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Arts and culture in Worcestershire

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.

Elgars’s influence

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.

Worcester Cathedral

Inside the beautiful Worcester Cathedral

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

Festivals

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.

Evesham River Festival Arts and culture in Worcestershire

Enjoy the brilliant music and atmosphere at the Evesham River Festival

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

The finest drama

Returning to the swish of the curtain and standing ovations, Malvern Theatres give residents and tourists the opportunity to enjoy West End productions without a costly trip to London. A provincial centre for the arts since the Assembly Rooms were built in 1885, the complex has an impressive reputation for attracting the biggest names and the finest drama. Among the A-list actors to have trod the boards at the Festival Theatre are Donald Sutherland, Sir Derek Jacobi, Leslie Nielsen and Dame Diana Rigg.

Smaller scale theatrical productions, world-class musicians, comedy and poetry and music are on the menu at the Forum Theatre – formerly known as the Winter Gardens – and there’s also a cinema showing the latest blockbusters and acclaimed films which may not get an airing at multiplexes. North Worcestershire is blessed with a range of venues hosting live shows and cultural activities all year round. These include the Palace Theatre in Redditch, Rose Theatre and the Town Hall in Kidderminster, the Artrix in Bromsgrove and the Norbury Theatre in Droitwich Spa.

Malvern Theatres

Malvern Theatres

Both the Roses and Norbury have dedicated and highly regarded amateur companies. Established in 1960 as a celebration of the arts and culture, Bromsgrove Festival has hosted many world-famous performers and artists. A wide range of events running for one month from June into July, the festival comprises concerts, walks, drama and poetry. Bewdley, on the banks of the River Severn, has hosted a star-studded festival blending music, poetry, history, literature and comedy since 1988. Past performers at the October extravaganza include Rick Wakeman, Bill Bryson, Steven Berkoff and the new Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage.

Returning to the swish of the curtain and standing ovations, Malvern Theatres give residents and tourists the opportunity to enjoy West End productions without a costly trip to London

Museum and galleries

Worcestershire has plenty to offer on the visual arts front too. Housed in an elegant Victorian building in the heart of the city just a short walk from Foregate Street railway station, Worcester Museum and Art Gallery has engaging and interactive permanent galleries. Temporary exhibitions are staged throughout the year with recent treats including 35 posthumous prints of the spectacular paper cut-outs produced by Henri Matisse and an exhibition and vintage Star Wars toys and original cinema posters.

On the outskirts of the city lies Bevere Gallery. A major centre for the visual arts in Worcestershire, the gallery showcases the work of nationally-known ceramicists and artists and has a wide range of ceramics and sculptures its courtyard and grounds. There’s a charming courtyard cafe/sun trap too. Artisans at work Traditional skills and values also lie at the heart of the success for Jinney Ring Craft Centre near the village of Hanbury, where visitors can watch artisans at work in 200-year-old barn buildings. Leather, wood, glass and clay are all represented and there is a professional violin maker on site at the centre, which hosts seasonal festivals and exhibitions.

Arts-and-culture-04-Jinney-Ring-Craft-Centre

Witness artists at work at the Jinney Ring Craft Centre

A real gem on the southern edge of the county is Broadway Museum and Art Gallery in partnership with the Ashmolean, which is based in one of the few 17th-century buildings in the Cotswold village that you can venture inside. The museum explores the village’s heritage and tells the story of its success through the wool trade and its popularity with artists and travellers. Its unique collection includes paintings, porcelain and artefacts curated by the Ashmolean in Oxford and items of furniture has been selected from the Keil’s Antiques Collection.

Broadway Museum is also the home of the work of internationally-renowned artist Willard Wigan MBE, who creates the world’s smallest works of art. A self-taught artist, Wigan’s sculptures are smaller than a grain of sand and invisible to the naked eye. Fortunately for visitors, they are

presented in microscopes for all ages to enjoy and wonder at. Home (studio) is where the heart is for the artists involved in Worcestershire Open Studios, which takes place across the county in August.

Now in its fifth year, this artist-led initiative offers art adventurers the chance to speak to local artists and see where they create their work. More than 180 artists took part in 2019. Alongside fine art and abstract painters, visitors can discover art forms as diverse as glass fusing, printmaking on vintage machinery, handloom weaving, illuminated calligraphy, green woodworking, textile art and ceramics. Entry to all venues is free.


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Image credits: ©Cornfield/Shutterstock.com; Jinney Ring Craft Centre; Malvern Hills District Council; Malvern Theatres; Wychavon District Council

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