Supporting Sherborne Literary Festival

Supporting Sherborne Literary Festival

We are proud once again to support Sherborne’s annual Literary Festival which this year runs from 11-15 October 2017. Look out for our advertisement in the programme.

See the Festival Programme here and plan your visit



A kind ‘bravo’ from Dorset Opera Festival

A kind ‘bravo’ from Dorset Opera Festival

We’re very grateful to for the kind comments from Roderick Kennedy of Dorset Opera

“Last night’s concert was absolutely brilliant – possibly the best evening I’ve ever spent in Sherborne Abbey. I thought Ms Benedetti was utterly beguiling and played superbly. The tone she was able to get from that lump of wood was incredible – especially the above the stave stuff, which was always absolutely spot on and in tune!

As for the band, I’m a great fan of Ruth Rogers, therefore altogether a highly professional, high calibre concert of which you can be truly proud. I enjoyed my other two evenings, but last night was spectacular in every way. Bravo!”

Roderick Kennedy

Artistic Director, The Dorset Opera Festival

A huge success! See the 2017 Festival highlights

A huge success! See the 2017 Festival highlights


Award-winning Sherborne Abbey Festival has celebrated record audiences, as more than 7000 people enjoyed a five day musical feast. Churches and school venues welcomed visitors from near and far during the Festival’s eighteenth season, with 25 concerts over five days.

Highlights included Sherborne Abbey Primary School’s musical workshop with the acclaimed choral ensemble, the Tenebrae Choir, who would later that evening perform ‘A Hymn of Heavenly Beauty’. Meanwhile, the clarinet came to town as Emma Johnson packed Sherborne Abbey for a toe-tapping performance on the evolution of jazz. Gabrielle Ducomble and the Gypsy Carnivals brought a Parisian mood to the Festival while Sherborne Boys’ Swing Band played and crooned to a delighted crowd. The Dream of Gerontius, starring Tenor Toby Spence, on Monday night raised the vaulted roof of Sherborne Abbey, while the finale on Tuesday saw celebrated violinist Nicola Benedetti captivate a capacity audience of 850 during a breathtaking Beethoven programme.

John Baker, Festival Chairman and Artistic Director, said “This year’s Festival has exceeded all expectations. We are thrilled that seventy percent of all performances are free entry, making us the most accessible festival of its kind. Its unique mix of talented local musicians, enthusiastic music students, and internationally renowned professional performers truly puts Sherborne centre stage each year”.

During the course of the Festival, Press Officer Liz Burt and Photographer Stuart Glasby documented concert rehearsals, excitement behind the scenes and live performances as they happened – including video clips which were used very successfully on social media.

Enjoy this collection of formal and informal images which we believe gives a real flavour of the 2017 Festival.  The gallery includes some stunning images of Sherborne Abbey and performers – please feel free to share [using the media credit Sherborne Abbey Festival/Liz Burt/Stuart Glasby].

If you need a reminder of who performed and when, see the 2017 Programme



FTR Review | Dream of Gerontius

FTR Review | Dream of Gerontius


Thank you to The FTR for its review of a recent Festival production…

ELGAR’S masterpiece The Dream of Gerontius was the choice for one of the major concerts in this year’s Sherborne Abbey Festival.  Cardinal Newman’s original poem, published in 1865, is a vision of what happens to a man’s soul after death.  Some thirty five years later, Elgar set a shortened version of the poem as an oratorio for the Birmingham Festival, and in so doing produced one of the crowning glories of English choral music.

“This”, as he famously wrote on the last page of the manuscript, “is the best of me.”   Last night’s outstanding concert, under the expert baton of Paul Ellis, director of music at Sherborne Abbey, featured the Sherborne Festival Chorus, the Chameleon Arts Orchestra and the solo voices of Frances Bourne (mezzo), Toby Spence (tenor) and Paul Savidge (baritone).

The effect of the oratorio depends, to a very large extent on the tenor soloist, and in Toby Spence we had sheer gold.  No stranger to the role, he gave us an assured and passionate performance, almost operatic times but intensely personal too.  There was real sense of torment in “Rouse thee, my fainting soul” which lead most effectively into the anguish of “Sanctus fortis”.   His was a performance that covered the whole gamut of emotions, beautifully nuanced, heart-wrenching at times but never out of control.

There was a great tenderness in mezzo Frances Bourne’s singing too.   I liked the warm authority in her voice in such phrases as “You cannot now cherish a wish which not ought to be wished” for example, part of the long duet near the start part of Part II.   Unfortunately however, some of the music seemed just a little too low for her vocal range.  Whilst many of those passages in her upper register were impressive – she reached that glorious top A in her final “Alleluia!” quite effortlessly – from where we were sitting at least, several of the deeper sections were lost.

Without any doubt, one of the most thrilling moments in Gerontius is “Proficiscere anima Christiana” – that point in the music when we first hear the bass soloist (or in this performance the baritone).  Peter Savidge, positioned, I gather, in the pulpit (I couldn’t see him myself) was electrifying.  Known for his elegant and well-focused style of singing, his richly commanding delivery of both these words and of “Go forth upon thy journey” and then, in Part II, his roundness of tone when, as the Angel of the Agony, he sings of “that glorious home” was spine-tingling.

Formed in 2006, the Sherborne Festival Chorus gives local people the opportunity to sing with professional musicians at the Festival. From the delicate, ethereal sounds of “Holy Mary, pray for him” through the solemn intensity of “Be merciful be gracious” to the excitement of the “nethermost fire” their performance was wonderfully controlled.  The gentle chanting of “Noe from the waters in a saving home” and the answering “Amen” was particularly moving as was the inspiring build-up to “Praise to the Holiest in the height”.  Definitely the stuff of goose pimples. Although one could perhaps have wished for just a little bit more welly in some of the more dramatic passages, the quality and precision of the festival chorus was never in doubt.

As with the music of Wagner, the orchestral writing in Gerontius is of immense importance – carrying, as it does, many tiny phrases (or leitmotivs) each representing some significant aspect of the text, (sleep, fear, judgement etc.) which help bind the work together.  As the programme notes tell us: “Elgar’s orchestra becomes an expressive partner with the voices, equally important in the work’s dramatic revelation.”   The Chameleon Arts Orchestra were a truly expressive partner.  Aided by the Abbey’s resonant acoustic, they played with clarity and intensity from the outset, Elgar’s orchestral colour, rich detail and broad sweeping phrases stirring my soul and, I dare say, the souls of a good many of us in the audience.   Although ours were far from the best seats in the Abbey, we did have a fine view of the bass drum and gong, both used to great effect.  In fact, it probably was the place to be when it came to the chorus of demons and to the terrifying build-up to that famous fffzp chord, when for one moment, we catch a glimpse of God.

It was a memorable evening.  Conductor Paul Ellis and Festival Director John Baker are to be not only congratulated, but thanked too.   As Elgar himself wrote in a letter to a friend “The trees are singing my music – or have I sung theirs?”  The trees were certainly singing in Sherborne last night.


Tenebrae Workshop | Sherborne Abbey Primary

Tenebrae Workshop | Sherborne Abbey Primary

Friday 28th April 1.45-2.45pm


One of the world’s finest vocal ensembles, Tenebrae Choir will be conducting a WORKSHOP at Sherborne Abbey Primary School, Lenthay Road, Sherborne DT9 6AQ on Friday 28th April from 1.45pm-2.45pm.  This is Sherborne Abbey Festival’s gift to the school, offering a unique opportunity for pupils to interact and learn from a choir of international acclaim.

Described as “phenomenal” (The Times) and “devastatingly beautiful” (Gramophone Magazine), award-winning choir Tenebrae, under the direction of Nigel Short, is one of the world’s leading vocal ensembles renowned for its passion and precision. The choir will be performing to a sell-out audience as part of Sherborne Abbey Festival 8pm this Friday 28th at Sherborne Abbey.

This programme delights in celebrating some of the finest choral works from the Renaissance through to the present day, ranging from the haunting Allegri ‘Miserere mei, Deus’, to Whitacre’s resplendent ‘I Thank You God’. Featuring a number of familiar favourites, these works showcase the rich dark soundworld of the Russian orthodox, the prayerful intimacy of contemporary English masters and the soaring contrapuntal lines of the late Renaissance. Closing with Harris’ spectacular ‘Faire is the Heaven’, this programme is a true homage to choral greats past and present.

From Venice to Paris in Sherborne | The FTR

From Venice to Paris in Sherborne | The FTR


Thank you to the FTR for previewing what’s on at the 2017 Festival | Read more


SHERBORNE Abbey Festival 2017 brings two former BBC Young Musicians to Dorset, and a series of concerts that will transport the audience from Venice to Paris, from the sassy jazz clarinet of Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman to the mystical majesty of The Dream of Gerontius.

Artistic director John Baker has programmed five days of magnificent music spanning five centuries, bringing outstanding national and regional musicians to Sherborne from 28th April to 2nd May.

The BBC Young Musicians are  the 1984 winner, clarinettist Emma Johnson, in an exciting jazz programme, with pianists John Lenehan and percussionist Paul Clarvis, and Nicola Benedetti, the 2004 winner and twice Classical BRITS best female artist, who will play Beethoven’s violin concerto at the festival finale with the Iuventus Chamber Orchestra, founded and led by Shaftesbury-born violinist and chamber musician Ruth Rogers.

The first day features concerts by Sherborne School chamber groups and swing band, Ragtime Rediscovered at the Cheap Street Church with Mike Denham, and Jane Austen at Home, readings from letters, poetry and novels by the author of Pride and Prejudice, marking the 200th anniversary of her death. The reader will be Emerald O’Hanrahan, better known to many as Emma Grundy in The Archers.

The evening concert in the abbey is A Hymn of Heavenly Beauty, choral and meditative masterpieces from the Renaissance, Russian Orthodox repertoire and 21st century, performed by the chamber group Tenebrae.

Saturday’s programme includes a samba workshop and concert, Sherborne School close harmony and barbershop group, Sherborne Youth Band, local professional ensemble Rossignol playing music by Scarlatti the Elder, and Emma Johnson’s Clarinet Goes to Town at the abbey in the evening.

Sunday begins with Gryphon School Choirs and Bournemouth Sinfonietta in the abbey at 1.30pm, performing Velorution by British composer Alexander L’Estrange, commissioned to celebrate le grand depart of the 2014 Tour de France from Yorkshire. this is followed by Twenty Years of Sherborne Young Singers and a double bill of jazz at Sherborne School’s Big School Room with the gypsy-klezmer sounds of Gypsy Carnivals and the seductive Gabrielle Ducomble and her trio singing Parisian style jazz and tango.

On Bank Holiday Monday, 1st May, Robert Sharpe will play works from Bach to 20th century French composers on Sherborne Abbey’s magnificent organ, the Greentrees Quintet will delight with A Cornucopia of Wind at Castleton Church and Sherborne Early Music will offer a string of Venetian Renaissance Pearls, also at Castleton Church.

At the abbey at 7.30pm, Paul Ellis conducts Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, with Sherborne Festival Chorus, Chameleon Arts Orchestra, mezzo Frances Bourne as the Angel, tenor Toby Spence as Gerontius, and Peter Savidge, baritone, as the priest and the Angel of the Agony.

The final day of the festival is as varied as you could wish – John Bryden is The Light Fingered Pianist at Cheap Street Church, playing works by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Leighton and Schubert, the Madrigal Society of Sherborne Girls School will be in the abbey, the girls school string orchestra will be at Castleton Church and there is a first Sherborne concert, at the Digby Church Hall by Musicians in Black, the classical duo of soprano Olivia Lewis, a former Sherborne Abbey chorister,  and guitarist Felix Strickland, who went to Sherborne School.

The finale event is Bold and Beautiful Beethoven, featuring Nicola Benedetti, one of the world’s leading violinists, playing Beethoven’s violin concerto. The Iuventus Chamber Orchestra, founded and led by Ruth Rogers, will also play Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, and the concert, in the abbey at 7.30pm, will be conducted by Leonard Elschenbroich.


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