Our concerts at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival

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It is a beautiful Sunday morning in Cardiff Bay, and I am drinking my first (OK, third) coffee of the morning and reflecting on this year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival. This year, the main emphasis of the festival was remembering Sir John Tavener, who passed away in November 2013, and works by Tarik O'Regan.

Prior to rehearsals, I wasn't sure about this year's programme (especially after my over-enthusiasm for last year's Graham Fitkin celebration), and for embarrassingly narrow-minded reasons - I didn't really know Tarik O'Regan’s music, and I did not class myself as a massive fan of the late Sir John Tavener's music.

Composer Tarik O'Regan, conductor Duncan Ward and narrator Simon Callow

Our first concert featured two works by Tarik O'Regan, as well as music by Duncan Ward and Xiao Ying, and Huw Watkins' Flute Concerto. Now, I am a big fan of Huw Watkins music (readers may remember me being rather rapturous about his Violin Concerto which we performed with the incredible Alina Ibragimova last season), so I was very much looking forward to this. The work was composed for Adam Walker, who was also the soloist.

Our concert opened with O'Regan's 'Latent Manifest'. It has a sort of slow-moving yet pressing ever onward feel to it. Beginning with a solo violin, the music builds with at first almost imperceptible semiquavers shimmering underneath suspended lines.

Towards the end, a second solo violin voice emerges, but the soloists are geographically distant from one another, with the second being placed by the tuba and trombones, a lovely effect that added an extra element of space to the music (and no doubt the opportunity to sit nearer the brass brought great joy to the second soloist's day!). The music has a sense of uplifting euphoria, and I can honestly say, it left me smiling.

O'Regan's Heart of Darkness Suite was a highlight for me. Taken from his opera of the same name, the work is based on Conrad's famous novel. The libretto is by Tom Phillips, and our Marlowe was the wonderful Simon Callow. Callow is known as a real music lover, and it was a pleasure to have him in our studio, where he sat to enjoy rehearsals of even the works he was not in. On stage, he was like having an audio book beside you!

I know this is a short extrapolation from a larger work already, but I’d love to see the Suite as an accompaniment to an animation - it was so vivid and evocative of the selected scenes, my favourite being the ‘river’ music.

Our closing concert for the festival this year was a homage to Tavener and during the concert, in particular during Guy Johnston’s performance of The Protecting Veil, I found myself feeling really quite moved. The intensity and constancy of the cello line is at times overpowering, and afterwards, I found myself wondering if this intensity, which is also found in his continual pull between consonance and dissonance, is what, when listening to recordings, puts me off Tavener, and yet, in live performance, is the hook that pulls one in.

I’d love to know what our audiences think on this subject. For you, are there any works that just don’t excite you when you hear them on a recording, but live, speak to you completely differently?

For me, this has been one of the joys of this years’ Vale of Glamorgan Festival - the opportunity to rethink a previously held opinion. I still won’t be rushing out to buy recordings of Tavener’s music, but I would definitely go to watch a live performance, and I would certainly like the opportunity to hear more of O’Regan’s work.

The sheer breadth of music included in the festival this year (from vocal music, to saxophone and piano music, to electronic-based music, to recorder ensemble, to full symphony orchestra) was outstanding, and the festival organisers are to be applauded for their vision and ambition.

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