Review: Glossop Music Festival’s concerts exceed expectations

Children's string orchestra at the family concert at Glossop Music Festival
Children's string orchestra at the family concert at Glossop Music Festival

Glossop people know their town provides music of exceptional standard, but the third Glossop Music Festival surpassed expectation.

Several musical events preceded the opening concert on Friday evening. These included a series of schools’ and family concerts involving some 1,100 local primary school pupils, with 60 young violinists joining the strings of the Glossop Festival Orchestra in Telemann’s The Frogs; and a Thursday evening performance at The Oakwood, near the town centre, which packed the pub to overflowing with avid listeners, some hearing classical music for the first time. E

Education and accessibility are among the objectives of the festival. Glossop Concert Society, the charity through which the festival takes place, aims to take the best of western classical music into the community - especially to young people.

Following an erudite and entertaining 30-minute pre-concert talk by Julian Baker, formerly principal horn with the Hallé and the Royal Opera House and Professor at the Royal College of Music, the opening concert epitomised the festival’s other commitments: quality and professionalism. All members of the Glossop Festival Orchestra, a small ensemble led by Matthew Truscott and conducted by Christopher George, are experienced professional musicians, and many have known each other since their college days. Their rendering of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, combining precision with exuberance, revealed their mutual friendship and respect as well as skill. Several in the audience deemed the performance of Mendelssohn’s Fourth (Italian) Symphony, which ended the concert, the best they’d ever heard; music that can seem facile and slight became subtle and powerful, every line of its intricate texture distinct.

Between the overture and the symphony came an enthralling performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. The soloist was Viv McLean, an internationally renowned pianist who has been a wonderful supporter of Glossop’s festival. Blending power and grace, Viv and the orchestra explored all the concerto’s huge emotional range, and reminded us how radical it must have seemed to its first audience.

Viv returned at 10pm for a recital of Bach’s keyboard music, delighting even those who were sceptical about Bach’s work played on the piano. The richly-deserved encore was a beautiful Chopin nocturne.

In the closing Concert on Saturday, the strings of the orchestra played Barber’s famous Adagio, the Elgar and Dvorak Serenades for Strings, and a highly original interpretation of Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto. Once again the players emanated friendship, warmth and skill. The rapturous applause at the end was redoubled by an encore: the multi-talented Matthew Sharp, cellist and singer, joined the distinguished soprano Claire Surman in the Papageno-Papagena duet from Mozart’s Magic Flute: a surprise for all, brilliant and hilarious.

What made an ambitious music festival in a small town such a success? Apart from the orchestra’s world-class musicianship, the festival had secured vital sponsorship and the donors’ generosity made it possible.

In addition, the parish church provided welcoming intimacy for the performances.

And the venture couldn’t have succeeded without the dedication, commitment and hard work of the

organisers, particularly the artistic drector and assistant director, Tom Elliott and Claire Surman.

Tom played in the orchestra; Claire served at the bar and then metamorphosed into Papagena; but few in the audiences can have guessed how many hours of concentrated effort they and others had put into the weeks and months of planning for the festival.

Many in the town (and elsewhere) are now looking forward to the further musical events planned for the coming year, which will include a concert on December 12 – and, of course, to the 2016 festival.