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.