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Early days are here again; Terry Grimley previews a feast of music and history in Warwick's Early Music Festival.

Some of Warwick's most precious historic buildings will provide the carefully-matched backdrop to a five-day feast of early music this Bank Holiday weekend.

The music ranges from the 12th century Hildegard of Bingen to Mozart and Haydn, and includes some of Britain's leading specialist performers including the Orlando Consort, Sinfonye, the Rose Consort of Viols and the King's Consort. Three late-night candl elit concerts will add to the atmosphere which is an integral part of the whole event.

The festival begins at lunchtime on Friday with Anthony Barton of the York Waits giving a lecture on the instruments in the windows of the Beauchamp Chapel in St Mary's Church.

That evening the York Waits, armed with a panoply of shawms, sackbuts, cornetts, crumhorns, hurdy-gurdies and bagpipes, join forces with the Orlando Consort, whose recording of Dunstaple's motets was a Gramophone Award winner, to illustrate the contrasti ng secular and religious sides of music contemporary with the early 15th century knight Richard Beauchamp.

After this a late-night concert (starting 10pm) features the Konevets Choral Quartet of St Petersburg in a recital ranging from the chants Beauchamp might have heard on his way to the Holy Lands in 1407 to sacred music from 19th century Russia.

"The idea behind the whole festival is to take the buildings of Warwick and, because of the tombs or stained glass or whatever, put in music appropriate to it," Richard Phillips, of Warwick Arts Society, said.

"We're using three different parts of St Mary's; the Lord Leycester Hospital - they have a wonderful garden there, and the Rose Consort is playing a concert of the kind of music King James might have heard when he dined there; the Friends Meeting House; the Unitarian Chapel, which was started in 1781, so we're putting what Mozart and Haydn wrote in 1781 into the building; we're also using the ballroom at the Courthouse, which dates from 1725-29, so we're putting in Mary Collins and her dance group to do what would have been contemporary dance there."

Although the festival is a one-of it reflects the strength of Warwick as a centre for early music these days. With the West Midlands Early Music Consortium enjoying the benefits of a National Lottery grant, it is also part of a developing tendency in the region as a whole.

"My boast at the moment is that, after York and London, Warwick is now the third biggest centre for early music in the country," Richard Phillips said. "This year we will have over 40 concerts of early music altogether and we seem to be getting audiences .

"In the winter we have been getting bigger audiences for medieval music, in particular, than we have for the Lindsay String Quartet. The strange thing is that medieval music attracts more people than baroque music, which is surprising when you thinkof p eople having thousands of CDs of the Four Seasons .

"One of the other very interesting things we find is that when we put on a choral workshop in connection with a concert it packs out. When we reached 100 for a workshop with Jeffrey Skidmore in Rugby recently we had to close it. People used to singing in local choral societies where they don't go back much further than Bach and Handel are thirsty for much earlier music."

Nothing better sums up the new interest in very early music than the rise and rise of Hildegard of Bingen, a hitherto obscure 12th century German abbess, to the status of late 20th century cultural icon. Teenagers now dance to her music mixed with adisc o beat.

Sinfonye, who perform some of her music with the Oxford Girls Choir and reader Ali Troughton on Monday evening, have embarked on an ambitious project to record her complete output. The early music theme will carry over strongly into this summer's Warwick and Leamington Festival, which will feature the Hanover Band playing classical repertoire, the Gabrieli Ensemble playing Gabrieli and La Serenissima playing Vivaldi.

"I suppose the West Midlands Early Music Consortium is quite a test case, because in many parts of the country there's opposition to early music being helped by the Lottery," Richard Phillips said.

"We are succeeding in stimulating quite a lot of interesting things - for example, Warwickshire's education department has appointed someone to stimulate early music.

"We do find that early music does appeal to young people more than the classical period. There's the fascination of the instruments, and you can easily tie it in with education; you can go into a school and say 'You've been studying the Tudors - this is the kind of music they listened to.'"
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Author:Grimley, Terry
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 29, 1998
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