conducting look shambolic but there is magic in the way he rehearses because the results are spectacular (as he showed in London 18 months ago); Thielemann gets high marks for programming 3 Liszt Symphonic poems, but I don’t think he is all that inspiring, and Pollini has never shined in the Mozart concerti.

What the Berlin Phil are doing may be part of the future for orchestras, as they seek to find extra income and new audiences, in the way the opera houses are now making performances available in cinemas. Do try the free concert.