Anyone strolling around Faversham can’t help but notice that it’s a town revelling in music. Everywhere one looks there are posters proclaiming concerts of every sort – classical, rock or folk. ‘It’s a testament to Faversham. It’s still very much its own town,’ says Alasdair Nicolson, Chairman of the Faversham Music Club. The musical talent to be found in and around Faversham is astounding. Faversham Life has already written about Ben Saul and his weekly concerts, but if you consider the luminaries associated with the Music Club – well, I defy any other market town in England to muster such a distinguished lineup.
‘The club is flourishing and membership is growing,’ says Alasdair, a Hebridean who grew up on the Isle of Skye, is a composer, performer, conductor and Artistic Director of the annual St Magnus International Festival held in Orkney. Local composer David Knotts is also closely involved and Trevor Pinnock, one of the great pioneers of the modern revival of early music, is the President. The club’s programme of events, stretching as far ahead as July 2018, is extraordinarily impressive, particularly given that it’s run on an entirely voluntary basis.
Regular events are the First Sunday Series (of each month), hour-long concerts, held in the Assembly Rooms at 3pm, followed by tea and cakes, with a chance to meet the performers. Forthcoming events include an intriguing-sounding recorder concert on 3 December by the Barbara Law Ensemble – ‘not the sort everyone learnt at school but a variety of different recorders’ says Alasdair. Barbara Law is a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music and the Purcell School.
On 7 January, works by Beethoven, Debussy and Kreisler will be performed by violinist Amarins Wierdsa, recent winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society Anderson Prize and co-founder of the Barbican String Quartet, and Mihai Ritivoiu, winner of the Gold Medal of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe. There are also what Alasdair describes as ‘old-style concerts with an interval’ on intermittent Thursday evenings.
Last year, the Club acquired a superb brand new piano on loan from the Bluthner Foundation. Located in the Assembly Rooms, it is a real boost for the town, opening up a wide range of possibilities for music-making. An appeal for £40,000 to pay for the piano is ongoing. Any donations gratefully received – please contact Jackie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Club also runs both the Young Voices Choir, and the Faversham Voices Choir (email@example.com) which grew out of a concert, ‘Toads on our Tapestry’, a piece of music written by David Knotts and conducted by Alasdair as part of the Magna Carta Celebrations in June 2015. The choir ‘has people of every age, it is a real mix, some people who can read music, some who can’t, young and old,’ says Alasdair.
As if this isn’t enough, the Club also organises the annual four-day Primary Proms with six local primary schools each summer, introducing hundreds of children to music.
The delightful hamlet of Oare boasts the Oare String Orchestra, founded in 1982 by Don Goodsell and Peter Aviss. It is the only orchestra in Kent specialising in repertoire for string orchestra. The OSO perform three concerts annually in Faversham and has won six Performing Right Society awards for innovative programming.
For those of you itching to go to a concert this weekend, Musique Cordiale are staging three days of superb music in Faversham, Newnham and Doddington. The highlight is Handel’s Messiah, performed in the town’s splendid St Mary of Charity, conducted by Graham Ross, Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge with fine soloists.
On Friday there will be an open rehearsal at Newnham church of the best Messiah choruses and on Sunday in Doddington Church at 12 noon a performance of Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, ‘one of the greatest single chamber music pieces, written at the end of his life,’ says Pippa Pawlik of Musique Cordiale, who has organised the musical jamboree.
A resident of Newnham, Pippa, a former professional violinist, asked a few of her musical friends to perform Bach’s B Minor Mass in Seillans in France in 2005. It was a great success and in turn led to the establishment of Musique Cordiale, an annual 18-day music festival with over 20 concerts. It is now ‘well established’ and brings together 100 or so musicians from all over the world. ‘It is a fantastic immersive experience, with everyone playing music and eating together.’
All kinds of music is on offer from jazz to the odd rock band. The choir of the Musique Cordiale has 50 singers from more than ten countries, at different stages in their career. And there is a fine chamber orchestra composed of professional players and conservatoire students in their final years.
Like so many people’s life stories, Pippa’s lifelong passion for music started by chance. At school in Sheffield, a teacher asked: ‘Hands up anyone who wants to learn the recorder.’ Pippa went on to study the violin at the Royal College of Music. For ten years she lived in Switzerland where she learnt the viola, playing with the Berne Symphony Orchestra. On moving back to London, she had her own music PR company. ‘It was a glorious time, Decca were recording Pavarotti and Solti, and there was lots of money to spend on promotion.’
Given her background, it is not surprising that Pippa manages to run two festivals a year, one in France and one in Kent.
The concerts in Newnham and Doddington are free, including a glass of wine. Tickets for the Messiah are available on the door.
Roll up, roll up.
Text: Amicia. Photographs: Faversham Music Club and Musique Cordiale