new music wells 78-18 got off to a wonderful start today with an inspiring concert given by two Wells alumni - Dr David Bednall (former Assistant Organist) and Oliver Chubb (former choral scholar). This was followed shortly after by Choral Evensong, sung by the Boy Choristers, which included the festival’s first premiere - a setting of God be in my Head by Thomas Nettle, pupil at Wells Cathedral School.
Chubb and Bednall presented a recital of music for organ and trumpet and, in keeping with the nature of the festival, entirely of works that were written in the last 40 years. The concert opened with a performance of North Star (2002), written by the festival’s composer-in-residence, Diana Burrell. A piece of great contrasts, it was an audacious opening item, clearly presenting great technical challenges for both performers, challenges that were overcome with conviction. Chubb impressed with his long melodic lines and it was immediately clear that there was a strong performing relationship between both musicians as they brought the piece to its bright and powerful conclusion.
The Burrell was followed by a performance of Bednall’s own Sonata for Trumpet and Organ. Written in 2015 for Simon Desbruslais and Stephen Farr, the piece was inspired by Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. The music was imbued with the poem’s great sense of joyful abandon and both Chubb and Bednall dazzled in the exuberant passages. Equally, there were contrasting, more sombre sections which Bednall chose to set for Flugelhorn to great effect, the transition from instrument to instrument handled seemingly effortlessly by Chubb. The climax of the work was particularly exciting and demonstrated the great technical mastery that both performers have over their instruments.
The concert closed with Petr Eben’s substantial and evocative work, Okna podle Marca Chagalla (Windows after Marc Chagall) (1978). Eben chose four of the twelve windows, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (Ruben, Issachar, Zebulon and Levi). In expressing the powerful spirituality of these windows, Eben chose to intensify their effect in sound by adding the brightness of a ‘real’ trumpet to the many colours available from the organ. There was real vigour to the writing here, matched by Chubb’s superbly projected playing. Even in the more spirited passages there is a sense of repose, of spiritual calm, that is very moving indeed and was handled expertly by both performers alike.
Later that afternoon first Choral Evensong to fall within new music wells 78-18 was sung by the Boy Choristers. The service included Malcolm Archer’s Berkshire Service (2003) as well as the premiere of a poignant and reflective setting of God be in my Head by Thomas Nettle, a student composer at Wells Cathedral School; a beautiful addition to the treble voice repertoire.