Sherborne Abbey Festival celebrates with 30 events over 3rd-7th May

Five days of glorious music and performances, with around seventy percent of concerts free entry, heralds the return of award-winning Sherborne Abbey Festival from 3rd-7th May. Staged at Sherborne Abbey and venues within the historic Dorset market town of Sherborne, the 2019 event will welcome some 8000 festival-goers to thirty events, with something for everyone and all ages. From pop-up opera, workshops, children’s events and school concerts to world-class music superstars including Nicola Benedetti, Tenebrae and Alexander Armstrong; this has become a must-visit festival for the early May bank holiday weekend. To celebrate its twentieth season, the Festival has revealed a contemporary new look, inspired by the famous vaulted ceiling of Sherborne Abbey, with a logo created by Kevin Swindell, a local Dorset designer based at Wyke.

Two new free events have been announced for 2019 which are especially for children. A relaxed screening of Fantasia (UCert), Disney’s 1940 animation set to classical music, will take place at the Digby Memorial Hall on the Monday morning in association with Moviola, while a Guitar Workshop for ‘Kids That Rock’ happens later that day at The West End Hall in Littlefield – both events promise bank holiday fun for young people, who are encouraged to book their free tickets early to avoid disappointment.

Sherborne Abbey Festival is unique, being a charity run entirely by experienced volunteers, and also in its support of musical good causes. Since its inception, more than £300,000 has been redistributed through scholarships and grants; along with ongoing support of the music and choir at Sherborne Abbey and maintenance of the Abbey’s famous Tickell organ (installed by Gray and Davison in 1856 and rebuilt by Kenneth Tickell & Co in 2005). The town’s annual Young Musician of the Year competition is also a beneficiary, as well as well as countless talented young individuals who have been awarded grants towards music studies or help to purchase professional musical instruments. 

“This year’s Festival marks a celebratory milestone. A twentieth season during which we look forward to showcasing the very best of local and world-class musical talent.”

Festival Chairman, John Baker

This year’s much-anticipated evening performances open on Friday with a sell-out concert starring solo violinist Nicola Benedetti CBE, one of the most sought-after musicians of her generation. Her ability to captivate audiences with an innate musicianship and dynamic presence, coupled with her wide appeal as a high-profile advocate for classical music, has made her one of the most influential classical artists of today. Conducted by Leonard Elschenbroich, the concert also features Dorset-raised Ruth Rogers as lead violin, with Sherborne Abbey Festival Orchestra performing Mozart’s Don Giovanni Overture, Mendelssohn’s popular violin concerto, and Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony Eroica.

On the Saturday, in a unique collaboration with Dorset Opera Festival, a La Traviata Workshop takes place in the morning at Sherborne Girls’ brand new Performing Arts Centre. Three opera professionals, themselves experienced vocal animateurs, will put workshop participants through their paces with a variety of styles and genres, incorporating technique, rhythm, movement and staging exercises. Finally, the newly-formed chorus will learn the famous ‘Drinking Song’ from La Traviata, and perform it alongside the professionals at a free, outdoor-staged ‘pocket performance’ of Verdi’s masterpiece later that afternoon on the Waitrose concourse.

As usual, stellar professional performances are interspersed with concerts given by hugely talented students of the town’s local schools, choirs and music groups, ranging from early music, madrigal and chamber music to jazz and barbershop.  One of these – a really fun, and free entry, concert takes place on the Saturday morning with Sherborne School Chamber Choir, which includes many ex-choristers of Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals, singing a programme of sacred and secular music ranging from the 16th century to the present day. A newly commissioned set of Canticles, for the wonderful tenor and bass sonority, with organ, is complemented by the music of William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Hubert Parry and Matthew Martin, while a light-hearted barbershop number – in the great tradition of encores – completes this forty-minute recital of choral music.

Globally-acclaimed vocal ensemble Tenebrae makes a welcome return to the Festival on the Saturday evening at Sherborne Abbey with a programme celebrating the finest exponents of 20th century English choral music, in particular music by Ivor Gurney. Gurney’s association with the leading composers of the era began in earnest at the Royal College of Music where Parry was Director and Stanford taught him as did Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells – the latter becoming a lifelong friend and a champion of his music.

Sunday services with the Abbey’s own Choir are always a focal point of the Festival and this year’s Choral Evensong promises to be extra special, with the first performance of a new anthem commissioned from locally-born composer David Bednall. David is an Old Shirburnian and was one of the Abbey’s first organ scholars. He has since held posts at Gloucester, Wells and Bristol Cathedrals; his music is performed worldwide, and he has recently been signed up by Oxford University Press as one of their House Composers. The anthem takes as its text Psalm 93, with its celebratory theme.

For a complete change of tempo, a real treat is in store for Sunday evening when the Festival swings into jazz mode at Sherborne School’s Big School Room, when musical partners Claire Martin OBE and Ray Gelato (the UK’s ‘Godfather of Swing’), present an irresistible romp through the romantic classics of the Great American Songbook. The audience is invited to lose themselves in the couple’s interpretations of timeless favourite songs such as Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’, Nat King Cole hits ‘Let There Be Love’ and ‘When I Fall in Love’, alongside Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’. Claire and Ray are joined on-stage by a lively group of musicians representing the cream of British jazz talent.

James O’Donnell, Director of Music at Westminster Abbey, presents Monday’s popular organ recital with a variety of music from English and French traditions. Opening with Marcel Dupré’s transcription of the brilliant Sinfonia from Bach’s Cantata 29, through a varied programme that ends with Stanford’s Fantasia and Toccata; the featherlight whimsy of Whitlock’s Scherzetto; and the swaggering pomp and circumstance of Walton’s Orb and Sceptre, composed for Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 Coronation.

Also on the Monday, ‘A Pity of War’ staged at the brand new Sherborne Girls’ Arts Centre, features BBC Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny as narrator in a concert of music and words inspired by the First World War. With music by Debussy, Janácek and Elgar, narration from poems and letters written by Wilfred Owen and interspersed by three violin sonatas composed around the time of the War, it promises to be a very moving performance.

Later that evening the Festival’s own highly-acclaimed Chorus and Sherborne Classical Players perform a well-loved choral epic Elijah. Written for a British audience, Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah was a huge success at its première in Birmingham Town Hall in 1846. An enthusiastic audience of 2000 heard its first performance and The Times commented that there was ‘never a more thorough and speedy recognition of a great work of art’. It has remained one of the stalwarts of the choral repertoire ever since. With rich orchestral colour and stirring choruses, the powerful score brings to life the story of the great prophet Elijah, an important figure for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The piece is full of drama: earthquake, wind, fire and drought, famine, flood and resurrection are all there, inspiring the composer to produce some of his greatest music. Five soloists are led by bass David Soar as Elijah; he is much in demand on the concert platform and in the opera house, with major roles in the current season at the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.

The Festival closes on Tuesday evening with presenter, actor, quiz show host, singer, adventurer and comedian Alexander Armstrong. A trained classical baritone, having been a chorister at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh and Trinity College, Cambridge, music has always been a huge love of Alexander’s and he presents a weekend radio show for Classic FM. In 2015 he joined forces with the stars of the Warner Music Group, working on a medley of classical songs for his debut solo vocal album, A Year of Songs. It reached number six on the UK Albums Chart in its first week and topped the UK Classical Charts, the first time a comedian/actor has reached number one in those charts! In 2016 he released his second album, Upon a Different Shore, and toured the UK performing. He also starred as Max Detweiler in an ITV special The Sound of Music Live in 2015. Expect an entertaining programme from ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ to ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’, ‘Lullaby of Birdland’, ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ and many more, guaranteed to bring down the house in Sherborne Abbey as the Festival ends another incredible year.

An after-Festival event on Wednesday 8th May also promises a memorable time as award-winning wine producer Caro Feely gives a talk during a very special wine pairing dinner, with a menu created by Seasons Restaurant Executive Chef Matthew Street, being held at The Eastbury Hotel, limited tickets still available.

For more information about the Festival and to book tickets visit Sherborne TIC or online at


For images and further press information contact Liz Murray t:07795298781

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