Southwell Music Festival Launch. Southwell Minster. May 12 2023. William Ruff

Southwell, Notts

Southwell Festival 2023 Launch Event

May 12 2023

Review: William Ruff


This year’s late August programme is revealed

This year’s Southwell Music Festival (August 25 – 28) is still over three months away, but excitement was already in the air as an expectant audience gathered in the Minster on Friday night to await the unveiling of this year’s programme – and to have their appetites whetted by an hour-long concert featuring a young string quartet and a top jazz trumpeter

First the concert.  The young Asaka Quartet (Festival Apprentices and prize-winners from the Royal Academy of Music) didn’t only play beautifully but they embodied so many themes inherent in the Festival: top-level musicianship; the hope vested in young players for the future of classical music; a wide diversity of genres and styles – and a refreshing tendency in the Festival’s history to shine a spotlight into unknown or unusual corners of the repertoire.

Their opening piece certainly nailed their colours to the mast: Shine You No More by the Danish composer Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen pulsed with enough energy to light the Minster by itself.  Dance-like, rhythmically exciting, bursting with cascades of notes, it set the tone for the evening.  Their performance of Entracte by Pulitzer-prize winning composer Caroline Shaw did something very similar.  Described as a piece which transports us to the other side of Alice’s looking-glass, this seemed to push at the boundaries of the medium, with bows brushing notelessly against strings, strange haunting harmonics and abruptly unpredictable shifts in dynamics.  And their final piece was an ear-opening surprise too: the third movement of Bax’s String Quartet No 1 with its Irish folk tune that seems to burst from nowhere.

Jazz trumpeter Hugh Pascall and pianist Nick Manz created a very different sound-world with sultry, seemingly effortless versions of jazz standards such as You Know I Care and All the Things You Are. If you normally associate jazz trumpet with smoke-filled jazz clubs, you really need to hear the sounds Hugh Pascall coaxes from his instrument in the magnificent acoustics of the Minster.

Alongside the music came important news, delivered by the ever-enthusiastic Festival Director Marcus Farnsworth.  This year’s Festival is even more varied than ever.  Intimate lute songs and chamber music in the Chapter House will rub shoulders with sonic spectaculars in the Nave.  The biggest concert will take place on Sunday 27 August, with a highly apt celebration of Handel in his most ceremonial mood.  All four of his Coronation Anthems for George II will be performed alongside his youthful Dixit Dominus.  Unbelievably Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has never before been performed at the Festival – but this gap will be filled this year.  And Vivaldi’s Gloria is the piece chosen for the Come and Sing event on Bank Holiday Monday. There will also be a concert with the words of Maya Angelou at its centre, showcasing music which proclaims freedom from oppression.

Rising star pianist Jeneba Kanneh-Mason will be giving a solo recital (book early to avoid disappointment…)  and, as always, there will be much emphasis on young talent in general, not only on performances but also on mentoring and coaching.  There will be free events, pop-up performances, a Festival Fringe, cabaret, folk music…and so much more in this summer celebration of musical culture, its joy and all it inspires. 

To find out more, go to for full details of programmes, venues, artists and tickets.

Marcus Farnsworth (Festival Director)

Asaka Quartet: Iona McDonald (violin), Eriol Guo Yu (violin), Susie Xin He (viola), Jonathan Ho Man Fong (cello)

Hugh Pascall (trumpet) and Nick Manz (piano)

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