Let beauty awake: literary genius at the spring festival

20th January 2020

It’s just over ten weeks until the fifth New Paths Spring Festival (2nd – 5th April)!  Each year our fledgling festival includes great music inspired by poetry.  And so we open this newsletter with three of the poets featured in the forthcoming festival.

William Blake

The painter and poet William Blake created some of the most iconic images in British cultural history.  His vision was to help us:

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour”

Benjamin Britten set those very words in his thought-provoking song cycle Songs and Proverbs of William Blake which baritone Johnny Herford and pianist James Baillieu perform in the final concert of the festival, Closing Time. We cannot wait for Johnny’s return to the festival and we are thrilled to welcome James to New Paths for the first time.  James is one of the most highly regarded collaborative pianists in the world and so we are incredibly excited that he will be with us in Beverley this spring.  Here is one of the videos introducing his series at Wigmore Hall in the 2015/16 season:

Walt Whitman

In his early thirties, Vaughan Williams’ imagination was set alight by the transcendental poetry of Walt Whitman (little known in England at the time).  His first settings of Whitman are the rarely-heard but ravishing songs, Two Vocal Duets, for baritone, soprano, violin and piano which we also hear in Closing Time (performed by Johnny, acclaimed soprano Ailish Tynan, who is making her debut in Beverley, Maria Wloszczowska and Libby).

From the beautiful words of the first song, The Last Invocation, about the final moments in life, we can appreciate Vaughan Williams’ attraction to Whitman’s poetry:

At the last, tenderly,
From the walls of the powerful fortress’d house,
From the clasp of the knitted locks, from the keep of the well-closed doors,
Let me be wafted.

Let me glide noiselessly forth;
With the key of softness unlock the locks–with a whisper,
Set ope the doors O soul.

Tenderly–be not impatient,
(Strong is your hold O mortal flesh,
Strong is your hold O love.)

We are hugely grateful to the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust for supporting this performance.  Johnny recorded the songs a few years ago (alongside former New Paths artist, Mary Bevan) and an extract of The Last Invocation can be heard at the opening of this clip:

Robert Burns

This Saturday (25th January) is Burns Night and poems by this most famous of Scotsmen (including The Highlander’s Farewell and Highland Lullaby) have a special place in one of our rush-hour concerts, Love Story, a performance of Robert Schumann’s song cycle Myrthen which he wrote as a wedding present for his bride, Clara.  For this special performance, Libby is joined by mezzo-soprano Angharad Lyddon, who represented Wales in the 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and baritone Gareth Brynmor John, winner of the 2013 Kathleen Ferrier Award.  The cycle contains some of Schumann’s most beloved songs, from Widmung to Die Lotusblume, and is a landmark in our journey through the music of this our cornerstone composer.

If your “heart’s in the Highlands” then the festival will surely delight you with its Celtic theme (which has inspired our design this year).  Don’t miss Celtic Rush Hour, one of the free performances during the festival, or our big Saturday night party, Celtix Mix-Tape and Ceilidh featuring the outstanding Triple Scotch Ceilidh Band.

Hark! Hark! Hark!*

Every year New Paths commissions a composer to write a new piece.  We’re proud to have given seven premieres since we began in 2016.  Here we spotlight three different historic figures who played a vital part in bringing works on this year’s programme into being.

Walter Cobbett
Businessman and amateur musician, Cobbett, commissioned numerous works of chamber music from emerging and leading British composers of his day including the Phantasy Quintet from Vaughan Williams which we hear in Quintetto, a Friday lunchtime concert of chamber music greats in Beverley Art Gallery, showcasing five of our exceptional string players.  This handsome Edwardian building was built just two years before Vaughan Williams wrote the quintet.  It is a beautiful and apt venue in which to hear this rich music.  But it is an intimate space, so book your tickets or passes now to avoid disappointment.  Our day passes and festival pass offer incredible value for money and guarantee you a place at concerts, so book yours today and make a whole day or weekend of it in Beverley.

The Phantasy Quintet is the second of the two works by Vaughan Williams in the festival which we present thanks to the grant from the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust.

Elizabeth Coolidge

Born in 1864, Coolidge was a major patron of chamber music.  The works she commissioned represent an incredible legacy.  They include, among others, Appalachian Spring by Copland, Britten’s String Quartet No. 1, Bartok’s String Quartet No. 5, and the Flute Sonata by Poulenc.  We hear the latter, much-loved piece on the opening night of the festival in The Monk & The Rascal – a concert profiling Poulenc’s world.  The programme also includes his great setting of surrealist poetry, Tel jour telle nuit, for which we’re delighted to welcome back to the festival soprano Aoife Miskelly who performs the work with James Baillieu.

Sergei Diagalev

Ballet impresario Sergei Diagalev commissioned Igor Stravinsky to write a number of scores for his Ballets Russes including The Rite of Spring.  Libby and James perform the piano duet version of this epoch-making, firecracker of a work in The Rite, one of our rush-hour performances.  An event not to be missed.  Here is a clip of Libby and James performing the piece together for the first time at the Southwell Music Festival in 2015:

The event in Beverley is preceded by Music of Modernity, a free talk about the work and its riotous first performance from Gillian Moore CBE, Director of Music at the Southbank Centre and author of the acclaimed 2019 release The Rite of Spring: Music of Modernity.  The other distinguished speakers at the festival are Katy Hamilton, Tudor historian John Cooper, and novelist Patrick Gale, who appears in conversation with Petroc Trelawny.  The daily talks offer a fascinating way into the music on the programme.

Pop-up bookshop

Books by these speakers will be on sale at our festival hub along with CDs, coffee, ice cream and more!  The library of books and authors at the festival will also include Crossings by Nicholas Murray, which is the inspiration for Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s clarinet quintet, Tales of the Invisible, performed in Celtic Rush Hour.

In the mean time, get hold of Patrick Gale’s beautiful novel, Notes from an Exhibition, read it in the run-up to the festival, and take part in the bookclub discussion about this moving story at the festival with the author and Petroc.

Peace be the journey

Be wafted to Beverley this April for four days of exceptional music-making. We leave you with a final poem, by Robert Louis Stevenson (set to music by Vaughan Williams in his Songs of Travel which Johnny Herford performed for us so memorably in the 2017 festival):

Let Beauty awake in the morn from beautiful dreams,
Beauty awake from rest!
Let Beauty awake
For Beauty’s sake
In the hour when the birds awake in the brake
And the stars are bright in the west!

Let Beauty awake in the eve from the slumber of day,
Awake in the crimson eve!
In the day’s dusk end
When the shades ascend,
Let her wake to the kiss of a tender friend,
To render again and receive!

We look forward to seeing you in the spring.  A warm welcome awaits you.


*Some trivia: at around this time 110 years ago, Vaughan Williams collected the folksong Hark! Hark! Hark! in his scrapbook from a Mrs Taylor who came from Somerset, near Bridgewater.

From the Ralph Vaughan Williams Manuscript Collection at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library.

We are delighted to be sketching a crucial period of Vaughan Williams’ development at the festival with performances of the Two Vocal Duets and the Phantasy Quintet.  And we can’t wait to welcome festivalgoers from Somerset, Cornwall, Scotland, Lincolnshire and all corners of the British Isles to Beverley to enjoy over 70 pieces hand-picked from our own ‘scrapbook’ of life-affirming music.

Our thanks to the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust for its support.