Autumn in Malvern by Christopher Morley

Now in its 29th year, the Autumn in Malvern festival is marking the centenary of events in 1918 in various ways.
It was, of course, the year the First World War ended, and a sequence of music, poetry and prose in the Great Hall of Malvern College, entitled The Silence in our Hearts, brings a special commemoration on October 21 (3pm).
This concert in the Great Hall of Malvern College features Aldwyn Voices, long-time favourites in the Festival, singing motets by Tallis, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Edgar Day (one-time assistant organist to Elgar's much-loved colleague, Ivor Atkins, at Worcester Cathedral), conducted by Adrian Lucas.
Also featured in the programme is the Elgar Violin Sonata, written in 1918, and performed here by violinist Miriam Kramer and pianist Nicholas Duncan. Peter Sutton is the narrator.
Another of Elgar's great chamber works, written at Brinkwells in the remote Sussex countryside near Fittleworth in 1918 is the String Quartet, which we will hear in Great Malvern Priory on Sunday October 14 (3.30pm). A quartet comprising London Symphony Orchestra leader Roman Simovic, his wife Milena, and friends also performs other works composed in that crucial year, the Three Pieces for String Quartet by Igor Stravinsky, and the String Quartet by Debussy, composed virtually on his deathbed. The programme begins with Prokofiev's rarely-heard Sonata for Two Violins, given by the Simovic duo.
It's just a pity that Autumn in Malvern couldn't squeeze in the Elgar Piano Quintet, which would have completed the Brinkwells trilogy. But there are plenty of other Elgar-connected events to make up for that.
Kevin Allen, one of the most squirrelling of Elgar historians, who has brought us studies as diverse as "Elgar the Cyclist" and "Elgar in Love" (the latter a valuable description of the composer's late-life infatuation with Vera Hockman), talks on Hugh Blair, the colourful Worcester Cathedral organist to whom Elgar dedicated his Organ Sonata. The Beauchamp Community at Newland, Malvern Link, is the venue (September 29, 3pm).
And on October 20 Adrian Lucas, himself a past Organist and Master of the Choristers of Worcester Cathedral, reflects on the long friendship between Elgar and Ivor Atkins, who succeeded Hugh Blair in 1897 and, true to the tradition of longevity among organists, held the post until 1950. Lucas' personal perspective on the musical relationship between these two huge personalities will given at the Elgar Birthplace Museum, situated at The Firs, Lower Broadheath (2.30pm).
A concert from the Royal Northern College of Music Ensemble in Malvern College on October 20 (7.30pm) brings works by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich (the delicious Two Pieces for String Octet) and Donald Grant, contributing traditional and contemporary arrangements of Scottish music.
Returning to the theme of the 1918 centenary commemoration, Autumn in Malvern celebrates the birth in that year of the great American musical polymath -- composer, conductor, pianist, teacher and lecturer -- Leonard Bernstein.
The Festival will end with  "Leonard Bernstein at the BBC", a screening of the renowned documentary film made for the renowned, irreplaceable Monitor arts series screened on a weekly basis in the days when the arts were considered a subject valuable enough to receive regular and respected televisual coverage.
I remember the film well. It included Bernstein, pre-rehearsal, lecturing the BBC Symphony Orchestra about Elgar and the story of the Enigma behind the Variations. This would have been fine for a Stateside orchestra unused to the music (but we must remember Gustav Mahler conducted this masterpiece with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra during his brief tenure as music director there). To harangue hardboiled British players about ground they knew so well was to be treading on dangerous ground, and one can see the impatience in the body-language of the musicians as Bernstein droned on and on.
However, this may be interpreted as a shrewd move, calculated to put the players on their mettle ("we'll show this Yank a thing or two"),  and certainly the performance made us sit up and take notice. "Nimrod" is amazingly drawn-out, as is the concluding cadence of the finale. It will be fascinating to encounter this afresh on October 28 at the Coach House Theatre, next to the Malvern Festival Theatres (3pm).
The Autumn in Malvern Festival, with exhibitions and talks in addition to the concerts mentioned, runs from September 22 to October 28. Details on www.malvernfestival.co.ukpetersmith@malvernmusic.co.uk; 01684 892277.

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