Even if the name Sir Edward Elgar is unfamiliar to you, you’ll have heard his music and he certainly left his mark on arts and culture in Worcestershire. From rousing renditions of Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the Proms to the stirring strains of Nimrod from Enigma Variations at major events including the London 2012 opening ceremony, Worcester’s favourite son’s works are part of Britain’s cultural landscape.
Wherever you visit in Worcestershire, Elgar’s influence is rarely far away. There is an Elgar Route to follow which includes his birthplace in the village of Lower Broadheath and the Malvern Hills which inspired him. A statue opposite Worcester Cathedral – open sporting a traffic cone on New Year’s Eve – plus a retail park, cafe and businesses all bear his name. It is hardly surprising that music plays a central role in many of the county’s cultural events including the Three Choirs Festival, Worcester Music Festival and Upton Jazz Festival.
The Three Choirs Festival is a week-long programme of choral and orchestral concerts, cathedral services, solo and chamber music recitals, masterclasses, talks, theatre, exhibitions and walks, rotating every summer between the cathedral cities of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford. The world’s oldest non-competitive classical music festival in the world, it celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2015 and returns to Worcester in 2020. At the heart of the festival are evening concerts featuring the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra. This is complemented by a packed schedule of daytime events and a community programme.
Founded in 2008, Worcester Music Festival is a free, volunteer-led event which runs for three days every September. As well as showcasing local musical talent, the festival provides education and professional development opportunities through a wide range of workshops and masterclasses. Spoken word and comedy events also feature in the programme.
Completing the holy trinity of annual music events is Upton Jazz Festival, a four-day celebration of jazz, swing and blues with a dash of jive, boogie woogie and modern held in June. The Best of Young Jazz shows off the exceptional talents of young players across the Midlands. Weekend or day tickets give access to every venue and enthusiasts can also enjoy a vintage-themed parade and jazz church service.
The small riverside town of Upton also hosts an annual blues festival in July which has grown from a small event in a couple of pubs in 2001 into an internationally-renowned event with many thousands of music fans, two main stages, an acoustic stage and 13 pub venues creating more than 150 free performances.
Wherever you visit in Worcestershire, Elgar’s influence is rarely far away. There is an Elgar Route to follow which includes his birthplace in the village of Lower Broadheath and the Malvern Hills which inspired him
One of the longest running festivals in the UK, The Evesham River Festival takes place in July and boasts beautiful boating parades, including the illumination parade, which ends with a spectacular fireworks display. Visitors can enjoy steam boats, lifeboat rides as well as music, food and drink. Fairground rides and bouncy castles will entertain the younger ones.
Rock, pop and tribute acts take centre stage down by the riverside in Upton every August Bank Holiday weekend with the Sunshine Festival, which celebrated its tenth birthday in 2019. With a population of 2,800, the county’s smallest town certainly punches above its weight! Elgar’s county is also blessed with excellent orchestras who regularly perform in the county and further afield. The English Symphony Orchestra has a long and distinguished history of collaboration with instrumentalists, composers and conductors including Nigel Kennedy – a former Malvern resident – Steven Isserlis, Daniel Hope, Michael Tippett and Sir Yehudi Menuhin.
Also promoting a passion for classical music across the county are the Worcestershire Symphony Orchestra, Wyre Forest Symphony Orchestra and the Worcestershire Philharmonic Orchestra. Running for 17 days every August is the Worcester Festival, a family-friendly mix of workshops, live music, arts and crafts, tours, exhibitions, drama, spoken word events and even a Pet Blessing Service at Worcester Cathedral. The event is organised by Worcester Live, which runs the city’s two leading arts venues – The Swan Theatre and Huntingdon Hall.
Musicians and comedians – including Ben Elton, Mark Steel and Nick Lowe – are among those to have graced the stages and The Swan’s year always ends on a hilarious high with a traditional pantomime with local references galore. Another highlight of the city’s cultural calendar is Worcester Repertory Company’s theatre production in the garden of The Commandery every summer. 2019’s production entitled Pride & (quite a lot of) Prejudice earned rave reviews and hit the headlines when a cast member was proposed to on stage by her very own Mr Darcy! The company also turns its talents to a Shakespeare play every autumn with acclaimed performances at atmospheric city venues including The Commandery, Huntingdon Hall and Worcester Cathedral.
Established in 1979, Worcester Arts Workshop is a small independent venue which stages live events including poetry and music and is home to Vamos, the UK’s leading mask theatre company. Artists of all ages, disciplines and skill levels are welcome to attend a diverse range of courses and art clubs. Fans of all ages of the spoken word will find much to enjoy at the annual Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe in June. The festival’s mission is to promote literature by connecting writers and readers and events include seminars, workshops, poetry slams, competitions and children’s activities.
One of the longest running festivals in the UK, The Evesham River Festival takes place in July and boasts beautiful boating parades, including the illumination parade, which ends with a spectacular fireworks display