Claire Vic

Presteigne Festival | Preview

As the Presteigne Festival prepares to celebrate its 40th year this weekend, we take a look ahead at what’s to come from this renowned music festival.

There’s a clear focus on composition in this year’s Presteigne Festival, which opens this weekend. This year’s line up features the music of one of the most prophetic voices of the 20th century – Czech composer Leoš Janáček. In the translation by Nobel prize-winner Seamus Heaney, Janáček’s darkly atmospheric The Diary of One Who Disappeared takes centre stage on opening night.

The first Presteigne Festival was held from 18 to 25 September 1983, after composer Adrian Williams moved to Presteigne and, with local musicians Gareth and Lynden Rees-Roberts, decided to (in Adrian’s words) “do something” to further first-class musical performance on the Welsh border. Interest in music in the area was already evident in the Knighton and District Concert Society (since 1962), Wyeside Arts Centre at Builth Wells (opened in 1978) and, in Herefordshire, Madley Festival (1965) and Border Marches Early Music Forum (1982).

Nowadays the Festival has a much more concentrated programme, but has lost of none of the energy and passion of that original commitment to present high-level musical performances. The Festival’s Artistic Director, George Vass, has spoken of his excitement at welcoming Roxanna Panufnik as composer-in-residence, recently described by The Observer as “a gifted composer with a fast-growing reputation for heart, spunk and individuality … distinctive in voice, serious, bold and appealing”, a wide range of her music has been programmed for the line-up, including a new song cycle to texts by Jessica Duchen, entitled Gallery of Memories.

Roxanna Panufnik
Roxanna Panufnik

The Presteigne Festival’s tradition of commissioning and premiering new music continues with new works from Michael Berkeley, Charlotte Bray, Edward Gregson, Thomas Hyde, Sarah Frances Jenkins, Claire Victoria Roberts, Adrian Williams, James B Wilson and Electra Perivolaris receiving premieres.

Extant music from other living composers, including Jonathan Dove, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Huw Watkins and Judith Weir (Master of the King’s Music) is programmed alongside masterpieces by Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Britten, Debussy, Fauré, Holst, Poulenc, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky.

The packed artist roster also includes the Solem Quartet, Ivana Gavrić (piano), Rachel Roberts (viola), Mathilde Milwidsky (violin), Robert Plane (clarinet), Mark Wilde (tenor), Julien Van Mellaerts (baritone), Zoe Drummond (soprano), Alexei Watkins (horn), Chris Hopkins and Timothy End (piano), the Choir of King’s College, London under Joseph Fort and the Festival Orchestra and Chamber Ensemble conducted by artistic director, George Vass.

Claire Victoria Roberts
Claire Victoria Roberts

Also included is poetry from Rhiannon Hooson, Christopher Reid on Seamus Heaney, Sioned Davies on The Mabinogion, Gavin Plumley, Stephen Johnson on Janáček, Barrie Gavin’s film celebrating David Matthews’ 80th birthday, three recent Wales-produced films (The Toll, Dream Horse and Donna), together with exhibitions and the popular Presteigne ‘Open Studios’ weekend, which celebrates the work of outstanding local artists and makers.


More information on this year’s Festival programme, as well as details of how to secure tickets for individual events, is available via the Festival website.