Music for a summer's evening…

Gower Festival, July 1st-15th 2017

The Story Of The Gower Festival

The Gower Festival has its roots in the long, hot summer of 1976 when Jonathan Beecher, an Oxford cellist, brought a student orchestra and a handful of professional soloists to perform an astonishing series of thirty-one concerts in Gower churches during the last two weeks of August. Innovative and exciting as that enterprise undoubtedly was, the very heavy burden of giving hospitality to some twenty-five players which it imposed upon the people of Reynoldston, where the musicians were based, made this format impossible to continue. The idea of holding a music festival in Gower churches, however, was such a good one that it led to the setting up of the Gower Festival Society, with Mrs. Libby Clough as its Chairman and (from 1979) Wynford Vaughan Thomas as President. Assured of financial support from what was then the West Wales Association for the Arts, a more appropriate programme was adopted in which professional ensembles, supplemented in the early years by local choirs and the Penclawdd Brass Band, put on performances during the last two weeks of July which from 1977 until 2013 became the Festival’s regular slot in the calendar. Since 2014 it has moved to the first two weeks of July.

The Festival is unique in so many ways. Taking place as the tourist season gathers pace, it is designed to appeal to visitors and locals alike. It draws the townspeople of Swansea out of the city to enjoy listening to music in the age-old churches of the Gower countryside. And it is made all the more distinctive by the fact that it is peripatetic. While most rural festivals are based in one, or possibly two venues, Gower’s music has the virtue of moving night after night from one lovely church to another, taking advantage of their charming simplicity and excellent acoustics while offering audiences the opportunity to look at buildings which they might otherwise rarely, if ever, visit. They range from the largest church in which our concerts are held ‒ All Saints, Oystermouth, in which the perils of the sea are graphically recalled in Tim Lewis’s classic window commemorating the tragic loss of eight members of the crew of the Mumbles life-boat in the unsuccessful attempt to rescue the crew of the Santampa in April 1947 ‒ to the medieval church of St Mary's in Rhossili, where you can spend the concert interval chatting to friends over a glass of wine while the sun sets in multi-coloured splendour over Carmarthen Bay. Nearby, in the miniscule church at Llanddewi, performances are given in what must surely be the only church in Britain which can only be reached by going through a farmyard!
From the outset it was intended that the Festival should establish and maintain the highest standards of musical performance. And it is to John Fussell MBE, Swansea's Director of Music and City Organist, who joined the organizing committee soon after it was set up and served as its vice-chairman and later Festival Director until his untimely death in 1990, that we are chiefly indebted for the impressive quality that has characterized the Festival ever since. Since 1990 John Fussell’s work has been ably continued by his successors in the post of City Music Officer, Sophie Black and Griff Harries; and by Gareth Walters, composer, teacher and BBC music producer, who joined the committee in 1997 and became Artistic Director of the Festival in 2005. Following Gareth’s sudden and lamented death in 2012, the Society appointed as his successor the Neath-born pianist (and director of the Menuhin International Violin Competition), Gordon Back, who has shaped the Festival’s development down to the present.

From its early years the Gower Festival has been concerned to foster Welsh music. With funds from the Arts Council of Wales it was able to commission new works from Daniel Jones, who during the 1980s became almost its ‘composer in residence’ as well as its second president. His Oboe Concerto was premiered by David Theodore and the Swansea Sound Sinfonia in 1982, as were two of his string quartets (1978, 1993) by the Delmé Quartet, among Gower’s most regular and well-loved visitors. A few years later, in 1998, the Delmé were joined by the soprano Carolyn Foulkes in a sensitive performance of Gareth Walters’ fine song cycle Cân y Galon (Song of the Heart), and in 2014 Gareth’s Elegy, a Poem for String Orchestra was performed in his memory by young players of the Yehudi Menuhin School. The same year saw a musical tribute to Gower’s most celebrated living composer, Karl Jenkins, held in Tabernacle Chapel, Penclawdd, where as a youngster Karl had spent his formative years. Perhaps the most ambitious concert that the Festival has ever mounted, it included movements from some of his most enduring pieces ‒ Requiem, Stabat Mater, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, and the Concertos for Harp and for Euphonium ‒ these last two works performed by the soloists for whom they were written. Welsh music has featured too in the programmes devised for the Swansea Bach Choir by its founding director (and current President of the Festival) John Hugh Thomas, and will do so again in 2016 when the choir, now led by Greg Hallam, marks its fiftieth anniversary with a newly commissioned work by Gareth Treseder.

As some of the names mentioned above suggest, the Gower Festival has provided a platform for Wales’s performers as well as for its composers. While still a post-graduate student, the young Bryn Terfel gave a memorable song recital at Oystermouth in 1981, and distinguished soloists such as the oboist John Anderson and the flautist Emily Beynon have returned more than once to play for their ‘home crowd’. More recently, the pianist Llŷr Williams has appeared in Gower both in solo recitals and as accompanist – notably with the baritone Njabulo Madlala and later with the cellist Thomas Carroll. Everyone was delighted when in 2009 Llŷr agreed to become Patron of the Festival.
The Festival has of course attracted performers from other parts of the UK too. It has welcomed rising young singers like Anna Stéphany and Elizabeth Watts as well as some of the many accomplished instrumental ensembles now active in Britain. In 1999 and 2000 audiences heard magical performances by the Leopold Trio and the Belcea Quartet. And over the last decade and half there have been equally fine concerts by the Allegri, Navarra and Sacconi quartets. The last two groups joined forces in 2010 to give inspired performances of sextets by Brahms and Richard Strauss and of Mendelssohn’s rarely-heard Octet. Romantic chamber music of this sort benefits from a large space, in this case the fine acoustic of St Peter’s, Newton. On the other hand, smaller Gower churches are well-suited to the more intimate sound world of ‘early music’ of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hence the success of the Rose Consort’s performance at Rhossili in 2008, and of a programme of Elizabethan songs and lute music given in 2015 at St David’s Llanddewi by Emma Kirkby and Jakob Lindberg. The summer evening light of this most peaceful of churches provided just the right atmosphere for their musical theme, ‘the Golden Age revived’.

While enjoying the artistry of singers and players from across Britain, the Gower Festival has also increasingly played host to musicians from continental Europe and beyond. From the Czech Republic have come the Škampa Quartet, to play Dvořák in the centenary year of the composer’s death; from Italy, the Quartetto di Cremona, to perform Verdi’s rarely heard string quartet; and from Germany, the Henschel Quartet, to introduce us to the jazz-inspired music of Erwin Schulhoff alongside more familiar repertoire. Some of these players have become regular visitors, like the Kunsbacka Trio from Sweden and the American Klemperer Trio. The pianists Boris Giltburg and Ji Liu, from Israel and China respectively, and the Mexican guitarist Morgan Szymanski have all returned to Gower following their first appearance here, and so too has the outstanding Russian violinist, Alina Ibragimova. Alina first performed in Oystermouth Church as a fourteen-year-old with fellow-pupils of the Menuhin School and she has made welcome return visits to Gower twice since then, most recently with her duo partner, the French pianist Cédric Tiberghien.

This list could easily be extended. Moreover some of our visitors ‒ London Brass, for example, and an ensemble from Chetham’s Music School ‒ have generously stayed on after their concerts in order to hold morning workshops for young musicians of the locality. In the Festival’s early days, concerts for children were also successfully promoted in local schools ‒ an initiative that would merit reviving. And although classical chamber music and song have always formed the backbone of the Festival’s programmes, it is worth noting that for many years there were evenings of folk music too, held in the congenial surroundings of the Greyhound Inn in Oldwalls, just as more recently there have been evenings of jazz and swing, among them a memorable one at Llanrhidian with the pianist and horn-player Gwilym Simcock and his Acoustic Triangle and a sell-out concert at Reynoldston devoted to the music of Glenn Miller.

Music’s sister arts have not been neglected either. Poetry and film have often featured in Festival programmes. Occasional exhibitions have been mounted to show the work of some of the artists and craftsmen of Gower. There have been Festival rambles and ocean watches; and in 2012 a popular guided tour by coach was arranged around some of the less familiar churches of the peninsula. Throughout its history, moreover, the Festival has included an annual lecture – a distinguished series running from the Marquess of Anglesey in 1982 to the journalist and broadcaster Trevor Fishlock and the architectural historian Matthew Williams in the last few years.

In July 1978 John Fussell wrote to the Times music critic Kenneth Loveland to thank him for coming to Gower and for reviewing the Festival with such ‘enthusiasm and goodwill for its future’. ‘I must say,’ John went on, ‘we do have something really worthwhile here. It is incredibly hard work, it’s all on very small scale, but it is immensely enjoyable and creative.’ Some thirty-eight years later it is clear that Loveland’s goodwill and Fussell’s hard work were not misplaced. Like other modest-sized ventures, the Gower Festival cannot survive on the proceeds of ticket sales alone. Over the years it has been supported by grants from the Arts Council of Wales (down to 2008), the Alphege Trust, the Countess of Munster Musical Trust and the Vera Smart Trust, as well as by local firms and members of the Gower Festival Society who sponsor particular events. Equally, the Festival’s growth and well-being have always depended on an organizing committee whose members give their time and effort voluntarily. In the early days stalwarts of the committee even shouldered the task of moving the grand piano from one church to the next, heaving it into a horse-box provided by the redoubtable Stan Hiley! Today that job is in the hands of a firm of professional piano removers. But the energy and initiative of committee members remain indispensable as they tackle everything from planning to parking.

As it celebrates its fortieth anniversary in 2016, the Gower Festival is in good shape and good heart. Now in his fourth year as Artistic Director, Gordon Back has already made his mark on its character – not just by the example of his own fine musicianship but by broadening the range of music performed, by reaching out to wider and where possible younger audiences, and by his infectious enthusiasm for the communities and traditions of Gower. Everyone who cares about the future of the Festival will want to wish him lasting success. May he and his helpers on the committee continue to find their task as enjoyable and creative as John Fussell and his colleagues did all those years ago.

Maurice Broady
Hugh Dunthorne

Archive

GOWER FESTIVAL PROGRAMME 2005
Monday 18 July

Tuesday 19 July

Wednesday 20 July

Thursday 21 July

Friday 22 July

Saturday 23 July

Monday 25 July

Tuesday 26 July

Wednesday 27 July

Thursday 28 July

Friday 29 July

Saturday 30 July
Penclawdd

Oxwich

Llanrhidian

Penclawdd School

Newton

Reynoldston Hall

Reynoldston

Pennard Hall

Gowerton

Rhossili

Llanrhidian

Llangennith Hall
Vanburgh Quartet

Laurette Pope

Palladian Ensemble

Buddug James

London Concertante

Rebecca Carrington

Matthew Jones

Festival Lecture-Lyndon Jenkins

Wendy Dawn Thompson

Oboeworks

Brodsky Quartet

Zum

GOWER FESTIVAL PROGRAMME 2006
Saturday 15 July


Sunday 16 July

Monday 17 July

Tuesday 18 July


Wednesday 19 July

Thursday 20 July


Friday 21 July

Saturday 22 July

Sunday 23  July


Monday 24 July
 
Tuesday 25 July

Wednesday 26 July


Thursday  27 July

Friday 28 July


Saturday 29 July
Oystermouth


Oystermouth

Killay

Gowerton


Reynoldston  Hall

Ilston


Llanrhidian

Penclawdd

Old Walls


Llangennith

Oxwich

Reynoldston


Llanrhidian

Newton


Reynoldston Hall
Yehudi Menuhin School
Orchestra

The Swansea Bach Choir

Galliard Ensemble

Ruth Palmer (violin) &
Katya Apekisheva (piano)

Malcolm and Ruth Ridge

Elizabeth Watts (soprano) &
Paul Plumer (piano)

Vertavo String Quartet

Martyna Jatkauskaite (piano)

Nancy Kerr & James Fagan
Folk Evening

Fidelio Piano Quartet

Peter & Zoltan Katona (guitars)

Gemma Rosefield (cello) &
Michael Dussek (piano)

Szymanoswki Quartet

Adam Walker (flute) &
Sally Pryce (harp)

Zum

GOWER FESTIVAL PROGRAMME 2009
Saturday 18 July

Sunday 19 July

Monday 20 July

Tuesday 21 July

Wednesday 22 July

Thursday 23 July

Friday 24 July

Saturday 25 July

Monday 27  July

Tuesday 28 July

Wednesday 29 July

Thursday  30 July

Friday 31 July
Llangennith

Oystermouth

Llanrhidian

Gowerton

Ilston

Pennard  Hall

Burry Green

Reynoldston Hall

Bishopston

Newton

Reynoldston

Penclawdd

Llangenith
Gottlieb Wallisch

The Swansea Bach Choir

Henschel String Quartet

Kungsbacka Trio

Elizabeth Watts (soprano)

Festival Lecture - Trevor Fishlock

Josef Lindberg (lute)

David Rees - Williams Trio

The Galliard Ensemble

Badke String Quartet

Bart LaFolette (cello)

Respectable Groove

Llyr Williams (piano)

GOWER FESTIVAL PROGRAMME 2010
Saturday 17 July

Sunday 18 July

Monday 19 July

Tuesday 20 July


Wednesday 21 July

Thursday 22 July


Friday 23 July

Saturday 24 July

Monday 26 July

Tuesday 27 July


Wednesday 28 July

Thursday  29 July

Friday 30 July

Saturday 31 July
Llanrhidian

Oystermouth

Gowerton

Ilston


Pennard

Newton


Llangennith

Gowerton

Newton

Reynoldston


Cheriton

Killay

Llanrhidian

Oystermouth
The Royal Quartet

The Swansea Bach Choir

Boris Giltburg

Sara Trickey (violin) &
Tom Poster (piano)

Morgan Szymanski (guitar)

Navarra Quartet &
Sacconi Quartet

Sitkovitsky Piano Trio

The Gonzaga Band

Sally Pryce Ensemble

Laura Mitchell (soprano) &
Charlotte Forrest (piano)

Festival Lecture - Tim Hughes

Evalina Puzaite

Quartetto di Cremona

Carlo Curley (organ)

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